Abundant opportunities in one of the few defense markets poised to grow despite the economic downturn are separating the prime contractors from the “subs.”

Aerospace companies are taking different approaches to securing work in the airborne maritime surveillance and patrol arena, which defense analysts estimate at $80 billion in the next 10 years.

As indigenous funding streams dry up, companies in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East are looking to secure a foothold abroad to meet he growing need for maritime surveillance. Numerous countries face increasing challenges in monitoring sea lanes, thwarting piracy and conducting anti-submarine operations and training.

This trend has platform and sensor providers taking discrete approaches to a market that runs the gamut—from sophisticated customers such as Singapore and Taiwan to smaller nations with limited resources, such as Brunei.

To capture this market, two different tactics are crystallizing. Platform providers are pushing to sell integration of intelligence-collection gear onto their aircraft as well as long-term sustainment or services. Traditional payload providers, by contrast, are offering more flexible alternatives, allowing for use of existing platforms owned by customers. This, they say, could prove financially beneficial for countries that lack the infrastructure or skill set to introduce new aircraft models into service.

In Europe, Thales and Dassault Aviation are poised to begin work on a long-planned midlife upgrade to France's Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft this year, which is currently supporting combat missions in Mali.

Thales is proposing its scalable Amascos maritime mission system, which company executives say has matured under a contract signed with Turkey in 2004 to modify CASA C295 transports for the Turkish coast guard and navy. Under a separate program, Meltem 3, Thales is providing the Amascos to Alenia Aermacchi for integration onto its ATR-72 platform.

“Amascos is fully operational, and we will present the full system with four consoles, integration of anti-submarine warfare, very smart radar algorithms, tactical situation and the use of electronic support measures,” says Pierre-Eric Pommellet, senior vice president of defense mission systems at Thales.

In the U.S., Raytheon, L-3 Communications and Sierra Nevada Corp. have embraced either modifying a customer's existing platforms or offering integration of specialized gear on a low-end platform, including used aircraft.

The platform providers—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Embraer and Bombardier—are being pressured to offer a full-up, platform-based solution. “The market is oversaturated with individual platform providers trying to deliver a specific platform,” says an industry official. “We just are not married to any kind of platform [and] I am not trying to force a box down [their] throats.”

In some cases, countries end up purchasing equipment they are unable to properly maintain or operate. The Philippines, for example, has bought Russian helicopters and sensors that have been in storage for a lack of proper support. In this case, the executive says, the country might have been better off purchasing a less-sophisticated system or intelligence via a services contract whereby the company manages the sensor and aircraft and provides the finished intelligence to the customer. “We are not interested in having to go and be a prime,” the executive says, adding that in the case of the Philippines, some assets wind up “rusting on the end of the runway.”

Boeing's 737-based P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, which will replace the U.S. Navy's aging P-3s, is setting the global standard for a fully integrated—but expensive—option. By contrast, Boeing is proposing its small, catapult-launched ScanEagle as a fully integrated solution for nations that cannot afford or do not want a complicated fixed-wing system to maintain and operate. It is operating in eight countries and, last week, Boeing announced a sale to the U.K.

Chris Raymond, vice president of business development and strategy for Boeing Defense, Space and Security, acknowledges that the intelligence/surveillance aircraft market—including maritime patrol/surveillance—is “a little crowded.”

Meanwhile, business jet manufacturers such as Embraer and Bombardier are mirroring the approach of the large U.S. primes, emphasizing the platform as an integrated solution for customers.