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A spare £3.47 and an IOU for MPA’s ? What shall we buy then…


Jed’s previous post on sensible alternatives to the Nimrod in light of rumours of a spare billion pounds being found down the back of the MoD’s sofa generated some interesting debate but I still find the very notion of getting back into the proper MPA business after spunking £4billion up the wall on MRA4 and making thousands redundant rather fanciful.

There is still a need though, what if we set our sights even lower than a P8/319MPA or even C295/ATR72 and looked at a very low-cost replacement for the offshore patrol, search and rescue type ‘offshore tapestry’ tasks.

They would need to be twin-engined, all-weather capable and equipped electro-optical, radar and communications systems with the ability to drop Lindholme gear or other rescue equipment. A pretty limited specification, no weapon systems but able to cover the majority of UK offshore tasks with the notable exception of ASW.

A few ‘value’ options

Viking Twin Otter Guardian 400

Viking of Canada recently resurrected production of the venerable DHC Twin Otter and have been getting some serious orders from customers as diverse as the Vietnamese Navy and Zimex Aviation in Switzerland.

The Series 400 has many improvements over the old model and its versatility is obvious; wheels floats or skis and the environmental hardening to operate in these diverse environments mean its legendary toughness has been retained.

Viking has also introduced the Guardian 400 specifically for the surveillance, security, sovereignty and search and rescue market that has an extended range fuel tank (10-hour operations) and an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret which can be displayed on either the flight deck Honeywell Primus Apex Multi-Function Display, or on a separate cabin console.

The Guardian 400  will be equipped with 4 crew observation stations, rescue equipment drop hatch, air operable cargo door, searchlight, and a galley with adjacent lavatory and not forgetting, 4 wing hardpoints for additional stores.

The basic model is as cheap as chips.

The Vietnamese Navy order works out at about $5 million Canadian each and that includes initial training and logistics. The target airframe cost is less than $4 million Canadian.

Doing some rounding, that’s about £3.5 million pounds including training

Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350

We already operate the King Air 350 for training and in the guise of the Shadow, using a maritime patrol variant would not unduly stress the logistics system.

Costs are a variable with a wide variety of equipment and support options but performance is good, especially endurance and speed.

Britten Norman Defender 400

Again, the UK Coastguard, Manchester Police already and MoD already operate the Defender in one form or another so introduction would not be difficult but whilst cost is very low, performance is not exceptional for the role, perhaps too short-legged.

Evektor Outback

A less obvious option is the Czech Evektor EV-55 Outback, a new aircraft design said to have very low operating costs. Although not yet mature, I am sure a basic EO and radar fit could be integrated.

Tecnam MMA

The Tecnam Multi Mission Aircraft might be on the small side with a modest payload of just less than 150kg but capital and operating costs would be very low, it is claimed they have the lowest operating costs of any similar aircraft.

Dornier Seastar

A bit of a wild card, the Dornier Seaplane Company have recently launched the SeaStar, a true amphibious seaplane. With the ability to land and take off in 2-3 foot waves it has obvious advantages in the search and rescue application and can be fitted with a variety of payloads.

Bombardier 415 MPA

An aircraft with a very long track record the 415 MPA is a versatile aircraft and can be configured to carry a specially designed jet boat (see the video) for sea rescues and able to operate in Sea State 3 conditions.


How about a few extra mid-range options?

There really is a wealth of off the shelf options.

Elta/Bombardier Dash 8

The Bombardier Q Series Multi Mission Aircraft (thanks Paul) has been adopted by a number of users and the Q400 has a speed of 360 knots, longer fuselage and longer range. Teaming up with Elta, Bombardier is offering the Q400 MPA variant equipped with EL/M-2022A maritime search radar, Electronic Support Measures and MOSP type electro-optical sensor, and, additional communications intelligence COMINT array. The aircraft also mounts a side-mounted gun pod, aft-mounted countermeasures dispensers and side-mounted containers which could carry various stores, for search and rescue missions or other tasks.

Embraer 145MP

Renamed from the p99, the EMB 145MP is the latest ASW/SAR/Patrol variant from Embraer equipped with a full suite of sensors, mission equipment and weapons.

Saab 2000 MPA

Last on the list is the Saab 2000 MPA, equipped with, again, a full suite of sensors, mission and weapons systems.

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29 Responses

  1. All these aircraft are nice, but not really an option for the UK – the (North) Atlantic weather would make mince meat out of these twin engined birds.

    We need to take a step back and look at requirements first; the UK still has considerable overseas oceans to patrol. The North Atlantic can be ruthless, ther weather around the Falklands can be a cast-iron b*tch during winter. Even the Mediterranean can be temperamental (Cyprus).

    And these are the times an MPA is needed most for SAR duties or safety inspections of GOPLATs/merchants.

    But going with the alternative theme, I’d go for a twin-jet option. The Embraer 145/P-99 is the more expensive option, but coupled with (an even more expensive) MALE UAV, it would provide the fast (dash) response in a high-low mix – UK BAMS as it were.

    (This was kind of the reason Holland sold it’s P-3s – they were to be replaced by a joint navy/air force UAV program. That never happened due to the budget imploding, and now Holland only has some Do-228s and leased Dash-8s).

  2. Marcase is right. USCG uses C130 for SAR and surveillance. To cover Vanguard ops we should Merlin and surface ships. “We” should have a T23 with 2087 oop north all the time; Russian submarines are a greater “threat” than Soviet era bombers flopping around the North Sea. And escorting Vanguard out and in could be done by Rivers towing noise makers. Shame Their Lordships saved the MoD a couple of bob by not having the Rivers fitted with flight decks. I mean like nobody uses helicopters in UK territorial and EEZ waters do they? Durrr….

  3. Can anyone confirm that the departure of SLBM subs is in fact “protected”? Personally, I don’t really remember it that way. If you wanted to advertise the departure I can’t think of a better way than a horde of helicopters and surface ships busy pinging away. In any case, as far as I know, the Nth Atlantic is still covered with the US SOSU system.

  4. @ Mike DIS

    I was under the impression that when Vanguard went to sea there was always Nimrod up above until the boat slipped off the continental shelf.

    The Russians are getting to be more active in northern waters. And as I said a Russian SSN tracking Vanguard is more serious than 60s Soviet era bombers testing our air space. Perhaps the fact that the former is less of threat, looks good in photos and is therefore a good photo op that we hear about?

    If Nimrod wasn’t providing route surveillance for Vanguard, SOSUS is that effective, plus our SSNs, plus ASW assets of NATO members to track errant Russian submarines then perhaps the UK didn’t an MPA with all its fancy gubbins. Perhaps all the UK needs is a SAR bird?

    As for advertising Vanguard. How does having a River escorting out a huge submarine advertise it any more than now? And a T23 would be well over the horizon. And I bet the Russians know when Vanguard is going to leave anyway. It is about knowing who is out there and stopping tell tale signatures being recorded.

    I wonder if the UK has the approaches to Faslane wired for sound

    (PS: Mike I was just rambling on then sir. It wasn’t directed at you after the sentence. )

    @ TD

    Something else of YouTube to warm you Europhillic heart…..

  5. I got my formers and latters mixed up there. The Typhoon chasing bombers is the good photo op……

  6. If you really want to protect the deterrent , you also need a pair of CSAR Merlins to deal with terrorists, + an ATBM missile battery such as Aster/Arrow/Patriot.

  7. How many sonar buoy’s can these various “cheaper” MPA carry. For example the criticism of the S-3 is that it can only carry 72 sonar buoy’s and according to the various Nimrod threads on PPRuNE a typical operation to detect a modern sub you will be dropping in excess of 200 sonar buoy’s.

    Also are any of the mid-range alternatives really all that much cheaper than the C-295 MPA or the ATR-72 ASW?

  8. Hi x,

    RE “If Nimrod wasn’t providing route surveillance for Vanguard, SOSUS is that effective, plus our SSNs, plus ASW assets of NATO members to track errant Russian submarines then perhaps the UK didn’t an MPA with all its fancy gubbins. Perhaps all the UK needs is a SAR bird?”
    – I might be with you there

    Not @ x but generally,
    – A400M has huge engines compared to the Herc, and there is no “mission” reason to take all that volume up and keep it there, on station; why is it ever mentioned
    – airliner-derivatives are optimised to cruise at 32.000 ft; how is their endurance at the typical altitudes for MPA missions?

  9. Personally I don’t think the low end options are worth going after especially if they are to be operated by the MoD as there is already limited coverage on this level. The Scottish Fisheries protection agency utilises 2 Reims Vigilant F-406 based out of Inverness and the MCA utilises various aircraft as well. Hopefully although unlikely the Government will ask the MCA and SFPA to add some additional flight hours and check up on different areas rather than the typical fisheries grounds etc that they patrol.

  10. @ ACC

    Yes that YouTube vid’ I fell across made me realise what a big bird A400m is.

    But this MPA question needs to be asked. Are we genuinely losing something? Or has Nimrod been another example of RAF bloat?

  11. I agree with the point that the low end options are too small and limited to meet our needs, how many of these versions can be fitted with drop tanks to extend their range? The 415 has a range of about 7 hours, this could be extended if the water scoop/tank is modified into a long range fuel tank. Also, is there enough internal volume to carry all the necessary kit? I’m also sure its un-pressurised. In this sense the ShinMaywa US-2 would be a more viable option, although it lacks war fighting capabilities and would never be a viable option.

    Given our current lack of MPA, the short term solution is to lease either the Orion P-3C or the Breguet Atlantique 2, at least we‘d be able to field something with a proven track record and a viable ASW capability which the examples seem to lack.

  12. I should have added that given our procurement track record, we will undoubtedly purchase something that is expensive, un-proven and American, looks like the P-8 is the obvious solution.

  13. I agree that given the time again the MOD should have spent the money on a proper of the shelf tier one MPA. However, I cannot believe that even the 1bn is there, even that is not enough so I think TD is right to look at cheaper options to strengthen our existing limited options.

    Any comments on the two I suggested in the last thread:
    * beechcraft c-12 huron (dc-12m model)
    * hawker 800 u-125a

  14. Could we split the coastal surveillance into two types? Coastguard roles with cheap turbo-prop, ASW something with fans (more difficult for subs to hear); what about … an airship? (Yeah, I went there! What do you expect, its Retro-tech.)

  15. Hi Repulse,

    RE “Any comments on the two I suggested in the last thread:
    * beechcraft c-12 huron (dc-12m model)”
    – is that one off the shelf, from the manufacturer?
    – the ones Malta bought (and would now need!) are likely to be still being fitted out with electronics (in Germany)

  16. Whilst I believe the scrapping of the Nimrods already paid for was a possible mistake financially remember we have already had a planned 2 year gap in MPA/ASW coverage as the Nimrod MR2 were retired early.

    Who is going to track our SSBNs that is a possibly threat in the near future? Russia, I doubt that they can afford to station a SSN around the UK for this role, they are more interested in protecting their own SSBNs. I cannot think of anyone else in the near to medium future.

    Our SSNs are for more effective ASW platforms for shaperoning SSBNs out to deep water than an airborne asset able to cover hundreds of square miles with their passive sonar.

    So do we need a Airborne MPA/ASW platform in the shot to medium turn. Not an essential capability for now. The one area where a capability is lacking is in SAR. This could and should be the role of a civilian agancy as has been discussed in deapth in other topics. If a £Bn did appear I can find other areas where essential capabilities need to be restored or bolstered.

  17. MPA don’t just do ASW, but also SUW (or ASuW) – zooming down to eyeball surface radar contacts. The speed of an MPA allows it to respond faster and cover more sea than a ship. Besides radar, ESM and SIGINT play their parts, even when ‘just’ hunting pirates (remember that piracy is increasing world wide not just near Somalia) – and you need room for all that electronic gear.

    Also, a larger aircraft is more comfortable to the crew. Don’t underestimate that, as MPA crews can be airborne for 6, 8 or 10 hours (with AAR). Having a fit crew is as important as having good kit.

  18. If just SAR then some reason I definately like the look of the 415 (with the fuel tank modification Richard mentioned). Maybe we could borrow one of the French Gov ones to find out what it is like?

  19. Marcase, given the options do we need an MPA that can carry out all the ESM and SIGINT roles as well? A bit of demarcation would allow the Rivet Joint to do this role alone and reduce the need for a large(r) aircraft. The biz-jet sized aircraft would essentially be an S-3B Viking with a toilet and galley.

    DM, I don’t know the 415 that well, but a radar and a couple of weapons pylons would also be a welcome addition!

  20. Out of interest on the Bombardier 415 MPA, where do the stick the opto-electric turret, as presumably it cannot be fitted underneath the fuselage in-case the turret is damaged, and a MPA without a day/night camera system is pretty useless.

    Also according to the Bombardier web-site the 415 MPA can carry the following specialist equipment (presumably not all together):

    * Autopilot and military mission management system (MMMS)
    * Forward-looking infrared (FLIR)
    * Side-looking airborne radar (SLAR)
    * Fully integrated weather radar
    * Direction finder antenna (DF)
    * Still and video cameras
    * Cabin accommodation for stretchers and berths
    * Enlarged aft cargo door
    * Bombardier Jet Boat (BJB)
    * Marine radio package
    * Secure intercom

    I a bit clueless about radars, but is a side-looking aerial radar the right type of radar to locate surface contacts in a high sea state or would you need to install a different radar system to the one normally installed in the 415 MPA?

  21. Is the layout of the 415 changeable? As a Coastguard aircraft it ticks all the boxes; SAR, pollution control, maritime patrol, etc. we could even use it as a Fire-bomber (help out some of our European neighbours during the summer) and it can handle cargo but can it perform all these tasks or would we need separate variants?

  22. Hi Tubby, the opto-electrical turret could be mounted on an underwing pylon, as for a radar how about a Searchwater 2000 radar from the Nimrod, it could be nose mounted like the Beriev Be-12. For a true MPA though I think the fuselage will need a significant redesign although it would look externally the same.

    Food for thought, how about fitting the 415 with a modified Bombardier Dash-7 wing and stretching the fuselage with fore and aft plugs. Four engines and increased volume, any buyers?

  23. Look, this country has an appalling balance of payments deficit. We used to build the best MPA in the world. We have spent £4.1billion and have nothing to show for it. I really balk at the thought if funding another country’s economy only to buy a third or fourth rate MPA.

    Surely it would be better to finish the job and build a new airframe to complete, what will be a new aircraft. How about using the A340 airframe as the basis of tge conversation. Maybe we could get Eads to complete the build and ditch the 319 idea.

  24. Phil, we used to have the world’s best ship building industry, but sadly no more. I balk at the thought of blowing 4 billion and then starting afresh with an untried airframe, and potentially risking billions more. With regards to the above, its just toying with ideas. Do we need a ‘Rolls Royce’ system with all the whistles and bells, which can hunt for Red October as well as general coastguard duties and specialised ELINT missions or should we accept we cannot afford a master of all trades, down-grade our specification and adopt several different types for several different missions?

    Personally, I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard they had cancelled Nimrod MRA.4, but now we have nothing I’m coming around to the idea of amphibs and converted biz-jets as viable stop gaps and alternatives. The argument of new type against off the shelf has been debated to near death on these pages. Speaking for myself, I’d like to look at tried and tested airframes that are up to the job, that’s why I’ve mentioned the P-3C Orion and Atlantique 2 several times already, rather than a converted airliner with little or no pedigree. An airbus alternative has high cost and high risk written all over it and we’ve been there too many times already.

  25. I have hesitated to put this up before as a possible MPA, as it strictly speaking is not by modern standards, as it lacks modern EO sensor turrets or proper ability to operate at night.

    Anyway how about the Antonov AN-74MP, offered in 2009 to India as possible coastal patrol aircraft.

    According to Antonov it it is equipped with photographic cameras, which we would obviously need rip out and replace with our trusty WESCAM MX-15, and is equipped with a 23mm cannon, and can fire rockets and drop unguided bombs.

    I suggest if we where going down this route that we would buy they from Antonov and ship them straight to L-3 to act as our system integrators, who would reduce some of the available cargo space to add additional workstations, and equip the An-74 with a surface scan radar and Wescam MX-15 camera, along with up to date navigation aids. Not sure if we could configure it to carry sonar buoy’s or fire guided weapons or if the additional work to bring it up to scratch would push it past the cost of say Embraer 145MP, so any comments would be welcome.

    However one area where I reckon it could excel, is to base a number of them scattered throughout the Caribbean, either to complement RN ships or replace them. The AN-74MP has excellent short field capabilities, is robust, can carry cargo, personnel and stretchers and would make useful asset to identify and to interdict drug smugglers and provide aid in the event of a natural disaster. We could then base the rest in the UK and use them for primarily SAR (as you could easily drop Lindholme gear from the back of the AN-74MP) and monitoring surface shipping.

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