Aggressive Behavior in South China Sea Sparks New Interest in Sonobuoys

Map of South China Sea. Image – CIA

Undersea warfare is seeing a resurgence of interest following years of neglect in favor of airborne and land-based operations.  This revival is being driven by China’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea around the Spratly Islands, as well as aggressive rants coming out of North Korea.  In response, existing sonobuoy inventories will be replenished and new models will be developed.

The U.S. Navy continues to develop high-altitude ASW sonobuoys such as the SSQ-125, and now the upgraded variant the SSQ-125A, both of which are in production under the Navy’s Acoustic Search Sensors program for application on P-8A ASW aircraft.

Over the years, the U.S. Navy has become rather alarmed at the near monopoly Sparton and Ultra Electronics hold on the sonobuoy market.  This is even more evident when the two companies form joint ventures such as ERAPSCO and Sonobuoy TechSystems which in effect form one sonobuoy manufacturer.  The U.S. Navy tried to block Sparton (ERAPSCO) from bidding on the next-generation variant, the SSQ-125A; however, Sparton (one of half of ERAPSCO, with Ultra Electronics being the other half) filed a protest and won.  The Navy had to reverse its decision and awarded ERAPSCO half of the SSQ-125A production contract in December 2018.  The other half went to Lockheed Martin (possibly to make the contract look competitive), which has entered the A‑size sonobuoy market thanks to its expertise in making A-size autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that can be launched from the same canisters as the SSQ-125(V) sonobuoys.

The original SSQ-125 sonobuoy is seeing sales on the international market, but because the U.S. Navy has a strong say over the sale of sonobuoys in its sphere of influence, the SSQ-125A variant is unlikely to be offered on the international market for the time being.

For more information on sonobuoys, please contact your Forecast International sales representative and ask about FI’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Forecast, A/N Equipment Forecast, or Land & Sea-based Systems Forecast.  For up-to-the-hour coverage of these market areas during these critical times, please inquire about Forecast International’s Platinum Forecast System.