US Navy’s future spyplane takes first steps

Boeing and Northrop Grumman were this week awarded $1.25 million contracts to begin outlining what the Navy’s next intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting aircraft will look like.

The contractors are hoping to ultimately win a nearly $1 billion contract to build what the Navy calls its EPX aircraft.  The EPX will replace the venerable 4-engine turbo prop EP-3E aircraft, which has been in service since 1969, with a jet aircraft running even more sophisticated electronics than its predecessor.

It is expected that the EPX will operate in concert with other maritime patrol and reconnaissance platforms, to include the anti-submarine P-8A Poseidon and the Navy’s future Broad Area Maritime Surveillance platform.

The Navy initiated a competition in November 2007 to study the replacement of its EP-3E signals intelligence aircraft fleet and the expansion of its mission capability. These contracts are the first step in the Navy's multiyear selection process for the EPX system.  The contractors are expected to come up with a system concept and analysis of the associated risks and requirements. The results of the studies are expected in five months.

The Navy at one point a few years ago was to replace the EP-3 with an aircraft being developed by the Army.  Ultimately those plans fell through.  

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