Although the Boeing P-8A Poseidon might be seen as the obvious choice for a Future Maritime Patrol aircraft there are a small handful of others in the same space to consider.
In the same physical and capability area are a number of other options, namely the Airbus A319 MPA, the Kawasaki P1, refurbished Lockheed Martin P3 Orions and refurbished Breguet Atlantiques
I have put these into the same post because they all have what might be called ‘availability challenges’ but still worth looking at.
Airbus A320/A319 MPA
The EADS A320 MPA was originally proposed in 2002 in response to a German request for an ATL1 replacement, with Italy joining shortly after. The Maritime Patrol Aircraft Replacement (MPA-R) Program was supposed to deliver 24 aircraft. Airframe modifications were kept to a minimum apart from a bomb bay in the forward cargo hold.
The project was ultimately abandoned but Airbus continued refining the concept with the smaller A319 used as the base aircraft, this version losing to the P-8I in the Indian contest. Although the 319MPA had greater range the 320MPA was larger and this additional space was reportedly of great interest to Canada, although that petered out.
The A319 MPA design was to be fitted with all the usual sensors and systems, including the FITS mission system, self defence, communications, ESM, surveillance and an 8 weapon bomb bay.
Although everyone does a sharp intake of breath when you mention an Airbus MPA I think it is not as a ridiculous proposition as might be thought.
First, there is an obvious association with the A400M and cost/time inflation but the reality of the A400M is that in comparison to other similar projects, it is not at all bad and lets not forget, the project included a new airframe AND a new engine. Any A3019/320 MPA would not face that issue
Second, the mission systems are ready and available from Airbus and other European manufacturers. Airbus understand the integration of FITS and a wide range of sensors and equipment, been there, god the C235/295 T Shirt
With a little ambition, the UK and possibly one or two European nations could create a genuine alternative to the P8 that does not suffer from ITAR problems and keeps a European supply chain in business, this is not a bad thing. As many nations look at replacing their P3’s over the next couple of decades there is an addressable market that is being left wide open for Boeing.
There is no doubt that an A319/320 MPA would be as broadly capable as the P8 but we would have to invest in the development, you could though, think about a truly joint European MPA fleet that shares a training and logistics capability and how much that might save over the longer term.
I think it remains a distant possibility but the building blocks are all there.
I must admit I quite like this option as well, although there are many unknowns.
Japan is one of the few nations to actually take the art and science of anti submarine warfare seriously so there is a good underpinning of knowledge and experience for the programme and the Japanese have decided to say no thanks to Uncle Sam and support their own industrial base.
This is a good thing
As with many Japanese military projects there is not a great deal of English information available online
This is a bad thing
The Kawasaki Heavy Industries XP-1 Next Generation Maritime Patrol Aircraft webpage is hardly full to the brim with information.
What we do know is that it is a 4 engine aircraft designed from the ground up for maritime patrol i.e. not converted from a civilian airliner or business jet. Now that makes it unique in the world of modern maritime patrol aircraft., especially given that the airframe, engines and mission system are included in the programme.
Unsurprisingly, given the Japanese were also developing the C2 transport aircraft from scratch at the same time, it has not had an easy or short development and the problems continue but is very close to being in service which when you consider comparable Western developments is actually pretty impressive.
It is a modern aircraft, carbon fibre structures, very advanced fibre optic flight control system, Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, a full ESM system, MAD boom, combat and stores management software, satellite/radio/LINK and electro optical systems, all the bells and whistles one might expect in a maritime patrol aircraft. A large bomb bay, rotary sonobuoy launcher, extensive self defence systems and external pylons complete the mix. Scouting the internet for weapon loads and performance information produces any number of competing answers but the middle ground seems to indicate 30 sonobuoys in ready to launch tubes plus 70 extra on board, 8 external pylons (2,000lb class), 4,500nm range, 9 tonnes payload in the bomb bay and pylons, 44,000ft ceiling and 450 knots cruise speed.
At one stage the JMSDF was planning on purchasing 80 P1’s but whether this is still the case is uncertain, so far, 10 have been purchased with the most recent programme numbers being reported as 70. Prices are even more elusive but looking at the public domain information it would seem initial costs are around $180m to $200m but those were early figures that included development costs and some of those were shared with the C2
Finally, there is the issue of would the Japanese sell them to us
There is a widespread misconception that Japanese law forbids the export sale of military equipment but this is incorrect, export licences are required and the policy has been not to grant licences. With the emergence of a stronger and very much more assertive China, Japan has been re-evaluating its whole approach to security and has recently sought greater military and research cooperation with a number of nations, the UK included. Following the SDSR Japan and the UK signed a cooperation agreement and recent news has revealed cooperation on weapons for the F35, speculation being that it is either Meteor, SPEAR Cap 3, or Dual Mode Brimstone.
In December last year the Japanese Government issued their National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and National Security Strategy in which it was made very clear that Japan will soon set out guidelines on export and collaboration which will definitely relax the previous position.
This puts the previously impossible into the realm of the maybe it is possible.
If we were looking for greater systems commonality we could look at the engines.
The P1 uses the IHI Corporation F7 engine that develops a maximum thrust of 60kN which is a shade underneath that of the Rolls Royce BR710. The Rolls Royce BR710 is the same engine as used on the RAF’s Sentinel R1 and was used on the Nimrod MRA4.
Looking at implications for wider capability areas it is difficult to see but hang around Japanese defence websites long enough and you might bump into something called Advanced Infrared Ballistic Missile Observation Sensor System (AIRBOSS), an optical Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) detection system that was developed some years ago and tested on a Japanese P3’s.
The 2013 Japanese Defence strategy document details the current status of AIRBOSS, it being still in development.
In addition, for some years, it has been conducting research into airborne infrared sensors, to detect ballistic missiles during the boost phase, and it has conducted trial evaluations of a system called AIRBOSS (Advanced Infrared Ballistic-missile Observation Sensor System) mounted on the equipment test aircraft (UP-3C). At present, it is conducting research into system integration technology, focused on integration between aircraft and ground-based systems in light of the miniaturization of infrared sensors, as well as researching systems that can detect targets effectively, based on a combination of radars and infrared sensors.
Interesting though, especially since the P3 is going out of service and it would seem people (mostly enthusiasts it would seem) in Japan are already thinking about putting AIRBOSS onto a P1 and combining it with some form of conformal AEW radar.
This is all absolutely blue sky thinking and far from a serious proposal for the UK but the P1 is happening and like the P8, it is the real deal.
Refurbished P3 Orion
The P3 Orion is what might be called, a veteran
The P3 Orion Research Group has a great site to wander around the history of the P3 Orion but it has done the hard yards and whilst many are still in service we might consider how wise it would be to think about upgrading decades old aircraft as a Nimrod replacement!
Still, lets consider some of the options.
Taiwan, Canada, Portugal and Brazil have recently spent on upgrading older P3’s and to be honest, have ended up with a pretty capable collection of aircraft for less than the price of new.
This video from Lockheed Martin describes the desert to delivery process
You can just hear the people at the MAA choking
Airbus Military will also do a nice line in P3 upgrades, the Brazilian P-3AM’s for example, the latest delivery happening only last month. The P-3AM’s are now fitted with the latest Airbus Military FITS mission system, the same as found on the C235/295 after being pulled from the US desert.
Click here for more pictures.
The contract cost for 8 upgraded aircraft (from 12 base airframes) and associated services was $423m, about £32m each.
In addition, all is not plain sailing because it has become clear that the wings are in a worse state than thought and may have to be replaced, the Airbus upgrade did not include re-winging.
So more cost.
Speaking at the LAAD conference last year, Clay Fearnow, director, Maritime Patrol Programs said;
What we thought was the life left in the wings wasn’t exactly right, and the fatigue was worse than we initially believed
Scouting the world for low fatigue airframes and running them through the Lockheed Martin Aircraft Service Life Extension Program (ASLEP) or Canadian equivalent before upgrading by Airbus Military might produce a reasonably capable fleet of aircraft for a reasonable pot of cash but, how much service would we actually get out of them and how much would the airworthiness process add to the final bill?
Refurbished Breguet Atlantique
After deciding against an Airbus A320 based MPA France soldiered on with their Breguet Atlantiques (ATL), one of the very few purpose designed maritime patrol aircraft and has since used them in their various operations in Africa, including adding a Paveway II capability for close air support.
The ATL2 has flown over 3,000 hours in support of Operation Serval opening operations by dropping several GBU-12 laser guided bombs.
This general utility and all round usefulness no doubt provided the impetus for a long overdue upgrade.
In October last year Thales and Dassault were awarded a €400 million contract to upgrade 15 of the 27 aircraft in service, taking the out of service date to 2032.
Each one will cost about £22m,again, a modest sum compared to the capability.
The upgrade programme will improve the Atlantique 2’s ability to deal with new and emerging threats under all weather conditions, both in strategic deterrence roles and in asymmetric conflicts involving quiet and stealthy submarines, high-speed craft, land vehicles, etc,” says the manufacturer. It will allow the aircraft to remain in operational service beyond 2030, it says. Dassault will develop the core system, which will include LOTI2 mission software developed by French naval systems specialist DCNS. Dassault will also be responsible for subsystems integration and the conversion of a prototype aircraft for flight test activities.
Thales will be in charge of developing the radar, which will use technology originally designed for the Rafale fighter. It will also design a new digital acoustic processing subsystem enabling the Atlantique 2s to detect targets over a wider frequency range, “making it possible to counter new types of threats”.
However, that £22m buys a limited lifespan.
The other problem, there are none for sale and no prospect of a new build.
I am surprised that more has not been made of the possibility of the UK joining the ATL2 upgrade programme as a stop gap and then a collaborative programme starting in the mid 2020’s to jointly develop a jet based solution.
We might also note that France has a hi-lo mix when it comes to maritime patrol, in addition to the ATL’s it is upgrading four Dassault Falcon 50B’s to Falcon 50MS’s, the programme due to complete in 2015.
To summarise, the P8 in the previous post is naturally seen by many as the obvious choice if we want a mid sized and new airframe. But, there is the Kawasaki P1 and Airbus MPA320/319 to give serious consideration. The ATL2 and P3 upgrade programmes might offer good capability at reasonable prices but they would not be long term propositions, even if viable.