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.
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.
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.
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.
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.