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A320M3A Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS)

A320M3A Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS)The Airbus A320M3A (Modular Multi-Mission Aircraft) at is intended as a direct competitor to the Boeing P-8 Poseidon to perform a wide range of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) tasks. Having made its mark in the commercial airline sector, the A320neo was considered by Airbus for new applications: as a highly-capable and cost-effective platform for ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) duties and as a military transport. The variant – designated A320M3A – would be designed to fulfill a range of ISR roles, particularly maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare. It also can be outfitted with modular roll-on/roll-off payloads for airlift missions ranging from carrying passengers, troops and VIPs to medical evacuation (medevac) and transporting cargo.

On June 29, 2017, during the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, representatives of France, Greece, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Italy signed a letter of intent regarding  cooperation on an international multi-mission patrol plane  ( Cooperation on Multinational Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft Capabilities, M3A). On February 15, 2018, Poland and Canada joined the program.

Germany and France wanted to jointly develop a new naval reconnaissance aircraft. The two defense ministers Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly signed a corresponding declaration of intent on 27 April 2018. The project called "Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS)" is intended to replace both the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion of the German armed forces and the Béguet Atlantique 2 of the French naval aviation. France planned to retire the Atlantique from the middle of the next decade.

Developed to replace the well-operated though aging P-3 aircraft and having achieved initial operational capability with the US Navy in November 2013, the Boeing P-8A POSEIDON or Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) has found worldwide export success, having been procured by Australia, India, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea and UK. Based on the Boeing 737-800 with 737-900 wings, the P-8A POSEIDON is a purpose-built military aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of 85.8 tonnes, a 4,000 nm self-deployment capability extendable with air-refuelling, and a mission radius of 1,200 nm with a four-hour on station time. With an average transit speed of 340 knots and a maximum airspeed of 400 knots, the P-8A can operate both at high and low altitudes with a load factor of +2.2g/-0.5 g and a 165-metres sustained turn radius of circa 990 metres. With a crew of nine, including two pilots, the internal layout sees a resting area, electronics cabinets, mission management area, rear electronics cabinet and sonobuoy stowage and launching areas. The P-8A is equipped with a rear underbelly weapon bay with five hardpoints for weapon systems, including torpedoes, mines and Search & Rescue (SAR) Kit, four underwing and two fuselage-mounted hardpoint for HARPOON anti-ship missiles and other payloads such as long-range side-looking radars.

Airbus’ consideration of the A320M3A is in response to market demand, spurred by the growing use of more capable ISR systems – which require physically larger host platforms with increased electrical power and more efficient cooling systems than previously were the case for C4ISR aircraft. One of the biggest applications of the A320M3A is for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare, with countries in Europe and elsewhere seeking replacements for ageing aircraft – many of which will be encouraged to develop fleet commonality driven by the intensive growth of joint operations with member nations of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

Airbus claims the A320neo MPA design is well suited for low-altitude loiter and search, therefore, offering all-round agility and performance. The maximum take-off and landing weights of the base platform are 79 tonnes and 67.4 tonnes respectively with a maximum speed of 450 knots. Featuring a weapon bay capable of accommodating up to eight lightweight torpedoes, mines and other ASW weapons in the rear underbelly fuselage, and four underwing hardpoints for anti-ship missiles and guided-weapons, the A320 MPA internal layout has been designed for long-range operations, with a mission management area based on advanced operator consoles, observer stations, sonobuoy launcher, stowage rear section in addition to a rest area with toilet and galley.

Advantages in offering the new engine option (NEO) version of Airbus’ A320 commercial jetliner include an extensive capability for growth in a fuselage cross-section that is wider than its competitor in the same size category, the long range and endurance, as well as the lowest operational and life-cycle costs in its class. Other pluses for the A320M3A are the aircraft’s high reliability (proven in airline service), and the resources of an established worldwide supply chain and training network.

The A320M3A also benefits from being a low-risk solution: being based on Airbus’ highly-mature A320 airliner family in high-rate production; and building on the company’s proven capabilities in producing military derivatives of its commercial aircraft – such as the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which is in use by military services around the globe.

The mission package is centred on a new-generation C2 suite based on FITS (Fully Integrated Tactical System) developments with network centric communications, including data links and SATCOMs, managing a sensor package, involving an AESA SAR radar with IFF, high-definition EO/IR sensors together with an unspecified ESM/ELINT system in addition to self-protection, a MAD detector mounted in the rear fuselage, an ASW suite based on new-generation acoustic processor and sonobuoy management system. The latter can develop from the new systems being integrated on board the ATL2 through the modernisation programme managed by Dassault Aviation and Thales, including the SEARCHMASTER AESA radar benefiting from latest technologies based on Rafale combat aircraft programme, and the latest-generation digital acoustic processing subsystem (STAN) together with a new Wescam EO/IR suite, tactical picture elaborating software from Naval Group and SIAé’s upgraded tactical display consoles as well as the new SonoFlash sonobuoy system developed by Thales for the French Navy.

Not only does the A320 NEO have 1,200 units delivered, there are another 6,000 in Airbus' order book. This guarantees access to a powerful logistics and training chain (there are A320 simulators scattered around the globe). But in addition, the extensive production of the model guarantees more affordable second-hand platforms for the air forces.

The modular ro-ro (Roll On / Roll Off) design will also allow easy conversion to other tasks such as transporting soldiers, VIP, radio-electronic reconnaissance (SIGINT), early warning and air surveillance (AEW & C) or medical evacuation (MedEvac). According to Airbus, naval missions will be the most important application for the new model.

This is a very interesting option for the Spanish Air Force, which until now has not been able to afford to acquire A330 MRTT tanker aircraft, and which has significant shortcomings in all the capabilities that this aircraft hopes to cover: maritime patrol (due to the replacement of the P-3 Orion); electronic warfare (capacity that was lost with the loss of “La Reina del Espectro); air refueling (very limited today, as it is based on KC-130 veterans); and early air warning, which Spain simply have never had.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:15 ZULU