A spare billion for MPA’s ? What shall we buy then…..

With all the rumour around at the moment about a spare billion being spirited from somewhere, I just thought we should have a little look at some of the possible alternatives for a new Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Just to provoke debate, I thought we could split this into high, medium and low risk. I suppose I could have done it by capability or cost, but we will examine those factors too.

Before making my suggestions on what might be out there that we could purchase, I am going to suggest that the billion pounds sterling includes a capital purchase of aircraft, some contractor support, training (i.e. buying simulators, or simulator hours)  a spares and maintenance package etc.  I have no idea how much each of these aircraft might cost, but I am sure if you have seen figures anywhere, you will all chime in via the comments.

By the way – I consider “MPA” to mean a fully ASW capable armed aircraft, NOT an unarmed maritime surveillance type.

There are a number of other options described in the Think Defence post, The Future of the RAF 13 – ISTAR #07 (Maritime)

High Risk – New

Looks good on the web and no doubt the most capable solution I am examining here, but I also label it as high risk for one simple reason: it does not exist except on paper. Airbus is attempting to keep the risk low by using its FITS mission system which is already in use on other aircraft. The A319 would be very capable with extra fuel tanks for long endurance, an 8 weapon station bomb bay plus four underwing hard points.  However compared to some of the options, its big making it expensive to start with, and oh, did I mention, it does not actually exist yet……..

High Risk – Second Hand

The USN retired its fleet of S3B Viking carrier borne ASW aircraft to the desert bone yards a couple of years ago (end of 2009). A 2004 Full Scale Fatigue Test by LM determined that the airframe fatigue life could be as high as 23,000 hours (the average number of flight hours on all S3’s at the time being less than 13,000 hours). Of course flying these aircraft from runways would eat up the life much slower than catapult launches and arrested landings. The main problem is that the USN removed the sono-bouy launchers and acoustic processing equipment during the 1990’s. However upgrades to the rest of the aircraft were constant up to its requirement. I suggest we could probably get these aircraft dirt cheap, and we could buy twice as many as we need in order to strip aircraft for spares etc. I label this as high risk because we would need to buy new (or re-integrate) original sonobouy launchers, the sonobouy receiver and acoustic processor of the Merlin HM2 could be fitted, but this would mean integration and would cost some money.

However its most high risk because integrating new kit can cause problems, which equal budget increases and delays.  However with respect to the rumour that the FAA might be flying the MPA’s – this is a jet aircraft which might allow us to keep some FAA pilots current on jets, and it only has a small crew of 4, so the wages bill would not be too steep !

See here and here

Low Risk – Second Hand

P3 Orions. Yep, thats what I said, Orions….. Building on its experience re-vamping Brazil and Spain’s P3s, Airbus Military will rebuild some for us, again using the FITS mission system. I suggest this is low risk as they have done the rebuilds before, and so this should be a known quantity. We could pick up old airframes from the USN and off we go. However, this is a bigger aircraft, it maybe turbo-prop but the running costs might be a bit higher. Personally I don’t like the idea of refurbishing an airframe almost as old as the Nimrods !

See here

Low Risk – New

The jewel in the Airbus Military crown ? The C295 MPA is already in use with the Chilean Navy and Portuguese Air Force, and based on the earlier CN235 which is in use with many more air arms. With 11 hour endurance and 6 weapons stations this dual turbo-prop could be the optimum commercial solution. Procured as “Military Off the Shel” with out gold plating by MoD, the C295 could be the “good enough” solution to give us a low risk, viable solution for probably pretty low capital acquisition and running costs.

See here

[TD, Jed, what about the ATR42/72]

Re-using Nimrod mission system components

3 out of the 4 options above are from Airbus Military and all come with the FITS mission system, which can be considered low risk as they have been fitting to planes for the last 15 years. We could introduce an element of risk by re-using some of the systems developed for the Nimrod. The Thales UK Searchwater 2000 radar (which is generally accepted as being best in class) springs to mind, so with TD’s mantra of : “commonality, commonality, and more commonality…..” in mind how about –

The A400M Option

Yep, I went and said it didn’t I !

I am not sure where I want to place this option on the spectrum of risk, but here goes:

You fit the Searchwater in the aircraft (and ESM and other antenna would not be permanent fixtures on the airframe too), but all the other mission systems, displays processing etc go into a purpose designed pod which is rolled into the A400M’s cavernous hold. The hold being much bigger than a Nimrod’s cabin I assume we would fit crew rest area, galley etc. The rear para-trooping doors could be replaced by port and starboard sono-bouy launchers. The main issue would weapons fit. We know there are outer wing hard points for hose and drogue refueling pods, a pair of Stingrays on each of these would be pretty low risk.

As the A400M rear ramp has a 6 tonne cargo capacity, would it be beyond our ability to design a reasonably low risk solution using drogue chutes to pull a Stingray out of some sort of magazine fitted to the ramp ? With the good ground clearance of a tactical airlifter, perhaps under fuselage hard points could even suffice ?

Of course the other problem is the A400M is not in full production yet, so it would take a while for us to get any online, but otherwise just thing of the commonality………..


Make use of kit we already have ?

I will finish with a more off the wall suggestion. We don’t need an ASW capable MPA, because we could simply upgrade ALL remaining (38 ?) Merlin HM1 to Merlin HM2 standard AND fit some of them (for shore based use) with the in-flight refuelling probe which has been tested on Merlin’s before, AND buy some KC130J fitted with SeaSpray 7500E radars (as the USCG Herc’s).  Or we could even get Marshall’s to refurb and upgrade some second hand Herc’s (or our own, like the two they did for the Dutch Air Force !). These aircraft could do the long range surface search and SAR tasking, while being able to air-to-air refuel Merlin’s could keep them on station longer when sanitizing the approaches to the west coast of Scotland for any nasties lurking in wait for our ‘bombers’……

To finish on a really, really blasphemous note, perhaps Marshall’s or FRA could even provide the Herc’s on a “power by the hour” basis…….. !

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Phil Darley
March 3, 2011 8:40 pm

With a billion to spend why the fcuk did we scrap Nimrod?

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
March 3, 2011 8:52 pm

Err, why no P8 option? I really fail to see why, after failing repeatedly to get the A400 into service, we should kick more money in Airbus’s direction. I would avoid like the plague *anything* prefixed with the word Euro, because they have consistently failed to deliver anything on time that matches the original requirement, while the delays and overruns have gutted our armed forces. I really don’t care if BAE military goes bust, I’d prefer to have functioning armed forces thanks…

March 3, 2011 9:00 pm

TD im a bit surprised you left the P8 off the list surely a high end low risk option. Its likely to be what the majority of our international partners our operating and it quite multi role if you believe the PR. However as they cant buy our tanker we may not be able to buy there MPA

A problem I see with the a319 is how many orders do airbus need to put it into production. I doubt a small uk only buy would be enough and cant see outside france who else would want it.

C295 looks good BUT how much are we losing capability wise with it is 50% or 75% of what we had. It is however better than nothing I also saw a mock up of this aircraft as a gunship recently might be good as that smaller transport too.

March 3, 2011 9:02 pm

First of all I’d like to know whether MPAs of any kind are REALLY effective against AIP SSKs or SSNs in blue water. I don’t think they are. At most they are the threat that pushes procurement from SSKs to AIP SSKs.

What sensor could they possibly use to detect a submerged sub?

Radar – AIP SSKs and SSNs can stay submerged for weeks, and even if an AIP SSK does snorkel it can still first extend a tiny ESM antenna whose echo is smaller than the echo of much of the dirt that floats on oceans.

Diesel sniffer – obsolete since the 80’s, too many diesel engines in the world pollute the air

Magnetic anomaly detector – outdated, amagnetic steels and other countermeasures have been effective since the 60’s (see German type 206 SSKs)

Sonobuoys – need to be expended in huge quantities unless there’s at least a good estimate for the sub’s location. Sonobuoys furthermore use sound frequencies that are being countered by anechoic tiles, while the modern very low frequencies cannot be used by sonobuoys (afaik).
Confidential technologies; electric field? Blue/green laser? That doesn’t seem promising from a physics point of view. Wave analysis / bulge over sub in small depth? Doesn’t work with slow and deep subs. Maybe someone else knows an alternative sensor for the detection of submerged (200+ ft depth) and slow-moving subs.

Let’s assume the navy cannot tell the politicians a good reason why a MPA would be able to detect a careful SSN, SSGN, SSBN or AIP SSK. (Even good SSKs may be quite safe in some regions.)

What’s left? A requirement for a surface patrol aircraft!
Coastal over-the-horizon radars can keep a good overview about where ships are and their movement vectors, and they can log all movements. A patrol aircraft would only be necessary for identification and inspection. Both can be done with a rather cheap aircraft, let’s say a twin turboprop business aircraft with some extra equipment. That would be a classic coast guard job in many countries, not a navy job.

A navy would add a wartime utility requirement, and we might end up with a twin turbofan business aircraft that also has a SAR (synthetic aperture radar) for identification of ships at 100+ nm distance (synthetic 3D image of the ship on a screen).

Last I heard is that there should be numerous business jets for sale, so this should be rather affordable. Such radars are available off-the-shelf as well.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 3, 2011 9:11 pm

Its gotta be the C295 with the Searchwater radars for me. I think the P8 would be too expensive,the A319 and A400 don’t exist and the P3 and S3 are a bit long in the tooth..

March 3, 2011 9:12 pm

I’d be happy with anything than the current situation, and I think the C295 MPA you suggest gives a really good value ‘80% is good enough’ solution.
However, the A319 seems really attractive as you could load some Storm Shadow missiles (if they fit…) to make it a long-range strike aircraft (if we needed to take out some Libyan assets for example).
I’m also wondering if the A319 is as high risk as you suggest. The airframe (as an airliner) is already fully tried, tested and reliable (no more wing fitting issues as per the Nimrod…), and the FITS system is already out there.
Would there be any parts commonality with the FSTA tanker aircraft (Airbus A330)? For ongoing maintenance, we could negotiate a contract with the AirTanker consortium. The A319 could be added into whatever servicing agreement we have with them. No need for additional maintenance training and personnel, AirTanker can just line ’em up next to the FSTA and get to work whenever maintenance is needed.

Think Defence
March 3, 2011 9:15 pm
Reply to  Phil Darley

Phil, nail meet head!

Personally, I think the story is complete nonsense and it will be a decade before we get back into the MPA business and its name will be Scavenger :)

March 3, 2011 9:19 pm

That MarshMellow bloke who posts over at ARRSE doesn’t like the P8.

March 3, 2011 9:20 pm

I meant MagicMushroom. It has been one of those days. Sorry

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 3, 2011 9:25 pm

Most likely scenario I reckon is the Raytheon Sentinels will be pushed into the maritime role after afghan and watchkeeper is fully operational

March 3, 2011 9:44 pm

Apparently an order for 16 A319 MPA would be sufficient to get the aircraft in production and with some MPA competitions in the offing including India who are opening a follow up competition despite an initial P-8 order, the RAF could benefit from being a loss leader. Other countries who might have a future need include France, Spain and Canada.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 3, 2011 9:46 pm

Its not really my idea for a MPA either, its optimised for higher altitudes but needs must. Hardpoints or a conformal bomb bay would allow deployment of ordnance.The programme apparently cost a billion aswell.

If all we are looking for is surface surveillance then when the SAR-H PFI is re opened then why not tack SAR-A? onto it?

March 3, 2011 9:48 pm


Fastest finger first and all that. I think your right as regard cn295. Should have said P8 is the lowest risk high end solution.

TD taking mod at face valve with nimrod and it was just on opeating costs that it was ditched then we need something cheaper than 200m per year to operate. Is it a coincidence than 5 years operating cost of nimrod is 1b and that takes us to 2016 service entry for a new mpa perhaps.

Scavenger can only ever be used as a force multiplier for a manned mpa such as BAMS in the US and provided scavenger is a UAV that can operate in icing conditions.

Willy Sentinel will go in 2015 from the rumours I here there are plenty of suitors already enquiring of here availability or at least for the aircraft part.

March 3, 2011 9:54 pm

What about ATR-72 ASW? – it looks like they cost about £20 million a plane plus system integration and both the Italy and Turkey are buying them. Sure it would mean a good chunk of our tax money going outside the UK, but it looks like the ATR-72 ASW is roughly in the same class as the C-295 MPA and the ATR-72 uses a Selex radar.

Peter Arundel
Peter Arundel
March 3, 2011 9:57 pm

If a billion has been found (unlikely) would the MOD DARE to spend it on an MPA so soon after the Nimrods were cut up? Questions would be asked in the house even though the average MP has the memory of a concussed goldfish and a grasp of military issues on a par with the average pre-schooler . . .

March 3, 2011 10:13 pm

Out of interest what is more important in a new MPA – numbers or capability – if £1 billion brought the FAA 21 S-3’s refurbished and equipped as closely as possible as a Merlin ASW or 21 C-295 MPA/ATR-72 ASW’s but only brought 9 P-8’s which would be better the larger numbers or the better capabilities of the P-8?

March 3, 2011 10:15 pm

C-295 would seem to hit the sweet spot: low’ish purchase & operating costs; low risk, off-the-shelf, proven solution (just don’t Anglicise it!); no political problems with buying a full on jet (P8, A319) after recently binning Nimrod; similar or better performance to popular Maritime Surveillance aircraft like the Dash 8 but with a better cabin cross-section.
Capability is about right for an aircraft that will likely spend the majority of it’s life doing surface search (go fasts, pirate mother ships, civilian SAR support, etc) rather than ASW; and if even that work is quiet, you could pull the mission suite out (buy palletised version only) and help out with intra-theatre tactical airlift.
Two things though –
1. (as above) DO NOT Anglicise it! Spend your money on more aircraft or at least a fill out a decent spares line from day one (I know an unusual concept for a UK air programme)
2. After the RAF’s mismanagement keep it in the RN where most other nations place their MPAs. Plus we might keep some FAA personnel in work.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 3, 2011 10:57 pm

I remember reading somewhere that the noise of turbo-props can be heard by subs which is why the USN gave the S-3 fans and why, despite its age, the Nimrod was a very effective ASW aircraft. I like the S-3 option but agree there are risks… Could we have a “swing role” MPA/Transport apart from the A400? MR(C)-17? ;p

March 3, 2011 11:03 pm


What you said, really. And especially the part about typical missions. There’s a lot of “aid-to-C2,” thinking in surface fleet terms, in the work of an MPA these days. And they’re still ASW ready, and you can change the guts of CN-295 to use it (in dark blue livery) for tactical transport of the Royal Marines, saving the RAF a job and providing further task-oriented integration or some other bullshit bingo that means “this works well as a team op.” I would also go for CN-295 because, if you buy off the shelf pounds-for-euros, I’ll bet you could get a batch of 16-18, plus start a parts line, and have a couple hundred million quid (out of a notional billion) left over. So if you then sold the Albions and Ocean as well, you could pay for a Juan Carlos LHD and say, “see, we got Very Useful patrol planes back and a big boat that can ‘do’ contingencies like the Libyan evacuation/blockade/whatever with more versatility and lower manning than the current white-ensign phibs.” Like in American — US American, there are plenty of other kinds — political history (which I once helped teach two courses in, in a past life) change from whatever angle comes to MoD procurement in short, sharp shocks or not at all.


I hear you about your seven year old. My middle girls, eight and five, not disposed to that sort of viewing, decided their Playmobil princesses needed to rescue someone from the Red Queen (a la Alice)’s minions the other day, and set up task-oriented teams of minions that would’ve done a combined arms brigade proud. Maybe we should lower the voting age ….


Second the goldfish-love. Put that out somewhere BBC bloggers or some bit of social media can pick it up, it’s a grand description.


Given the sheer scope of low-to-middle-end, operationally useful, PR friendly jobs for MPA and their geographic scope (absent “presence squadrons” or some such) I’d say go for numbers. And with CN-295, if we’re all on about EUeyness how about a common parts line for the various emergent CN-295 users around EU/NATO, with everyone chipping in a bit on costs. If they can do it for comfy chairs in Brussels ….

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 3, 2011 11:13 pm

Remember Britain had a trade deficit of nearly £100 billion in 2010.
If we import something, we should try to get a balancing deal.
For example, if we buy the P8, then the USAF should buy Hawks.
Or the Spanish should buy Merlins if we buy the C-295.
C-295 seems the most cost effective, but not sure I would want to be mid Atlantic in it during a winter storm.
Left field candidate would be 2nd hand A318. The A318 is deemed slightly too heavy for its size. The fact that it is too chunky for airlines, may make it tough enough for the military. Many near new ex airline coming on market. Should be cheap. Recycle MRA4 radar & EO turret onto A318. Add other kit if it is low risk. MAD boom should be easy. Sonobouy launch might be better from a pod. Weapons from a pod or hardpoints. A weapons bay is too much financial risk.

March 3, 2011 11:40 pm

John Hartley just above,

I like your wondering about whether “chunky for airlines” equals sturdy frame. Don’t know about CN-295 in North Atlantic conditions (agreed about a Spanish Merlin buy, anyway it would give them commonality with their frequent naval/amphibious partners the Italians) but we could ask the Irish Air Corpse how their CN-235MP does. The Naval Service is always going on about handling the ugliness of Atlantic weather so there are probably some data points there to map.

March 4, 2011 1:15 am

Jed — fair enough. Wasn’t sure how much the 295MP was a “come as you are” a little like the ASaC set up (other than the belly gear) or not. But then they might let you do a deal on a handful of the cousin models, one careful owner (if I can wish I’ll try to wish useful) ….

All POliticians are the same
All POliticians are the same
March 4, 2011 6:02 am


The problem with the A318 is it only has a range of 3,200NM compared to the A319ER of 5,200NM.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
March 4, 2011 8:33 am

It’s difficult to draw conclusions without knowing:

1. Exactly what these planes are required to do: what they will be expected to locate, out to what distances and for how long, and whether they are required to carry anything droppable (liferafts, weapons, sonobuoys).

2. How each of the planes performs relative to the above requirements.

3. The quality of the sensor suite, which as well as radar must include a powerful electro-optical video system, including thermal imaging, in a stabilised turret mounting. That’s essential for identifying ships and even hunting for survivors.

4. What each of the planes will cost to buy and operate, on a like-for-like basis, when equipped to meet the requirements.

5. The pros and cons of operating UAVs to cover part or all of the roles.

March 4, 2011 8:45 am

So it sounds like we want numbers over capability then – most people are voting C-295 MPA (I still like the ATR-72, and you can also get an MPA version of the CN-235 which carries weapons).

If we just want a MP platform then I am partial to the Bombardier 415 MP with it amphibious capabilities. Alternatively maybe BAE can get a licence to build us some Beriev A-40’s as our MPA :-)

On a more serious note, I have always been a fan of the S-3, and I am not sure it is as risky as Jed thinks. There are a couple of issues with any plan to use the S-3, firstly you would need to buy about twice the number that you planed to operate, in order to break down half of them for spares. In order to get them cheap we would likely have to agree to all the work in the US. Then there is the issue of range. Now I am not sure operator fatigue is the limiting factor or fuel, but if it is fuel can the S-3 be refulled in flight and is it possible to re-plumb the two wing hard points to make them suitable for drop tanks? Then there are mission sensors. The later S-3’s dropped the MAD and 1 crew member to go to a crew of three. The are several different configurations in storage, some have partial glass cockpits, a FLIR and NVG ready while others are not. To avoid different configurations in FAA service we would need to strip the airframes back to bear metal, re-wire, install new computers and missions systems and a brand new senor turret and radar. However given LM UK’s work on the Merlin, I suspect we could get a high level of commonality between the Merlin and the S-3 if it is refitted by LM, I also suspect the price per refitted S-3 would be around £40 – £50 million, but that does not include any weapon integration costs. The question is could we agree a fixed price contract with LM for say 12 rebuilt S-3’s, plus 40 spare engines, a simulator, and support for 5 years all for a £1 billion?

Finally, if a £1 billion does turn up for a MPA (which I think is possible, as not having an MP or MPA is like not have any aircraft for QRA, a basic defence requirement), where would we base them given that Kinloss is all but earmarked for the army to use once it returns from Germany.

Somewhat Removed
March 4, 2011 8:53 am

Not sure where the spare billion has appeared from. If it really exists, then maybe it should be spent on PR11. Watch this space – my bet is the rest of the Tornado fleet is about to get it. Either that or another 3 Type 23’s. It’s going to be painful.

Chances of getting a new MPA is slim to nonexistent. Would be nice to see a handful of GlobalHawks for the long range UK SAR/surveillance role though!

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
March 4, 2011 8:54 am

What’s all this about a spare billion? If it exists it just means we are borrowing £139 BILLION this year instead of 140.

March 4, 2011 8:57 am

If the rumours are true, and the government has suddenly found £1bn to buy some MPA, then theres something very very fishy going on.

Thats enough to operate the Nimrods for 5 years.

I’m trying to get away from it, but the only conclusion I can come to is the Nimrod did not work.

March 4, 2011 9:04 am

The latest news on defence is that more ‘hideous cuts’ are forthcoming,so it is obvious that we do not have £1bn in the kitty at the moment.
The government knows that our defences have been seriously weakened by the scrapping of MRA4 which was just as much a political decision as it was monetary.
I think it was Luff who made a rather low key announcement in Parliament some time ago that the government was looking at other options for MPA so it was already in the pipline even then.
To set up a team to look into various options is at least sensible for when the money is available.
I have said for months and it is still my firm belief that shortly after 2015 when all the furore over MRA4 has died down,we will see discussions between the UK and the US on the procurement of P-8.

Think Defence
March 4, 2011 9:08 am
Reply to  DominicJ

Dom, if that is the case, Nimrod MRA4 being a crock of shit, I think we should be asking those nice people at BAe for our money back.

I have noticed the reasons for cancellation varying, first off it was simply money, then it has changed to ‘well, it never worked’

I don’t know but I think there were a few issues that could easily be resolved but it was sold down the river as a sacrificial ‘tough choices’ lamb

The Oncoming Storm
The Oncoming Storm
March 4, 2011 9:35 am

Sorry for going off topic but I had to bite my tongue when I read this this morning!


March 4, 2011 10:28 am

@ Oncoming Storm
I’ve seen this before in private bussinesses “you must alwaysbuy fromthe preferred supplier”

Back on topic; if they’ve found a £billion, wouldn’t it make sense to look into some prime movers to get personnel and materiel in theatre when they need to?

And yes I do know that ships cost more than a billion pounds!

Cheers, Alan.

March 4, 2011 10:34 am

Would the USN be willing to sell its S-3s? After all they are only at AMARC because the Russian sub threat reduced, but if the Chinese became a greater danger then carriers would have them back on board. Besides, the is a bit small and putting new kit in would be like an extra half pint on top of the squeezed in quart. Sentinel was similarly perhaps a bit too small as a platform.
My suggestion is to think Rhodesian and buy a cheap platform like the BAe ATP (low wing so better ditching characteristics) of which there are still at least thirty around. Fit with Searchwater 2000 and sensor turret, push Lindholme gear out of the rear cargo door and you have an updated 748 Coastguarder. And add a pylon for a volcanic dust sampler under a wingtip. Worry about fitting missiles etc if the threat emerges.

March 4, 2011 10:47 am

Is there any possibility for C295 with searchwater, or does that get dangerously close to the weight margin problems described by admin with the sentinel aircraft?

I note the problems that Sven raises, and accept the notion that if we are to have ASW subhunting aircraft it ought to have decent subhunting kit, otherwise we might as well buy some cesna’s equipped for-and-with binoculars.

Good article Jed.

March 4, 2011 11:16 am

Where I am coming from has been pretty well covered by the contributions by S O and TW, in that time order.

So, Jed, to answer your additional question for comments: Yes, MPs without the armaments should be one option in the evaluation.

That nicely takes me to what I would propose as an additional criterion: cross-deployable, from ship and from ashore (to be able to mix and make best use of limited numbers)
– leaves only two of the options in the leading-in article: more Merlin conversions or S3
– more Merlin conversions should be a combination with Herc SARs (and violate the tanker PFI conditions, as they would be doing part of the mission PLUS keeping the Merlins on station longer through AAR, or sometimes just the AAR)

…S3: long in the tooth, conversion risks but, heyy, SLAM-ER would give the carrier[s] a stand-off range bomber for neutralising defences while the stealthy 12-strong air wing does more by way of penetrating (or by-passing) those defences

March 4, 2011 11:24 am

Brian, good point!
“After all they are only at AMARC because the Russian sub threat reduced, but if the Chinese became a greater danger then carriers would have them back on board. ”
– all the 4 SeaWolf subs (production was discontinued as they were considered over-expensive Cold War relics) have been moved to operate out of Oregon, exactly to counter (= keep tabs on) that threat
– however, there are so many different configs in storage that the numbers we would, perhaps, want to take for stripping down and refitting could come out of the more exotic tranches (many of them non-ASW)

March 4, 2011 11:41 am

“I don’t know but I think there were a few issues that could easily be resolved but it was sold down the river as a sacrificial ‘tough choices’ lamb”
But if we’re about to spend another billion on replacement, it stands to reason that MRA4 needed at least a billion to get airworthy.

Dumping Fully functional Nimrod to save £200mn a year makes no sense.
It makes even less sense to tear the frames apart and then spend £1bn on more MRA aircraft.

Unless, Nimrod was not fully function, and regardless of the money spent so far and in the futre, was not likely to ever be fully functional.

“I think we should be asking those nice people at BAe for our money back.”
Possible, but if we failed to inform them that the aircraft were all essentialy unique, they could fight it.
I know you point out we’re there only customer, but there are limits.

The more I think about, the more I come back to, the entire project was an utter failure.

I’ve just had a quick check on Wiki and found this.
“In January 2011 it was reported by the Financial Times that when the decision was taken to scrap the aircraft, “[The MRA4] was still riddled with flaws…. Safety tests conducted [in 2010] found there were still ‘several hundred design non-compliances’ with the aircraft. It was unclear, for example, whether its bomb bay doors functioned properly, whether its landing gear worked and, most worryingly, whether its fuel pipe was safe.”[29] According to Air Forces Monthly magazine, “significant aerodynamic issues and associated flying control concerns in certain regimes of flight meant that it was grounded at the time of cancellation and may not have been signed over as safe by the.. Military Aviation Authority.” The magazine also stated that the reason for the cancellation was that the RAF and Navy placed a higher priority on fast jets and frigates than on maritime patrol.[30]”

I was under the impression the MRA4’s were ready to go.
It sounds like they were utterly ****ed and no one was being honest about the program.

If we go with Cats and Traps, the Viking sounds like a handy little plaform, ASW, ELINT, AWACS lite.
They’re already, the US is more likely to replace than reactivate.

Depending on events in 2012, perhaps we could put in a cheeky bid for the entire fleet.

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
March 4, 2011 12:03 pm

Jed et al

My thoughts on this whole category of requirements can be summarised as “off the shelf for fuck’s sake”. We *could* develop our own, but what’s the point if our requirement will never rise above say 10-20? Thinking like this has wrecked our armed forces. Save development money for when we either *must* own the capability (rare), need something unique, and require a good number….

March 4, 2011 12:12 pm

Hi Rupert, agreed
– when we either *must* own the capability (rare),but that was the case in past, within the agreed NATO specialisation
– need something unique; we still have enough of it (All of it does NOT need to come with wings/ rotors, and can be multi-use, too)
– and require a good number…as you say, not the case in this discussion

March 4, 2011 12:43 pm

as I understand it part of our MPA (MRA?) capability was to act as protection for the deterrant while at sea. Is/was this the case?

If so; if we start using a carrier based MPA can it, a) still perform this function, and b) is it a bit of a large indication of when and where the deterrant is while at sea?
(Within the range of said carrier based MPA.)

Cheers, Alan.

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 4, 2011 1:21 pm

If we want interoperability/commonality with the cat and traps carriers then why not E2D Hawkeye to replace the Sea King ASaC and a E2 Hawkeye variant to cover MRA

March 4, 2011 1:25 pm

My position is close to that expressed by ACC, S O and TW. The sad fact is that £1bn does not actually buy that much now days – any attempt at buying new will probably lead to cost overruns in the long term. I would love to have something that could cross deck with the new CVFs, but the advanced Hawkeye is way beyond the budget. The Viking does sound interesting but is not a long term solution due to the airframe’s age.

For another ‘off the wall suggestion’ – how about a mixture of additional surface vessels, ASW helicopters and light maritime reconnaissance aircraft? For example perhaps £1bn would stretch to:

* 4 x HMS Clyde type patrol vessels with Sonar 2087 and armed with Merlin ASW helicopters; probably enough to have 3 at sea at all times.

* A mixture of Beechcraft C-12 Huron (RC-12M model as used by the USN) and Hawker 800 U-125A (as used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force) – say 36 planes organised into 4 squadrons.

March 4, 2011 2:11 pm

I was reading this months AFM and was very surprised to read in its editorial by Gary Parsons that they had requested a visit to the Hercules SAR provision at Lyneham and were turned down due to the unhelpful and emotive media reporting of the Nimrod decision. This suggests to me their isnt one. Not only that as far as the Nimrod withdrawal goes it was only done for political reasons and to look tough which has now back fired.

S3 would be a mistake, they may cost very little to actually buy but I would bet we would be spending a lot to upgrade them to the required standard for a limited overall capability. If it has to be low cost then a CN-295 or dont bother.

As for were the 1b came from all of a sudden did I miss hear the defence secretary earlier in the week or did he say having looked at the budget that less personnel will be made redundant and that 136 tornados will be spread over the 5 operational squadrons and ocu as opposed to the major reductions pre briefed in the news. Has something changed or is this all window dressing.

March 4, 2011 2:51 pm

Hi Mark @ 2:11,

The Parliamentary answers (1 mission undertaken) point to the same directions as your ” This suggests to me their isnt one.”

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
March 4, 2011 3:23 pm

New build P-3 anyone? Tried and tested systems on a tried and tested airframe. Accepted its not going to happen, but the proposed replacement for the P-3 was the P-7, essentially a redesigned P-3. If they can redesign a C-130H and call it the C-130J, why not manufacture the P-3C with new engines and avionics and call it the P-3J, (for want of a name)?

Pie in the sky stuff I know, but worth a mention.

Or alternatively, how about an Atlantique 3?

March 4, 2011 3:28 pm

Hi RS,

RE “redesign a C-130H and call it the C-130J”
– it took a while and the letters progressed past “J”… that one always confuses me

As someone mentioned, the P-3 rebuild has been done, but also the 20 Brequet Atlantiques are in the works; take 10 and translate the manuals?

March 4, 2011 3:31 pm

“We don’t need an ASW capable MPA”
RUSI has a completely different opinion on this. They see the MPA as the single most important ASW-asset as it is capable to assert sustained pressure, while guiding other assets to target.

Any solution should use as much of the state of the art kit from Nimrod as possible. My options would look like:

Embraer P-99
Makes sense to get Brazil into an T26-contract. Faster than a C295. R-99 is an readily available AEW-version.

Bell-Boeing V22 Osprey
Opens the possibility to get a supreme CSAR- and SOI-aircraft, later on maybe even an option to carrier-borne AEW or an Onboard-delivery version (as the USN looked after). Has certain capability-overlaps with Merlin, faster than Merlin and roughly equal with C295, but this didn’t prevent us from buying Future Lynx at all.

Both medium risk (both at roughly $80m), the former faster and longer endurance, the second forward deployable and carrier capable. The V-22 option would bring some of the money back, as the engine is from RR.

The idea of taking an Airbus aircraft is politically poisoned IMHO, since Airbus dropped the RR-engine for the A320eco (the other teams contained a french and a german engine maker).

March 4, 2011 4:11 pm


On the non-high end side of things, I really like your thinking about the opportunity to back-door a C3 (basically) with the stretched-Clyde/Merlin ASaC combination. Just add a 57mm gun up front, noodle with crew space, and gear to “flex” the Merlin (for its ASW role, and maybe a minesweeping “sled” like USN uses) and you’re most-way there.


Something was nagging at me in the course of this and it’s the P-99. Yes. Good choice. And it does help rope in Brazil on mutual contracts. (Which is fine by itself if you’re fine having part of your defence industry as Brazil’s bespoke tailor — nice way to make some needed money. If HMG wants a bilateral relationship/borderline alliance though, here will have to be more Astutes and a working carrier force, so that Brazil feels it’s better off with the UK as an ally than a potential opponent.) And I really want to like the V-22, I’m just waiting to see whether all those handling troubles (especially when it changes state from linear flight to VTOL) have finally shaken out.) Love having a RR engine. Agreed Wildcat still has a home on frigates & such. Rather than AEW I’d develop it as CSAR aboard the carriers and as a replacement for the Junglies for a future LHD (banging the Juan Carlos drum again …) but that’s just down to taste. In this particular case, while I wonder about the high-end ops from an MPA platform which keeps one and a half of my feet in the CN-295 camp, P-99 would be a very efficient, and strategically savvy, replacement at the higher end.

March 4, 2011 4:11 pm

I think it was I who suggested Carrier usage.
Although the frames are oldish, carrier launch wise, for the americans, thats mitigated somewhat by the fact that they have 10 carriers, 8 or 9 of which are at sea most of the time.
We might have two, one of which will be active, some of the time.
The idea of sticking a big fat radar on one, along with some BVRMs, both ship and air, did occur, Harrier III in concept if not fact.

Big Dave Airways probably wont Complain that Medium Dave Airways is muscling in on fighter country if the FAA starts flying Sea Control Aircraft.

March 4, 2011 4:13 pm

Mike1 agrees with Mike2!

Where has this £1Billion come from? I think that although there is a team discussing it and evaluating it, politics will demand that a decision be with-held until the sh!t storm MRA4 kicked up has died down…

This seems to be fantasizing at the moment, sadly, since more cuts are on the horizon I think we are getting ahead of ourselves.

I am surprised the S3 has been mentioned, TD, since its just as old as Nimrod/P3 and quite a lot smaller, with smaller range (would we revive ‘buddy tanking’? Something we havent seen since the 70’s!), payload (both weapons, sonar-bouys and systems) and capability… well thats my take on it, we’d be better off buying the C295 I think, sadly.

Also surprised by McZ idea of the V22, it was a remote option for AEW but the sheer cost of it, its been off Boeings brochures and has been for a while, a Billion would buy too few airframes and the logistics would be a nightmare, better off buying more Merlins!

But again, we’re fantasizing! lol this Billion means a billion taken away from something else…. maintenance/upgrades for A400, or FRESS or Type 26 or the Carriers… or even this billion is made up of the pay and cut pensions from thousands of laid of personell? I hope I’m wrong, since we need MPA, but politics and the purse-strings will see us not getting something until at least the 2015 cut and run…er…’SDSR’.

I hope I’m wrong, Libya has prooven and reminded people the worth of a healthy RAF and RN (Afghan has made sure we have an healthy Army)… but this billion (and subsequent operation/logistics costs) will either cut something else or increase that black hole Britain is getting closer to…

March 4, 2011 4:15 pm

DominicJ just above,

Yes to your last comment ref. sea control. And really, yes, a plane with “Harrier III” qualities (V/STOL not a requirement now) would do well and you can get more *of* them. In the end that’s better I think — can’t remember who in the open thread was pointing out the catch-up game of air defence — if you quit half-arseing “perfect” offensive penetration (looking at you, F-35) and accept that against a decently-organised foe you will lose planes, surely the thing is to have 1) more of them to replace losses, 2) better missiles/things that go boom aboard so unless they hit you you’ve made every launch count, and 3) better-trained pilots. With a combination of the three you take casualties but still win, rather than having a knightly class who you can’t afford to lose to ransom (“ransom” these days being replacement costs of pilot/airframe.)

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
March 4, 2011 4:15 pm


’20 Brequet Atlantiques are in the works; take 10 and translate the manuals?’

I’ll take 10, how much? Discount for cash? ;-)

March 4, 2011 4:16 pm

NB: That should have read better trained pilots than theirs” in the last post.

March 4, 2011 5:13 pm

Great talk going on here. Thought I’d throw in a few small comments/remarks.

Why carrier borne? I wouldn’t firmly say we’ve got a carrier or two in future, we just don’t know what the government will do and perhaps just another requirement to complicate things.

Also what about the aircrafts at low altitudes? I thought one of the good things about Nimrods was it performed quite well at low levels.

Someone mentioned when not in use it can be used for transport, while that would be great but does it matter? We are getting A400M and the FSTA, at some point probably some C130 overlapping on the introduction of the new aircraft. So you could say we’ll have enough capacity for transport???

And again, as people have mentioned the money, we’ve probably not got it and if we did then would they let us spend it? I wouldn’t put it past the government to save face by not allowing anyone to procure MPA, after all if it turns out carrying on Nimrod would have been cheaper in the short term in terms of operating costs and procurement, they would look stupid, despite the excellent comment on goldfish MPs, I think when it comes to defence and foreign issues they do have memories but all be it with a dodgy compass and a lack of a deep grasp of things in the wider context.

Over at PPRUNE in a Nimrod thread, someone who worked on the project had said things weren’t that bad and that some of the reporting on its issues failed to highlight that things were getting fixed and that it was air worthiness, or along the lines.

As for comments about doing deals with Brazil, I remember recently they said they were reducing their defence budget, so I wouldn’t say them procuring Type 26s is solid, in fact I think I’d be surprised if they did order some.

March 4, 2011 5:21 pm

Hi jackstaff @ 4:11,

Here “And I really want to like the V-22, I’m just waiting to see whether all those handling troubles (especially when it changes state from linear flight to VTOL) have finally shaken out.) Love having a RR engine. Agreed Wildcat still has a home on frigates & such. Rather than AEW I’d develop it as CSAR aboard the carriers and as a replacement for the Junglies”

We are in the same camp
– the same airframe for (fleet) MRA, which can also be shore-based but in that case does not have a huge range, BUT
– can be the AEW/ ASaC platform with the same airframe (whether the mission modules between that role and for MRA/ ASW can be interchangeable, I won’t speculate)
– CSAR, yes (range in a totally different class; just like service ceiling for ASaC)
… BUT Junglies, no; purely on cost grounds. They do get shot down, I don’t have the figures on hand, but the unit should not be too large (loss of life when one gets hit) nor too expensive (to avoid there being so few that losing a couple will abort the mission , or the capability for the next one)

Think Defence
March 4, 2011 5:22 pm
Reply to  Shibby

Welcome to Think Defence Shibby, have a scroll back through the older posts, there is loads of stuff on Nimrod

March 4, 2011 5:33 pm

Hi Shibby,

RE “about doing deals with Brazil, I remember recently they said they were reducing their defence budget, so I wouldn’t say them procuring Type 26s is solid, in fact I think I’d be surprised if they did order some.”
— not reducing, as in reducing, but growing it by less than the 50% that was pencilled, but not inked, in under the previous president

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 4, 2011 6:03 pm

@ Dominic – I believe you are referring to the missileer concept:



I’m getting de ja vue – Have I posted this before?

RE: Osprey. Everything I’ve heard is baaaaaaaad! It has both engineering and load carrying problems. if the engineering problems were to be/are solved it may be a useful support aircraft; COD, ASW, AEW, etc but I wouldn’t like to see one anywhere near an air assault.

March 4, 2011 6:58 pm

Hi Gareth & Jed,

Of course I agree with you, but
1. Look at how long the story has been running, there must be something in it
– does not mitigate the unit cost argument, though! Cfr my posting
2. Or, is it – as the US legend says – that the USMC gets everything it asks for?
– two test cases now in the running, at the same time; this and the B of F-35… two-year probation (though, by a Sec Of D who has stated he will be leaving within a year – and hard to imagine the next one being as strong)… ( as for x-party support and credentials) as this one

John Hartley
John Hartley
March 4, 2011 7:44 pm

All Politicians
VIP versions of the A318 have extra fuel tanks fitted for extra range.

Phil Darley
March 4, 2011 7:45 pm

I don’t think this fantasy MPA thread is relevant
Surely Shen they decided to go with. Nimrod 2000/MRA4 they looked at all the options and decided that a rebuilt Nimrod met the RAFs requirements. Uveitis assume that if you applied the sane rules now the Nimrod would win. What went wrong was the project was totally fcuked up.

I really don’t think we can choose these third or fourth rate Alternatives!! If we need a high end MPA then we should have built new airframes
And done the job properly. As I have said before
We need a public enquiry on thus. Either BAE has failed it’s contract and which case the MoD is due for a massive reimbursement OR the MoD has totally mid-managed the project in which case heads should role.

There us much that us very fishy about this project. No pun intended

March 4, 2011 9:02 pm

I cant help thinking that the whole Nimrod/MPA saga stems from a very simple issue: BAE were effectively given a blank cheque by the MOD to build an UK only product. They had no reason to try and do something that could actually be sold to anyone else. Honestly, once you get rid of the rose tinted spectacles with Nimrod, you are looking at a DeHaviland Comet4 that was cutting edge 50 years ago. Nimrod2 was the same aircraft but with A320 based wings (cludged onto a 40 year old handbuilt airframe), New engines, an A340 flight deck, a fly by wire system, and a custom designed mission suite that was so specific it was good for just one customer. Also bear in mind that these aircraft tended to get mainly used in the south west for SAR support (which they excelled at) as opposed to hunting now non-existent Russian subs.

I do wonder if one reason the project got binned was to try and kick some sense into BAE. I also wonder if anyone at BAE got called to their management for a meeting without biscuits when they realised they had just created a complete non-product after 15years of work.

Just imagine what they could have done if BAE had started with a clean sheet of paper and a state of the art airframe…probabably a british developed A318MPA that would actually exist by now but also with a chance of proper export orders to the rest of NATO!

Michael (ex-DIS)
Michael (ex-DIS)
March 4, 2011 9:14 pm

I don’t know if any of you have actually flown in a MPA – but down the back is a gang of NCO aircrew. The MOD is sacking about 100 of these people in the autumn. I would think that is the majority of the RAF’s MPA back end people. They don’t waste any time do they?

March 4, 2011 9:23 pm

I just copied my understanding of how the Sea Harrier and Tornado werre expected to function, and pushed the envelope a little further, but yeah, the missiler concept seems pretty close.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 4, 2011 9:52 pm

@ Dominic – I once read an idea to use A-10’s as missileers, data linked to another aircraft with a big radar (AWACS?!

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 4, 2011 9:58 pm

I don’t think I can leave this thread without some Retro-tech; as mentioned above, what about flying boats? LM have had a design foe a ampib version of the C-130 for a while…


March 4, 2011 10:10 pm

@ Jed 2.38

Thanks Jed you answered all my questions regarding the S-3 and fuel.

@ Phil Darley,

I might be biased, but I think Maritime Patrol is a core defence requirement, like air policing, you either need to do it or get someone else in NATO to cover it for you. I suspect that we were banking on France and the US covering and gaps we left with muddling along with our Merlin’s and C-130’s and we have likely been quietly told to pull are socks up and cover it ourselves.

I suspect that they RN will pay for any new MPA by accepting a gap in the numbers of escorts for a few years and when the do final starting buying T26’s settle for fewer T26’s coming into service.

March 4, 2011 10:25 pm

agreed with what your saying in the second part there…perhaps that is where the ‘Billion’ is coming from? Then it makes sense if these are operated by the senior service…sort of like a future ‘IOU’ to the purse holder, since the RAF hasent got such equipment to do such a thing…and cant afford in terms of capability either.

“we have likely been quietly told to pull are socks up and cover it ourselves. ” No the first time either! XD

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 4, 2011 11:31 pm

Lets face it if we stripped away all our expeditionary capabilities and only looked after UK, dependencies and alliance commitments then as an island nation MPA would be pretty high on the list.
I, like pretty much everyone else, would really really like to know what the score with Nimrod is. Did it work? If it did why was it scrapped?

March 4, 2011 11:44 pm

@Gareth: I expect you are aware that the VC-10 was schemed as a Skybolt carrier (p.21) and a missileer as recounted in this book.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 5, 2011 1:09 am

@ Brian – No I was not – on my phone at the moment but will check out those links tomorrow, thank you!

March 5, 2011 1:57 am

The US are apparently building brand new P3s for Taiwan (The Taiwanese apparently rejected the offer of refurbed aircraft and insisted on new builds).

Granted this would be a lot more expensive than rebuilt aircraft and £1 billion probably wouldn’t go to far.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
March 5, 2011 4:09 am

I agree that an MPA should be a core requirement for a island nation dependent on maintaining sea lanes. Personally I would have voted for keeping such a capability and would cheerfully have scrapped however many fast pointy things it took to retain it.

OTOH I’ve never been convinced by the Nimrod rebuild idea, it was so obviously a dead-end project with no prospect of any export sales or cooperative work with anyone else. It is unfortunate that at the time the requirement was being considered, there was no top-line western MPA in production or in prospect. Had the timescales been different, the P8 would have been the obvious solution. Given the time wasted, it now might be.

The Airbus 319 looks attractive but probably too expensive for us to do by ourselves, we would need to get someone else interested which may not be easy with the similar P8 on the horizon.

I am also very much in favour of off-the-shelf buys wherever possible for all military equipment. I used to be a “buy British” fan but this has caused us to waste such huge sums of money to no benefit whatsover that I’ve gone off the idea. If we’d simply bought the best available product from wherever, we would now have far better-equipped armed forces for one heck of a lot less money. Sure, an off-the-shelf item might not tick every single box on the military’s wish-list but a 75% solution in service quickly and cheaply is a far better outcome than the mythical 100% solution which never gets built after soaking up billions.

Which brings me to my conclusion, which is that if we don’t want to wait until the P8 is ready (and I don’t, really), we should buy something available now and not start arseing about wasting more billions and years in trying to adapt ancient airframes or design our own conversions.

I didn’t know about the Embraer P-99, that looks very interesting especially if the Wiki quoted price of $80 million is anywhere near correct. The C-295 MPA looks like a reasonable standby/comparator.

I must admit I haven’t looked into airborne ASW (except from helos with dipping sonars) for a long time, most of the attention seems to have been on shipborne capabilities. Given the vast amount of effort been put in “stealthifying” (sorry) subs in recent decades, what is the chance of an MPA actually spotting one which doesn’t want to be found, and how would it do it? Sonobuoys?

March 5, 2011 7:31 am

There isn’t a spare billion pounds so the topic is academic.

Even if there were, the prime minister is hardly likely to approve spending it on the purchase of a new MPA aircraft fleet five minutes after he chopped the last one up telling everyone we could, at least for the time being, manage without.

If the RAF is determined to reconstitute MPA capability any time in the near future I’d suggest they start looking at bolting the parts salvaged from the Nimrods into a C130. We own both the parts and the aircraft already, so the RAF could presume to proceed without a financial approval. The assembly costs could be lost in a maintenance budget so no one need be embarrassed about the cost. If after a year or two the RAF could unveil an example of a working C130 MPA, built apparently at no cost, they would probably get a pat on the back and all the politicians would ask why that wasn’t done in the first place.

Of course the result may all be string and sellotape compared with a properly built solution, and it may not be possible at all.

March 5, 2011 8:40 am

Phil Darley,
Agree with you entirely,unfortunately it seems that wishfull thinking and fantasy rule.
You will note that as soon as a logical solution to the problem is put forward it is ignored in favour of more flights of fancy,no account is taken of finances available or of trying to understand what the MOD take on it could be.
Suggesting exotic forms of surveilence which have no chance of seeing the light of day seems to be the name of the game.
It seems unacceptable to look at the problem with any sort of reality,or is it perhaps a sign of desperation that we are unable to face the facts so therefore inhabit an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world.

March 5, 2011 8:47 am

Wiki has a bit from behind the FT paywall that leads me to believe they were an absolute mess.
Which does explain the cancellation rather well.
If nothing else, £220mn operating costs is a massive underestimation on an entirely bespoke fleet of bespoke aircraft.

March 5, 2011 12:37 pm

Hi Gareth,

RE “LM have had a design foe a ampib version of the C-130 for a while…”
– you (Dr. Kopp) actually had a much nicer one in the expeditionary warfare & its problems article (big enough to fly 750 troops across the Pacific, in those days refueling obviously)

March 5, 2011 12:47 pm

Hi RW @ 7:31,

RE ” I’d suggest they start looking at bolting the parts salvaged from the Nimrods into a C130. We own both the parts and the aircraft already”
– I seem to remember (I hope I’m right) that LM was the integrator for the Nimrod electronics suite
– hmmm, they make the Hercs, so not such a bad idea

Back to my old question, which shed holds all those paid-for systems that could be put on another airframe (some of the USGC Hercs were conversions, too)

March 5, 2011 6:02 pm

Does anyone else think that it’s really unlikely that anyone will stop flying C130, ever? I’d bank on LM eventually getting some follow on orders…just too useful and reliable.

Regarding the V22, ISTR someone on PPRuNe saying that the Russians had addressed the same requirements, and decided just to build a REALLY big helicopter – the Mi-26 HALO.

March 5, 2011 6:18 pm

I am sure I read that Halo cost £10 million a copy (with the latest glass cockpit) about a quarter the cost of a Merlin. And a hour’s flying time costs £10,000. So for the price of one Merlin you could buy 4 Merlins, run them at the same cost per hour, and move approximately 20 times the weight.

Numbers are fun.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 5, 2011 8:48 pm

@ ACC – We could build them out of wood!:p (Would that be cheaper or more expensive than metal?)

@ Alex – Classic and adaptive/upgrade able designs can indeed go on forever; B-52, M113 APC,Hawk trainer, etc.

Both the Yanks and Russkis like to build big, but where’s the US likes hi-tech and expensive the Russians just build the original design/concept bigger.

March 5, 2011 10:21 pm

@ Jed

I have just been reminded that T45 doesn’t have a proper sonar. So I propose we scrap your fantasy MPA and spend the money on my fantasy B2 T45s with sonar, CIWS, and BraMos…….

March 5, 2011 11:06 pm


But that only makes it one of them, RE “B2 T45s with sonar, CIWS, and BraMos”
– ok, a bit more, a base model for about £600m?

March 5, 2011 11:14 pm


Yes but I have cancelled the fantasy Typhoons too. Instead of gas turbines the B2 T45s will be steam ships fuelled by burning bundles of 100pound notes. Cheap as chips….

El Sid
El Sid
March 6, 2011 12:13 am

@x – Transport Merlins are £19m, the ASW kit (plus the foldy bits) costs another £20m.

Surely the Mi-26 is an (oversize) equivalent to the Chinook rather than the Osprey, the point of the Osprey was speed and range more than capacity.

I’ve lots to say on the subject of MPAs but a few quick points :

We have very different requirements to the Club Med countries, the Atlantic is a whole lot bigger than the Med.

For proper bluewater ASW, endurance is perhaps the single greatest requirement, it’s not an optional extra. It’s probably the greatest weakness of the P-8, and why some people across the pond want the P-3 back. Instead the US seem to be looking to UAVs to do some of the boring “keeping in touch with a contact” stuff, there’s meant to be a ASW variant of the ScanEagle in the works, and Lockheed patented an air-launched catamaran for the job. Real Transformers stuff, that…

Tanking is not a free ride, you have to pay for tankers and crew – don’t forget our MRTT’s will have lifetime costs of £800m apiece. I get the argument that the capital costs are already paid for in some sense (except it’s a PFI, so they’re not our problem anyhow), but given that we appear to be pretty tight on MRTT’s and some people here want to buy more of them, any kind of sane assessment will regard tankers for MPA as an unaffordable luxury, it’s much cheaper just to have an MPA with big tanks in the first place.

The only scenario in which “routine” refueling makes sense is if we are deciding to give up on bluewater ASW and become an essentially coastal ASW force, with forays into the ocean proper only when required by our treaty obligations on SAR (out to 30W I think? So that’s what, 1200 miles or so each way?). But if you’re doing that you might as well give up on fixed-wing ASW anyway and just stuff liferafts/airdroppable boats into a C130. Which is kinda where we are now.

Just on the money side – just because the PR11 budget doesn’t have room for £200m/year running costs and £x to fix up Nimrod so that it works in the first place (don’t forget it had been grounded since March, coinciding suspiciously with the launch of the MAA) – doesn’t mean that there won’t be room for £1bn spread over x years at some point in future budgets.

March 6, 2011 9:23 pm

@Richard W: perhaps those £22.50 lightbulbs are actually a cunning accountancy (of the turf variety) plan to pay for the MPA – someone in MoD procurement must have seen Men In Black for inspiration.

March 6, 2011 9:56 pm

@ El Sid

Stopping adjusting my figures! OK so we could buy 2 Halos for 1 Merlin and only move 40 tons instead of 80. But you get my drift.

March 6, 2011 10:21 pm

RE “the point of the Osprey was speed and range more than capacity”
– and from the MASC requirement perspective, pressurised cabin and a service ceiling in totally different class from the rotary wing alternatives, while still being other ship than just carrier capable

March 9, 2011 7:42 pm

BAE today got the contract to provide the mission systems for the P8 multi mission LRIP a/c. UK content a spare billion quid and a more multi mission aircraft needed for the new found world events. I wonder if someone in the government is joining the dots

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
March 10, 2011 2:31 pm

Press release from Boeing, 9th March:

Boeing today began final assembly of the first U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon production aircraft in the company’s Renton factory. The P-8A is the first of six low-rate initial production aircraft that Boeing is building as part of a $1.6 billion contract awarded by the Navy in January.

The Navy plans to purchase 117 of the Boeing 737-based P-8A anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to replace its P-3 fleet.

“Boeing will deliver this first aircraft to the Navy on schedule in 2012 in preparation for initial operational capability, which is planned for 2013,” said Chuck Dabundo, Boeing vice president and P-8 program manager. “Our team has built seven P-8A test aircraft to date and the process improvements and efficiencies we’ve incorporated will continue to help reduce costs as the program moves forward.”

March 14, 2011 1:27 pm

Coming back to my old question: Where is that shed where all Nimrod systems were taken (when the ancient airframes were scrapped):

BAE Systems has been awarded a low-rate initial production contract by Boeing to provide mission computer systems for six P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

The mission computer system is a flexible ruggedised processing platform that ensures interoperability in the future battle space and influences the operation and deployment of US Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance forces.

The Boeing-built P-8A Poseidon is a long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft” [ from naval-technology.com of today]

June 5, 2011 1:07 pm

Dont know if this is legit but suggests something is going on in the background.


October 13, 2011 3:19 pm

Another airframe being mentioned is the CSeries.

A combined order with Canada who are looking to replace their 21 P3Cs could increase the numbers whilst at some point France will want to replace their Atlantique2s. Other potential clients include Norway. All might feel the P8 is simply too much plane at too high a price for what they need.

The CSeries also has British content through Shorts of Belfast

October 13, 2011 4:14 pm

Hi Dave,

An interesting idea as
-CSeries to incorporate a large percentage of composite materials into its airframe construction. Since composites make an airframe inherently more resistant to corrosion while flying over salt water, the CSeries will be less vulnerable than older, largely aluminum-constructed competition.
… and
-Bombardier will also be a first-adopter with more efficient geared turbofans – the new-technology Pratt & Whitney PW1524G turbine (or GTF as this engine was previously known). These new PW1000 series geared turbofans are vastly superior to all older-style turbofan engines (such as the P-8A’s CFM56s).

Also, the Atlantiques2’s are all stored away and only bizjet derivatives are now doing the work for the French

Those were the good news; the bad news is that Boeing was the integrator for Nimrod’s systems. I am sure that a lot of them had already been paid for, and we will get Boeing, simply to get use of those “boxes”

October 13, 2011 4:22 pm

interesting find, i like the look of these new C series bombardier’s.for the MPA requirement.

October 13, 2011 4:56 pm

All the military configs only on paper, for now

October 13, 2011 6:37 pm

C-Series list price is about $65m dollars not much cheaper than a 737 its still a paper design and further from service entry. You’re going to have to wait some considerable time for it to be available in this role as its there no military derivative that im aware off in the pipeline. The cheapest option for a LMPA is the P8 already designed and developed and maybe available in more roles than just mpa (more than just the BAE systems mission system was done in the uk by the way).

In this type of a/c give me a metal plane any day.

October 13, 2011 6:51 pm

With the C130J going earlier than planned, by 2022, i’m really tempted by Marshall Aerospace’s proposal of fitting ex-Nimrod MRA4 kit onto C130J airframes, turning them into MPAs.

That could be a nice enough solution. But one of the issues to tackle would be the wings fatigue. The J’s wings are faring far worse than it was expected, and they’d be heavily affected by the kind of flying an MPA does.

Part of the rebuilding effort would have to remedy to that.
And the risk is that it might end up being not cheap enough to justify the effort.

paul g
October 13, 2011 8:58 pm

still, big dave was up in my neck of the woods opening a huge (composite) wings factory today!!!

October 14, 2011 7:05 am

you can not be serious!
We dont have mpa because we tried to rebuild clapped out nimrods.
Now you suggest we keep clapped out c130s.

October 14, 2011 8:26 am

Why do we not simply do what the Italian’s have done and order some ATR 72 MPA’s as a stop gap (to fill the gap for the next 20 odd years :-) )? Yes I know that the ATR 72 MPA and the C-295 MPA are not really suited for hunting Russian sub’s in the North Sea, being designed for the Mediterranean but surely some MPA capability is better and none – they exist now, and are significantly cheaper to buy and operate than the P8.

EDIT – Hi Dominicj, to be fair to Gabby, we know you can make a maritime patrol airplane out of C-130J, and the wing replacements are also a well know mid-life upgrade for C-130’s, where I see the risk is integrating the mission equipment which would be different from mission equipment used in the maritime patrol version of the HC-130J used by the US coast guard

October 14, 2011 9:12 am

“you can not be serious!
We dont have mpa because we tried to rebuild clapped out nimrods.
Now you suggest we keep clapped out c130s.”

I am very serious, and i’ve highlighted one of the potential issues eventually driving up the costs. I cannot, with the material i have, asses the cost-effectiveness of the option.


Marshall’s proposal was very convincing. And it would use C130J airframes already there, with EO/IR turrets already there, and Searchwater radars installed in a new rear ramp including the launchers for the sonobuoys for minimizing changes to the airframe.

The airplane as it is is already well suited to low flying.

Nimrod was a nightmare because what people had conveniently chosen to forget is that each ancient airframe was pretty much unique due to how they were originally built.

This is much evidently not the case of the C130J, which could also, for many, many more years in the future, benefit from a global mainteinance pool and worldwide availability of spares.

“where I see the risk is integrating the mission equipment which would be different from mission equipment used in the maritime patrol version of the HC-130J used by the US coast guard”

Are you sure you need to integrate it at all?
You have a wide cargo area where you can install palletized consoles (five, in Marshall’s proposal) which only need to interface with a source of power, which might well come installed in the cargo bay as well, and not with the plane’s flying software.

The software and systems would come in new-built pallets, such as the “Flying Command Post” palletized, platform-agnostic solution that SELEX has been lately showcasing. The load of additional ESM and ECM in the two pods at the wings extremities should also not be a problem: i believe something like that was planned anyway, before the SDSR, under “Project Hermes” for preparing some of the C130Js of the RAF for taking up the Special Forces role from the retiring C130Ks.

Marshall’s proposal had one only big defect, it apparently did not include provision for weapons. That, at most, would be the source of complications.

If the KC130J Harvest Hawk programme of the US Marines is a good example, and i think it is, the issue is much smaller and milder than it would appear.
Integrating rails for Hellfires and Griffin missiles and Viper Strike bombs can’t be that much harder than putting rails under the wing for Stingrays and perhaps an anti-ship missile.

October 14, 2011 9:35 am

Hi Tubby,

NATO’s area of operation officially extends to the tropic of Capricorn. Can’t say off the top of my head how many (nautical)miles from here to there (or the Azores), but
-the North Sea surely can be covered by other assets and we should look out to the Atlantic,
-and the range of the HC-130J is awesome.

I had a similar suggestion to Gabby’s when the thread was new. Didn’t know that there was a concrete proposal by Marshall’s.

October 14, 2011 9:37 am

BTW, when the discussion was hot, there was a Parliamentary question re: how many times the Herc had been used in SAR/ Patrol role.

Answer: Once
– no point without the relevant kit

October 14, 2011 5:13 pm


Your likely right, as there is a big range disparity between C-130 and an ATR 72 (less so with the C-295), but I was under the impression it was more about the ability of the ATR 72 and the C-295 to handle near arctic conditions on the northern edges of area of responsibility.

If we go with a modification of the C-130J I prefer that we go with dedicated MPA design rather than Marshall’s proposal of modular kit (as they are looking for an order now, not post-Afghanistan) and that we go for a more modern EO/IR turret. Plus there have been rumours that none of the kit from Nimrod survived and has all be either destroyed or disposed off.

October 14, 2011 10:41 pm

That was (?) the world-class bit
“Plus there have been rumours that none of the kit from Nimrod survived and has all be either destroyed or disposed off”
definitely not the airframe.

So if true – what a cover up! For what; for whom?

November 18, 2011 1:17 pm


Unit price for the CSeries is $46.7m.

The unit price of a B737-700 is $67.9m

Bombardier wish to build at least 300 to break even so are potentially going to be interested in military variants to get here. They are currently at 149. They may be inclined to offer a discount for orders.

Not only are the materials and engines used more advanced in the airframe than the P-8, there is substantial British work and indeed investment in the programme through Shorts in Belfast to whom the UK Govt gave a substantial investment directly linked to this specific project.

If Canada and the UK bought 16 each of an MPA variant then there is 32 airframes.

Looking even further along, Northrop or IAI could be happy to use the airframe to mount a AEW rotodome, ELINT/SIGINT versions could be developed, and ultimately we’ve a couple of 146VIP aircraft needing replacement. Ultimately we could end up with 32 airframes in a variety of roles of an advanced aircraft with substantial British content – even RR have got into bed with P&W concerning the engines.

November 18, 2011 2:48 pm


Bombardier wish to sell many more than that. Its still only on paper and many many challenges remain there is no resource within bombardier available to look at a military variant for some time.

Price is more that you quoted. Any you will want the c300 not the c100.


P8 is there ready to go a number of companies with the UK work on not only the 737 but specifically P8 its not necessarily well publicised. It offers longer range and endurance with a world wide supply chain already in place.

June 18, 2012 10:46 pm


Being true to my name I wish to propose another solution. You say I have a billion eh?

Get some A340 cargos, convert for inflight refueling including the
Airbus Military Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) for receptacle-equipped receiver aircraft.
Cobham 905E under-wing refuelling pods for probe-equipped receiver aircraft.
Universal Aerial Refuelling Receptacle System Installation (UARRSI) for self-refuelling.

Fit the sensor kit taken out of the Nimrods
Fit Sonobouy and bomb bays, plus hard points.
Fit An-APG81 radar and appropriate suites for StormShadow
Have the plane as a MPA/Refueler/LR Bomber for StormShadow

How many could I get? 3?