L-3 Communications, Selex ES and Ultra Electronics have partnered to offer Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop airliner as the platform to meet an expected requirement for a multi-mission aircraft for the U.K.

The aircraft would be highly modified, with extended-range fuel tanks and an under-fuselage canoe fairing that could be configured to carry a wide-area surveillance sensor or even weaponry to meet a range of tasks such as maritime patrol, overland surveillance or anti-submarine warfare.

The move comes as U.K. defense officials plan to deliver the results of a study on the country’s future intelligence-gathering capability this summer and there is a widely expected push to resurrect a maritime patrol capability in next year’s Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) following the decision to halt the introduction of the BAE Nimrod MRA4 back in 2010.

The three companies believe the multi-mission Q400 aircraft would be capable of delivering 80% of the capability of an established type such as Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon but at less than half to a third of the purchase price and direct operating costs.

While defense officials would like to get maritime patrol aircraft capability back, not least to protect the UK..’s independent nuclear deterrent, officials increasingly recognize there is no more room for fleets flying a single mission.

"Countries are looking for more flexible capabilities, so it is a case of finding the optimum aircraft for the capabilities desired," says Nicholas Gordon, director of international programs at L-3.

Gordon points out that the Q400 is a widely used, certified aircraft that easily can be modified with supplemental type certificates. He points to the modified Q400s used by France’s Securite Civile as a baseline for what the companies plan to offer.

L-3 already purchased a Q400 and transferred it to the U.S., where it will be modified by Cascade Aviation for use as a testbed and demonstrator this year. Systems will be integrated onto the aircraft during 2015.

Panniers on the side of the fuselage under the wings will house auxiliary fuel tanks that could extend the type’s endurance to up to 10 hr. – this could be extended further through inflight refueling, if the customer demanded it.

The canoe fairing under the fuselage features three compartments. The front compartment would contain a Selex ES 7500ES search radar, which would be capable of supporting the surface and overland search mission. At the rear would be an electro-optical camera system. The middle of the canoe would allow interchangeable payloads to be fitted as well as weapons, including lightweight torpedoes or the Harpoon missile used by the U.K. on Nimrod. Other weapon pylons could be fitted to the forward fuselage.

The companies are suggesting the use of the Eagle active, electronically scanned array wide-area radar, which is available with a two-or four-meter array, the latter of which could provide an air-surveillance radar offering some of the capability currently provided by the U.K.’s E-3D Sentry Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

For the anti-submarine warfare role, the aircraft would be fitted with Ultra’s Airborne Acoustic System, currently in development, which uses multi-static processing of information from sources such as sonobuoys and other energy in the water to provide an increased probability of detection. The aircraft would drop sonobuoys from launchers in its rear.

All three sensors are either in service or in the final stages of development, representing a low level of risk, in terms of development and integration, L-3 says. The companies believe the aircraft could be ready for service in four years, with the integration work done in the U.K.

The companies believe the U.K. could require between 10 and 12 aircraft in the coming years, and there may be a significant global market on top of that as countries look to replace their P-3 Orions.

The three companies say they have briefed government officials on their offering. The Q400 option is likely to come up against a multi-mission version of Airbus Defence and Space’s C295 twin-turboprop transport, while Boeing is expected to offer the P-8.