Future UK Maritime Patrol

UK SAR Region

Almost immediately after the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 was announced in the SDSR there were persistent rumours of a reinstatement of the capability at some point in the future. What that ‘point’ would be depended on what newspaper you were reading but the suggestion of anything substantial would have to wait until a suitable period after the cancellation of MRA4.

The MoD had just wasted somewhere south of £4 billion on MRA4 and we should note that at this point, the final costs of cancellation have not yet been announced. So, public discussion of a replacement was therefore about as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool but time has passed and almost everyone agrees that for a nation with a long coastline, extensive search and rescue obligations, a submarine based nuclear deterrent and an expeditionary capability that forms the likely core of any future military strategy it is a capability that is not a luxury.

After the usual collection of leaks and rumours, this was confirmed in a number of Defence Committee evidence sessions and subsequently the RAF’s Seedcorn Initiative was revealed in a November 2011 Parliamentary answer;

Angus Robertson (Moray, Scottish National Party)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence

(1) how many personnel are taking part in the Seedcorn initiative; what the location is of each; and with what equipment they are training;

(2) what capabilities are being maintained through the Seedcorn initiative;

(3) what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of the Seedcorn initiative in each of the next five years.

Gerald Howarth (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (International Security Strategy), Defence; Aldershot, Conservative)

The Seedcorn initiative will sustain the Ministry of Defence (MOD)’s capability to operate high level fixed-wing Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and maintain the associated skills of its personnel. Qualified RAF aircrew will be on exchange with a variety of Allied MPA forces, where they will maintain their anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, long-range search and rescue, and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) skills.

The estimated cost of the initiative on average is £2.4 million per year for the next five years; this includes salary and allowances.

Retaining skills and MPA knowledge is vital if the United Kingdom is to be in a position to regenerate our own MPA capability at some point in the future.

The number and location of personnel and equipment to be used is as follows:

Location, Aircraft, Number of personnel

Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force Greenwood, CP-140 Aurora, 7

New Zealand, Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Whenuapai, P-3K Orion/P-3K2 Orion, 5

Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea, Beech King Air B200, 1

Australia, Royal Australian Air Force Base Edinburgh, AP-3C Orion, 4

United States, Naval Air Station Norfolk, Non-flying appointment related to maritime operational staff duties, 1

Naval Air Station Patuxent River, P3C Orion, 2

Additionally, discussions are ongoing with the US Navy on an exchange initiative for fully qualified RAF aircrew to support the US P-8A Poseidon programme.

A total of 33 personnel are serving overseas

So personnel have been cast to the four corners of the world to maintain their varied skillsets, again, another sign, if any were needed, that the maritime patrol capability gap was a temporary one. I think it is apparent that the Seedcorn initiative has a limited life span, there is little point in it if we have no intention of regenerating the capability.

At a cost of £12m for a 5 year programme it has a significant cost, more when one includes other associated costs such as allowances and travel, not included in the answer above.

With the early withdrawal of the MR2 and focus on overland operations prior to that it is debatable how much realistic ASW and ASuW training had been carried out anyway and with Seedcorn, given the dispositions, again, how many of these perishable skills will be maintained?

Whatever the answer to these questions, in March this year another Parliamentary Answer revealed the following

Mrs Moon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 22 March 2011, Official Report, column 947W, on military aircraft, when he expects to publish the findings of the capability investigation on maritime surveillance capability; and if he will make a statement. [92528]

1 Feb 2012 : Column 654W

Peter Luff: The Ministry of Defence has completed its capability investigation into its long term requirements for maritime surveillance capability, but I am withholding the information as its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces.

In February this year the Commons Select Committee for Defence announced they would be holding a session on just the subject, Future Maritime Surveillance

Despite the delaying and facing saving ‘it’s secret’ position from a few months ago it has been reported that an announcement will be made this month, maybe another one of those ghost announcements that never seem to happen but who knows!

So what of the requirement?

Missions and Requirements

It is a diverse bunch.


At extreme distances the Nimrod provided top cover for vessels in distress and could drop lifesaving equipment as needed.

The UK has a very clear international obligation in this regard and is coordinated by the Department of Transport. A very good document that details in some depth the UK Search and Rescue framework can be found here.

The key functions of UK SAR are to co-ordinate:

a) Maritime SAR in offshore, inshore and shoreline areas

b) Aeronautical SAR over land and sea

c) Inland SAR

Across the area in the diagram below, covering 1.25 million square nautical miles of sea and over 10.5 thousand nautical miles of coastline

UK SAR Region Map
UK SAR Region Map

With the collapse of the UK SAR PFI in 2011 the SAR PFI in February 2011, in which the Soteria consortium were named as the preferred bidder, an interim or gap contract was placed with CHC and Bristow Helicopters.

The Department for Transport today, Wednesday 8th February 2012, announced that Bristow Helicopters Limited has won the contract to provide Search and Rescue (SAR) services in the north of Scotland.

Bristow will provide SAR services starting July 2013, using Sikorsky S-92 helicopters based in Stornoway and Sumburgh. Operations under the contract are expected to run for four years, until the long-term future provision of such services are secured.

Bristow Helicopters are also part of the FB Heliservices joint venture with Cobham that provides helicopter training to the MoD via the Defence Helicopter Flying School, the contract was extended for another 4 years only last month, a brochure can be read here.

The Soteria website is no longer maintained and the long term future of UK helicopter SAR still in some doubt but current plans still indicate some sort of public private partnership is preferred, the interim contract runs until 2015, conveniently co-terminus with the next SDSR.

We have been relying on a combination of C130, E3, the French and crossing our fingers to provide long range SAR cover out to 30W but comparing the number of long range missions that were carried out before the MR2 was withdrawn and recently using the C130/E3 combination it would seem that the Atlantic has miraculously become a much safer place.

Police helicopters and to some degree the various Air Ambulance aircraft also have some limited part to play in the search and rescue matrix.


The UK offshore environment is a very complex subject, informed by a number of national and international laws and conventions. Broadly speaking it is divided into 4 areas, internal waters, territorial sea, EEZ and continental shelf.

Other states have many rights within this area such as innocent passage and in some regards the UK has relatively little legislative jurisdiction, fishing for example. A number of international conventions also complicate matters, the OSPAR Convention on waste dumping for example.


Devolution of power to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales also contribute to the patchwork of legislation that governs the UK EEZ.

British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies that are not part of the EU, such as the South Atlantic, also have EEZ’s. Combined, the UK has an enormous EEZ, the fifth largest in the world at over 6.8 million square kilometres.

UK Territorial Waters
UK Territorial Waters

Beyond the obvious fisheries protection and pollution monitoring role there is also a more security focussed need for protection of offshore infrastructure such as oil and gas rigs.

Smuggling interdiction, general policing support and other counter terrorism roles complete this broad section and in some circumstances, these might take place some distance from the UK, anti-piracy for example.


The Nimrod MRA4 had a very capable ESM system and the MR2 at one point in Afghanistan was one of the few platforms able to provide full motion video to ground forces. A maritime patrol aircraft can provide a wide range of sensors and the crew to analyse and disseminate useful intelligence to other elements of any joint force. Their long endurance and ability to operate in non-segregated airspace provides a valuable persistent capability.

Radar, passive electronic detection, electro optical and sonar technologies are often combined onto a single aircraft.

This is a general requirement that supports the others.


There are a number of pure military tasks that might be carried out by a maritime patrol function, namely anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare either in support of an expeditionary force or to protect the UK’s national deterrent.

The current threat levels to the SSBN force could be argued to be relatively low and this might have been instrumental in the risk based decision to cancel MRA4. We cannot be certain the threat will remain at the current nuisance levels. In an expeditionary context the rapid advance and proliferation of both quite air breathing submarines and a number of associated technologies mean that submarines will likely comprise a much larger threat in the future. If we are to retain freedom of movement the threat of enemy submarines must be taken seriously.

Modern submarines are very difficult to find and destroy and there is increasing use of improvised and mini submarines that should give naval planners reason for concern.

Operating as part of a complex system of systems, a maritime patrol aircraft would provide outer layer protection.

Anti-surface warfare seems to have almost gone out of fashion in recent times but it remains a valid role.

The basic military requirement is to detect, classify, deter and if necessary, destroy enemy submarines and surface vessels.

It is these roles that differentiate the military from the security and safety and pushes costs up.


Unlike some military capabilities there is a veritable menagerie of interested parties, the MoD, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, DEFRA, devolved administrations, EU, various police services and agencies, security services and the UK Border Agency amongst others.

Also to be taken into consideration is the UK’s increasing cooperation with France, India, Brazil, the USA and Japan, whilst not direct stakeholders they all have a direct or indirect interest.

The UK has recently established a single National Maritime Information Centre at Northwood as a single point of contact and information fusion, analysis and dissemination but without a range of assets it is difficult to see its potential maximised.

It is a broad picture made more complicated by the similarly broad span of requirements.

The Span of Requirements Problem

There is a paradox at work here, on the one hand search and rescue is not necessarily a military task and given the MoD is about to (again) outsource the search and rescue helicopter capability to a civilian organisation the MoD would agree, but, a long range military ASW/ASUW patrol aircraft is well suited to the SAR role.

The problem with those ‘do everything’ military aircraft is they are eye wateringly expensive.

For those expecting a P8 Poseidon in UK service, can we reasonably expect them to be providing top cover for a stricken racing yacht whilst carrying an expensive ASW sensor set, weapons and crew?

This is not a new problem, it is one we face across any number of domains but the trend would seem to me at least to be moving away from one size fits all and outsourcing or civilianising where we can sensibly do so.

Maritime patrol is one of those areas where I think we can do likewise so the fisheries protection, maritime security, EEZ protection and Search and Rescue functions can be discharged by a non-military aircraft, thus preserving the high end roles of anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare for specialist aircraft, in smaller numbers.


The diagram above, from an earlier series on a possible RN vessel design, shows the span of requirements and it is applicable to this area as well.

As we ascend the ‘fightiness’ ladder things inevitably get more complex and expensive but we might argue that the majority of time is spent at the lower rungs, safety and security rather than combat.

Issues and Predictions

We have to be careful about being too specific equipment centric when looking at options, instead of fixating on a like for like Nimrod replacement could a mix of equipment offer more for less?

Questions about the contrast between buying off the shelf or collaborating with our new special friends such as France have to be addressed.

The span of requirements and varied stakeholders complicates matters greatly and the issue of cost cannot be ignored either, in fact, it is central to any solution.

The conventional approach would be simply to buy a dozen P8 Poseidon’s from the USA or enter into a collaboration with France and one or two other EU partners to develop something based on the A320 family (even though Airbus Military no longer list the A319 MPA on their website) to replace the Atlantique and P3’s currently in service.

Buying the P8 would be the quickest option and at least mean that the Seedcorn money was not wasted, going down the Airbus development route means a long period during which the UK would have very little or no capability and those involved with Seedcorn would have likely left the RAF, the money therefore being wasted.

Buying surplus Atlantique’s and operating a joint capability with France does have a certain appeal but this should be seen as having a limited lifespan, perhaps providing a breathing space for a longer term development.

So if we are to have a capability within a meaningful time frame and a more or less like for like replacement for Nimrod then the P8 Poseidon is the only practical alternative.

If we look into the future it can be seen that eventually, the E3 Sentry will need replacing and whatever comes after Rivet Joint likewise. The US would obviously look at the Boeing 737 as the donor airframe for these, after the P8 Poseidon. The Royal Australian Air Force have now bought into service the Wedgetail AWACS aircraft. What might put the brakes on the UK eying these large ISTAR aircraft projects is the European dimension and our investment in the A330 for the FSTA programme.

From a commonality perspective it would make sense to stay with Airbus for these longer term projects. Even if the A330 is not used as the donor airframe for a maritime patrol or AWAC’s because it could be argued that it is too large, the training and logistics benefits of using the same family of aircraft would be immense.

An MPA, AWACS and ELINT development of an Airbus airframe would necessarily require significant development effort and expenditure but much of this would remain within the EU and UK, delivering a range of industrial benefits and making sure that there remains a viable European alternative to US products, at least in this sector.

Surrendering the market to Boeing is the simple alternative.

For the UK it would seem we are yet again in a difficult place, the sensible military option is to stay with Mr Boeing for MPA, future AWACS and future ELINT but there are powerful industrial and political influences that would point the order book to Airbus.

A simple case of deciding!

This assumes that the ‘answer’ is a simple one for one replacement with no change in the stakeholder mix or span of requirements, there are other options.

I do not think we can have £120m military aircraft using up valuable and finite airframe hours on EEZ protection or search and rescue tasks. With the outsourcing of helicopter SAR the MoD would seem to think along similar lines so the requirement should therefore be split.

The complex patchwork of agencies and other stakeholders is long overdue for rationalisation but there is little political appetite for this and we are therefore unlikely to see the emergence of a coherent national agency with sole responsibility for matters of offshore security and safety.

Perhaps the answer that will emerge is a military capability built around a small scale purchase of P8’s and the other capability areas being met by an extension of the Rotary SAR contract; that would certainly be my favoured option.

Other potential solutions include a hi-lo mix, the P8 with a larger number of twin turboprops like the Airbus Military C295MPA for example and even UAV’s and Lighter Than Air aircraft options may emerge.

Raytheon have suggested the Sentinel may also provide a useful surface search capability; the speed and extreme range of the Sentinel would certainly be useful in the SAR top cover role but these would seem like a case of straw clutching to stave off the announced withdrawal of Sentinel, however much it seems like this will actually not now happen. The French use the Falcon 50 in this role and the US Coastguard operate the Falcon 20, called the Guardian. Incidentally, the USCG also operates the CN235A, called the Ocean Sentry.

Given the risk aversion and severe cost pressures within the MoD I think a short term purchase of the C235MPA/C295MPA with the longer ranged and more capable P8 scheduled for the medium term aspiration has a good chance of becoming reality. The UK/French Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV collaborative programme may also incorporate some of the MPA tasks and participation in some form of EU wide sharing should never be ruled out either.

Some might think the C295/235 is a big step down from MRA4 and they would be correct, but in these financially difficult times it would keep the capability relatively current, provide transit protection for the Vanguard SSBN’s, relieve pressure on other ASW capabilities and provide an economic SAR service.

The problem with the slower turboprop aircraft at long range is transit time, when responding to, for example, a ship in distress, speed counts. On the longer endurance and continual missions where an enduring presence is needed at distance, lower transit speeds mean a greater number of aircraft and crew. Turbo props are cheaper to operate so those costs may be balanced out, as ever, careful examination of the numbers would be required.

But it is a mature and immediately available solution and if seen as a stop gap until a small purchase of P8’s could be made then would it be such a bad decision, better a modest capability that is fully supported and can be built upon than no capability.

There are many conflicting requirements with the maritime patrol and many options to deliver against the requirement, some requiring thought beyond simple equipment choices; that said, equipment would form the basis of any capability delivery.

Equipment options

In order to provide some basis for discussion the equipment below might be considered as part of a layered maritime patrol capability, both military and civilian, offshore and inshore, short and long range.

They are loosely ordered on cost and complexity, some suitable for the complete spectrum of operations, some only for the safety and security roles.


Coming into service with the US, Indian and probably Australian forces this is perhaps the only sensible alternative to the MRA4 with an equally troublesome development history, several compromises and in a number regards, possessing inferior performance but it really is the only game in town if we want an off the shelf all singing all dancing long range maritime patrol aircraft. There is little point bemoaning what could have or should have been with the MRA4, whether the MRA4 might have been better than the P8A (I think it would have though), comparing it to the P3 Orion or reflecting on the loss of £4b.

P8A Poseidon
P-8A Poseidon
Boeing P-8A Poseidon
Boeing P-8A Poseidon

Based on the 737-800 fuselage and 737-900 wing it is a heavily modified and strengthened aircraft with a whole host of the latest and greatest sensors, communications equipment and weapons.

The main advantage of the P8 for the UK, despite probably having to modify certain systems to accommodate national priorities, is the ability to tap into the large development, maintenance and support infrastructure that comes from volumes.

Initial Operating Capability for the US Navy P8A’s is 2013.

The P8 is designed to work in tandem with the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV but it is unlikely the UK would purchase any of these, maybe some integration with Watchkeeper and Telemos would be able to extend the functionality. The Indian versions will come with a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) that is not present on the US version

The point of the P8 is that it is multi mission but if we consider its roots and the mission focus of the USN and USGC it is very much a military system, the US version of the P8 for example, does not have any provision for SAR equipment.

One of the problems that will prove rather thorny is in-flight refuelling, unrefuelled, the P8 can transit for 1200 miles, remain on station for 4 hours and return. This is much less than the MRA4 and even the P3 although it will be quicker than the latter, in-flight refuelling might therefore be considered something high on the optional extras list. Although the US version does not have an in-flight refuelling capability the base design is equipped with something called the Universal Air Refuelable Receptacle Slipway (UARSSI) that can take fuel from a boom.

Ah, bit of a problem there.

Given that we opted to go for the stripped down baseline spec for the FSTA, unlike Australia and other customers, it will not be fitted with a boom refuelling system. We will therefore have to modify the FSTA aircraft, modify the P8 or say, oh look, we didn’t need it after all.

Suspect it will be the latter.

Another issue is that of weapons and sensor integration, in order to reduce airframe stress and fuel burn, and of course, to compensate for the simple fact that 737’s are not designed for low altitude tight turn flying, the concept of operations developed means that anti-submarine detection, classification and attack is carried out at a medium altitude (hence the omission of a MAD detector which is only of use at low levels and to save weight). To support this, the US has developed a wing kit for the Mk 54 lightweight torpedo, called the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons Concept (HAAWC) that might also be developed to allow a sonobouy pattern to be deployed from higher altitudes.

The US Navy has also contracted Boeing to develop an air launched UAV that will carry a MAD sensor. The UAV will be based on the Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle, called the MagEagle Compressed Carriage (MECC) and carried in the bomb bay or wing pylons with recovery by surface vessel or on land. It is an interesting and neat concept, but we don’t use the Scan Eagle.

A lot of work has gone into compensating for the lack of low level capability, or to provide a stand-off distance for the aircraft, depending on how cynical you are.

The UK does not use the Mk54 torpedo, but the Stingray, therefore, if we are to adopt the same concept of operations we will either have to create such a wing kit for it, or swap to the Mk54.

If we want to integrate other weapons such as Storm Shadow or Brimstone for example, then that would be an additional cost.

The Thales Searchwater 2000MR radar from the MRA4 may be possible to transfer although how this would compare to the Raytheon AN/APY 10 radar fitted to the P8 and cost differentials is uncertain. In addition to the usual collection of HF/VHF/UHF radios, satellite connectivity and Link 16 it will have the Common Data Link system.

The sticker price for the initial Indian P8I buy is $2.1 billion for 8, roughly $260 million each inclusive of initial logistics and support. As ever, these headline process should come with a health warning and extrapolating that figure to a UK purchase price would be fraught with uncertainty, it does provide a useful rough guideline though, £160 million.

So it should be obvious that because the concept of operations with the P8 is different and it has a range of integrated and complimentary systems just buying the aircraft might not be enough.


Still very much at the PowerPoint stage and not a great deal has been heard about it for some time.

Airbus was 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 but at the recent select committee investigation Airbus Military did not even mention it in their written submission, sniffing the obvious mood they instead espoused the off the shelf benefits of the C295/235 MPA.

A319 MPA - Airbus
A319 MPA – Airbus


An interesting outside bet would be the Japanese Kawasaki P1, their indigenous MPA.

Click here for more information.


French forces operate 22 Atlantic 2 from a 27 aircraft group which might be considered comparable to the Orion (although many would argue not) and operating a joint pool with the French might not be an altogether bad idea.

Breguet Atlantic
Breguet Atlantic

There was some discussion in 2010 of an upgrade to the Atlantic 2’s, including integrating the Thales Ocean Master system, to take the out of service date to post 2030, I think 22 of the 27 will be upgraded. The upgraded ATL2’s are due in service in 2015.

They were also due to be augmented with a long range maritime surveillance platform known as AVion de Surveillance et d’Intervention MARitime (AVISMAR), likely based on a Dassault Falcon 2000.

The turbo prop MPA and ultra-long range business jet derived surveillance combination is an interesting take on delivering against the requirement. 


A number of nations have taken delivery of surplus P3’s and contracted for upgrades.

In 2003, the Germans obtained 8 surplus Dutch P3’s for 271 million Euros, Brazil obtained 12 ex USN Orions for not a great deal and in 2005 contracted with Airbus for a comprehensive upgrade package valued at 320 million Euros.

This would be a realistic option, many airframes are available, but unlikely to be considered for a number of reasons.


The Airbus Military C295 MPA is a derivative of the well established C295 twin turboprop transport in service with many forces worldwide. The C295 is a stretched version of the C235 which also has a maritime patrol version; notable users include the US Coastguard. For the MPA version changes made from the baseline transport design includes the installation of the fully integrated tactical system mission suite (FITS) configured with four onboard operator stations, sonobuoy dispenser equipment, magnetic anomaly detector boom, defensive systems, 6 under wing hard points and a FLIR sensor turret.

The FITS mission system is mature and extremely capable, including search radar, electro-optic / infrared sensors (EO/IR), electronic support measures (ESM) / an electronic intelligence system (ELINT), COMINT, a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), an IFF interrogator, a SATCOM, a datalink and a Link-11. Endurance is reportedly 11 hours or 6 hours on station at 200nm range.

One of the great strengths of the C295 MPA is its versatility, the rear cargo door and palletised mission systems allow the same aircraft to be used for a number of roles. Standard 463L pallet compatibility means that in an expeditionary deployment it can carry its own spares or other stores, as an example.

The basic aircraft might have lost out to the C27 in a number of tactical airlifter competitions with the smallest tactical airlifter due to be in service with the UK being the A400, I have thought for some time that there exists a requirement for something smaller and why not the C235/C295?

It can carry 5 463L pallets or up to 71 personnel, plus it comes with this rather snazzy pallet loading system.

The C235/C295 is a mature aircraft family and Airbus military have recognised when they are on to a good thing and have an interesting development roadmap including the AEW version in the video below;

And even a gunship version

C295 Gunship
C295 Gunship

The C295 is no Poseidon but what if we can’t afford the latter, the flexibility and reasonable capabilities on offer from the C295 at a rough cost of £50m each would seem to be just about right, maybe with a small number of ultra-long range SARbusiness jet derivatives to provide outer edge surveillance and top cover.


More or less in the same class as the C295 MPA is the ATR72 ASW which is a more combat oriented derivative of Alenia’s ATR72 maritime patrol aircraft, itself a stretched version of the AT42. The launch customer was Turkey and Italy has also started to purchase them in small numbers.

Endurance is comparable with the C295MPA, 7 hours at 200nm and is equipped with a rotary sonobuoy launcher, magnetic anomaly detector, defensive system, weapon hard points and a full range of sensors and mission equipment. Although they can be converted to carry cargo there is no rear cargo ramp like the C295 which makes them slightly less versatile but the reported cost of the 10 to Turkey was 260 million Euros.


Equipped with a full suite of sensors, mission and weapons systems the Saab 2000 MPA is in the same category as the C295MPA and ATR72 ASW.


Renamed from the P99, the EMB 145 MP fits neatly within the other EMB145 special mission aircraft including the AEW and Multi Intel

Instead of turboprops it is based on the turbofan powered ERJ 145 so this delivers greater transit speeds.

The EMB145 ISR family provides a neat solution for a range of requirements without trying to create a single aircraft that does everything.


The Bombardier Q Series Multi Mission Aircraft (it has its own web site) 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 are 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.


If the Sentinel is being withdrawn then the airframes could be repurposed by removing the radar housing and replacing it with a Searchwater 2000 type radar and electro optical turret.

High transit speeds, altitude and endurance would allow the aircraft to provide outer edge SAR top cover and the sensors, combined with excellent communications equipment could provide benefits in other mission areas.

The logistics system is already in place, the airframes are paid for and if conversion costs were contained then out could provide one part of the maritime patrol jigsaw, although obviously not ASW or ASuW.

Air droppable survival equipment could be door launched for example, there are a number of such equipments available from Airborne Systems and Life Support International

A good overview of the Airborne Systems equipment can be found here


As we move down the fightiness ladder there are many options if search and rescue and maritime security patrolling are the main requirements.

An aircraft with a very long track record the 415 MPA from Bombardier 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.


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.


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.


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.

King Air 350 MPA
King Air 350 MPA

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


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.

Viking Twin Otter Guardian
Viking Twin Otter Guardian


There is no doubt that we cannot afford to gap this capability indefinitely but there are a wide variety of solutions available, not all of them obvious, and many influencing factors that serve to make any decisions complex.

Who fancies what then?


If anyone is reading this after clicking from a PPRUNE thread on the Airbus A400M as a Maritime Aircraft, you might like this


Or maybe not!

And these on the FSTA PFI




Some older Think Defence posts on Nimrod and MPA








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