Future Maritime Patrol – Part 3 (Dedicated Long Range Aircraft – P3, P1, ATL, 319)

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.

MPA 320
MPA 320

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.

A319 MPA Cutaway
A319 MPA Cutaway
A319 MPA - Airbus
A319 MPA – Airbus
A319 Bomb Bay
A319 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.

Kawasaki P1

I must admit I quite like this option as well, although there are many unknowns.

Kawasaki XP1
Kawasaki XP1

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.


P1 with Maverick
P1 with Maverick

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.

Click here and here for pictures (and have Google translate switched on)

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.

The Rest of the Series

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 1 (Challenges and Missions)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 2 (Dedicated Long Range Aircraft – P-8A Poseidon)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 3 (Dedicated Long Range Aircraft – P3, P1, ATL, 319)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 4 (C295 and Comparable Options)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 5 (Business Jet and Unmanned Options)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 6 (Sea Atlas and Sea Hercules)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 7 (Summary)



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January 30, 2014 10:01 pm

It’s a beast!

But ten for two Billion…
Kicks the Boing Boing into touch though…

January 30, 2014 10:32 pm

ATL2, would work for me but I guess there just aren’t the airframes.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
January 30, 2014 11:41 pm

I like that P1, purpose built and 4 engines, swap a few things out where possible, like the engines and some sensors, maybe a Euro/Japan project.

January 31, 2014 3:01 am

If we were to go down the airbus route it becomes about how many partner nations we can get to bring the cost down. France, Germany and Italy being the obvious. You might be able to interest Norway, the Netherlands and Portugal and any one else with a fleet of old MAP. it might just be possible at reasonable cost if you get enough people involved and do not mess to much with the specs.

January 31, 2014 5:34 am

Get in on the ground now and we could develop that into an amazing ITAR/AWACS/etc…

January 31, 2014 6:38 am

As brilliant as this series is, and timely, you must feel like its groundhog day, TD!
Only feels like last month you listed all the alternatives and options… here we go again :D

I do remember seeing SAAB’s MPA prototype parked conspicuously in-front of the Air Warfare Centre…

As ever, an interesting read :)

I too like the P1, though its had MRA4-style problems and delays… it looks right…and it does come from an island nation, dont you know ;)

January 31, 2014 10:18 am

P-1 rocks, probably- it would also cost a fortune.

Euro A319 MPA sounds great but Airbus currently has a backlog of about 8 years and they are going to make you pay if you want an earlier slot. A Euro MPA is a great idea though.

Kudos to the Airbus sales team for getting the P-3 upgrade with Brazil without the re-wing. Hardly surprising western arms salesmen are despised the world over.

LM has always claimed that the re-wing would provide 15,000 hours which they say equates to 20+ years of service life. If true that seems pretty reasonable.

January 31, 2014 10:33 am

If you re-wing a C130J would you get the same life-span?
20 years seems good, since we already have em, could we get someone other than Marshalls to do the re-wing, they are rip off merchants!
The Ro-Ro Look smart solution rides again, it’s like a merry- go- round…

How much chance of another Nimrod debacle with that one then? We could keep the 24 (?) Hercs flying allowing MPA and alleviating the need to ever buy any more A400/C17…
That would in turn let us go Biz Jet for all Electronic surveillance Aircraft eventually leading to a one type fleet for that and hopefully some savings…

January 31, 2014 10:50 am

Large transport aircraft make terrible MPAs- they are simply not designed for sustained efficient cruising. They will be even less efficient once you start hanging things off them and plastering on blisters.

January 31, 2014 12:55 pm

I believe the A400 was designed to do just that?

10 P8/P1 MPA or 20 F35?
10 HERC MPA +10 F35?
10 HERC MPA+2 foreign build LHD?

I know I know but just playing the Devils Advocate here and trying to over simplify and think like a bean counter but that’s what the military faces these days…
My thought is either do it or don’t, stand up the capability or stand it down permanently, one or the other and sooner rather than later, make the decision and move on…

January 31, 2014 1:00 pm


Intended to do just that within the confines of being a STOL air-lifter with a large diameter fuselage. It sill sucks next to an airliner airframe.

January 31, 2014 1:45 pm

The good thing about the Japanese P-1 is that it can transform into a giant sub killing robot, when needed… :-)

Seriously, The P-1 is purpose built and not a converted airliner. It could give us what we lost with the canning of MR4. We can use our existing inventory of Stingray, Harpoon and sonarbouys

A bit of Anglo -Japanese Defence procurement could be a good thing.

January 31, 2014 1:49 pm

Well, one advantage I can think of for a brand new MPA is that you really don’t need to worry about airframe hours and platform replacement for a while, can probably ignore it for about another 30 years after that as compared to a 10-20 year repeat of the same show over and over again. Provided you can fork out the cash up front of course.

The P-1 does seem to be a good deal, if you can get it, lots of “if”s to that scenario though.

As much as I love to support local industries, I’ve to caution against overdoing it, not only because I’m a hard hearted bastard, but also for outside sourcing. If you end up with a reputation of “They’ll buy anything good as long as it’s American/British/French etc” other companies outside the region might just give you a miss thinking that there is no way to win, and you’ll lose access to some very interesting toys other people have come up with, so maybe a Kawasaki order over Airbus might be beneficial in more ways than one. It sends a signal that outside competitors still have a chance and it gives them incentive to put their best foot forward.

And saves you from having to reinvent the wheel. And pay for the research cost.

January 31, 2014 2:18 pm

P1 to me looks like a p3 Orion with turbofans instead of turbo props. Probably the most expensive option out there from a thru life cost perspective.

Mpa decision is such an interesting one because there is so many options out there and were starting from scratch. It will be a very gd indication if the defence establishment has indeed learnt and applying fiscal reality to properly costed program’s or if it was all talk and they revert to type at the first chance they get.

dave haine
dave haine
January 31, 2014 2:59 pm

Lockheed got their sums wrong or were telling porkies: 15000+ hrs = 20years flying? That equates to 750 hrs a year. Nope, working on a ten hour mission profile that equates to roughly one mission a week, allowing for maintenance and training.

750hrs a year is crap utilisation- I’d expect to get at least 4000hr a year out of an airliner, otherwise you’ve got too many airframes.

And Airbuses backlog is based across the whole A320 Family- at the moment Hamburg has a backlog of 123 A319 and 1084 A321, as opposed to toulouse’s 4000- odd A320.

I can’t imagine Boeings backlog is much better- India will get their last P8s in 2015, Australia won’t get theirs until 2017, so we can expect to be behind them for our first aircraft, I reckon 2019 for our first, if we ordered now.

The Kwackers P1 is my first choice- wheelnuts up MPA… Engines iffy, but with BR715s? lovely job.

To me the only sensible choices are (in order of preference): Kawasaki P1 ‘Ryujin’ (my name for it- challenge for the rest of you), Airbus 319MPA ‘Barinthus’ (another challenge) and P8 Poseidon.

January 31, 2014 3:43 pm

This is shaping up to be one of TD’s classic series.

Harking back to comments made earlier, I’m not an aeronautical engineer so not an expert, but after much deliberation I have concluded that I am not in favour of cutting holes in aeroplanes, especially if they were not initially designed (fitted for but not with ;-) ) with said holes in mind.

@dave haine – Going off Poseidon I’m guessing they’re sea gods. “Ryujin” obviously Japanese (my second guess is Korean), while “Barinthus” sounds Celtic/Germanic.

dave haine
dave haine
January 31, 2014 4:07 pm

Homo sapiens indeed! Yep japanese and gaulish/brythonic celtic gods of the sea.

Ace Rimmer
January 31, 2014 4:10 pm

Great series TD, really like the info.

On the subject of the Atlantic refurbs, given the requirement for new MPA’s in Europe alone, why not an Atlantique 3 (has it been mentioned already and I’ve missed it?). The Mk 1 and 2’s might have been a bit lacking, but these could be ironed out in the 3. It was visited before as a study for the RAF but lost out to the Nimrod MRA.4. I think its definitely worth a revisit. Just think of the advantages and opportunities for future European defence co-operation…oops!



January 31, 2014 4:25 pm


“Barinthus” is a Latinisation of Mannan Mac Lir, which is Manawwydan to the Taffs — “our” sea god of British localities. Guessing it’s the same for Ryujin unless, God help us, there is tentacle porn involved…


Dead on about P1 and the engines. I want wing strengthening too because those eight pylons need to be cleared up to 3500lb so they could lug an air-launched MdCN– basically a Storm Shadow ER. Yes this thread is about MPA and if the airframe comes right P1 would be excellent. But when I look at P1 I see the new V-bomber the RAF actually needs rather than a new Tonka or Stealthy jump jets. So new engines, wing strengthening and that air-launched MdCN and they could fly from home airfields, take a pop at Tehran (allowing for a politically unlikely straight flight — otherwise you refuel on the way home) and home home without stretching Elf n Safety’s credulity.

So yes, in that case you get High Wycombe to keep 43 of the Tiffs they plan to junk (Typhoon Capability Sustainment Programme anyone?) for a fleet of 150. Then 8×12 in squadron at least half of which are T2 and T3 and so can move a little mud if pressed, four with 1435 Flt, 20 in OCU/OEU, 30 spares. And you buy 20 P1 rather than 40 (more like 30 if costs spiral with a reduced USMC order) short legged carrier jets. Then you have a squadron, training frames
and a few spares that can double as V-bombers and fully militarised sub-killers. Then the RAF is doing the jobs an independent air arm should be doing. And on the present plan (48 of something, F-35b unless there’s a procurement death-spiral event) you get 2×15 FAA sqdns in time (they could stand one up tomorrow based on seed corn pilots) for the carriers, surging OCU airframes to make the magic 3×12 in a sovereign nightmare scenario (around eighty percent of FAA cabs, at least, went south in ’82.)

Just a thought ;)

January 31, 2014 4:27 pm

Oh its fine WiseApe here’s a video cutting out a rather big hole.

January 31, 2014 4:40 pm

Sort of on topic… crossing hook of Holland to Harwich ferry with Sink the Bismarck on TV. The Catalina has just remade contact with the Bismarck heading for Brest. Ark Royal’s swordfish are attacking. I’ll keep you all posted….

Ace Rimmer
January 31, 2014 4:47 pm

Jackstaff: “But when I look at P1 I see the new V-bomber the RAF actually needs rather than a new Tonka or Stealthy jump jets.”

I was just thinking MPA, long range, bomb bay, Port Stanley, hmmmm….

Would love to see a picture of one loaded to the max with iron bombs and releasing the lot in one go!

El Sid
El Sid
January 31, 2014 4:52 pm

@dave haine
The crabs’ requirement for MRA4 was 25 years of 650h/year from memory. Certainly MR2 was flying around 50h/month.

I’d expect to get at least 4000hr a year out of an airliner, otherwise you’ve got too many airframes.

This is where the military diverge from civvy street. For one thing the requirements are different – relatively quiet during peacetime, but a requirement for a big surge capacity during wartime. And you can’t just lease a few extra to tide you over the surge. Plus the idea of buying 8 airframes to thrash and then replace in 8 years time just doesn’t work as the production line is unlikely to be open (except possibly in the case of reconditioned Orions), you can’t just dip in and out of production like you could with eg an A320.

El Sid
El Sid
January 31, 2014 5:03 pm

If you want your FOAS long-range bomber, how about starting with the C-5 Galaxy? Similar size to a 747 but nothing to get in the way of cutting holes in the bottom and has no shortage of endurance/capacity. Fill the fuselage with fuel tanks and a couple of rotary launchers and Bob’s your uncle – I suggest looking in the B-52 toy cupboard for some ideas.

Peter Elliott
January 31, 2014 5:06 pm

@El Sid

In some cases however I think you could make much more of a case for ‘scrap and build’ as both a military and industrial policy.

The capital cost of having attrition airframes effectively sitting around doing nothing is becoming pretty horrendous. And we keep running into obselescence problems and having to engage in costly remanfacture becuase electronics development moves on so fast.

You could very well make a case for the advantage of buying smaller fleets, running them hard to get maximum value out of the asset, and then buying again new in a shorter timescale. Your obsolescence problem goes away, and you’re actually priming the industrial pump more often, keeping skills active and lines open that would allow re-armament to happen in a 2-3 year timescale if it ever needed to, not 10-15. You also regularly demonstrate to export cutomers that the very latest product is in build and used by your own forces.

The knack is of course controlling development costs by evolving platform designs and not starting from scratch each time. But if the intervals between buying are less then you don’t _have_ to start from scratch. Imagine if we had kept buying updated Trafalgars at Low Rate rather than gapping the SSN line. The horrendous problems with Astute would never have happened. And we could still have retired the “S” and early “T” boats just as we acatually did.

Similarly with the T1 Typhoons. Instead of rotating airframes to even out the hours why not concentrate the hours onto Tranche 1, burn them up, and then replace with a low rate drip feed of Tranche 3? You end up with a younger, smaller, more capable fleet, and actually less capital committed overall. Instead we will probably close the line, wait 5 years, then realise the skills have gone and we can’t afford to design a new jet from scratch.

January 31, 2014 5:19 pm

However, that £22m buys a limited lifespan.The other problem, there are none for sale

Not quite true regarding Atlantique.

In 2010, the French offered to sell 5 ATLs to the Saudis.
Back then the plan was to keep 22.
Last year, they offered to lease 4 ATLs to the Greeks.
And now the plan is to keep only 15.
So the French seem keen to do a deal, and there are between 5 and 11 ATLs available… possibly just enough.

@ Ace Rimmer
Good point regarding ATL3. The ATL’s lifespan is currently limited by the Tyne’s end-of-service date, not by airframe hours (as of 2011, the ATLs only had 4,500-7,000 flight hours, while many P-3s are now past 20,000 hours!).

So asking R-R to re-engine with AE2100s could greatly push back the ATL’s service date… possibly to 2050?

January 31, 2014 5:55 pm

P1 please, let’s put some meat on the bones of that anglo-japan alliance.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 31, 2014 6:11 pm

Yes let us buy into another MPA programme with what seems to be some major issues affecting aircraft safety.

January 31, 2014 6:16 pm

David Haine,

El Sid beat me to it; you can not compare civilian airliner hours with what the military does with MPAs. Not even close. It would be your sums that are wrong.

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 31, 2014 6:18 pm

The P1 looks good on the face of it, but I’ve bought electrical goods before with some very iffy Ingrish instructions.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
January 31, 2014 6:47 pm

I like the Kawasaki P1.

On the subject of Airbus, rather than an airliner conversion perhaps leveraging the development of the A400m would be an option. Use the same wing but with a narrower fuselage aimed at initially being MPA but developing it into other surveillance roles, troop transport, refueling, bombing etc and also as a civilian airliner. A high wing turboprop with reasonable short field performance. On the civilian side it would be able to go where existing low-wing turbine powered Airbus airliners wouldn’t want to. This would allow for better value from the knowledge and expense that has gone into the development of the A400m.

January 31, 2014 7:02 pm

@ A Different Gareth

Developing something that no one else has even thought of? We need a new MPA in the next 5 years not the next 20. Do you honestly think Airbus or anyone else for that matter can design, build , test and then have in production and then operationally in a 5 year time span an aircraft that doesn’t even exisit on paper yet?

I’m sorry but that sounds like a terrible idea.

Personally my order of preference is;
1) The P-8
2) The P-1
3) The A319 (provided we could get some other European nations onboard)
4) Complete last resort CN295

January 31, 2014 7:08 pm

Really enjoying this series. There is a few interesting ideas going on like the idea of developing the MPA in to a modern V bomber. Turning a civilian airliner into a bomber novel idea. Post WW2 we turned bombers into airliners.

dave haine
dave haine
January 31, 2014 7:26 pm

@derek, El Sid

750hrs a year means the airframe is sitting on the ground for 4 days out of 5. That is a waste of resources. Maybe the military’s sums are wrong.
The expense of modern airliners means that an airline needs to generate maximum revenue from each asset, consequently, apart from roughly two weeks a year in the shed, we aim to fly 12 to 16hrs a day in revenue service. And the average fleet age ought to be about 7-15yrs. Although very often the airframes get passed down to second tier operators, so an airliners life could be easily 30yrs

I’m not saying that the MPA ought to be generating those sorts of hours, in normal circumstances, but….

Maybe it’s time that, with large aircraft at least, a bit of commercial discipline was injected into the RAF. I know that it’s happening within the fast jet world. The RAF have a newish trade called an aircraft operations officer….exactly analogous to my civvie trade- an Operations Controller, i’m there to make sure that the airline flying programme keeps going, by anticipating and dealing with any problems with as minimum disruption as possible, and minimising any cost. (And yes, the latest air traffic strike has been an absolute f**king arseache) A civvie PWO, if you will.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 31, 2014 7:30 pm


If you have 4 MPA flying 2000 hours a year and replace them every 10 years you still only ever have 4 MPA when the proverbial hits the fan. If you 10 MPA flying 800 hours a year and replace them every 25 years you have 10 MPAs when the shit hits the fan.
You can also be in more places at once if required.

Ace Rimmer
January 31, 2014 7:59 pm

H_K, re: the Atlantique 3, good info on the Tynes, I’m thinking along the lines of a new production line, which would be a great start for European/NATO commonality. Although general consensus seems to be for jet propulsion. I’m guessing that jet propulsion has less of an impact on crew fatigue than turbo-props, anyone know if this something of a factor among MPA crews?

dave haine
dave haine
January 31, 2014 8:17 pm


There indeed is the dichotomy….however, I wasn’t calling for less airframes, I was calling for more utilisation out of the ones we have or get.

I happen to think that we need 21 airframes….if we use them for the soft stuff, like EEZ patrolling, SAR support, and all the other myriad uses we found for Nimrod, we’ll have them for when we really need them.

As for the P1- the airframe problems were sorted out a while back, it is only the engine surges that are the problem….not the worst problem, not the best, for sure.

And don’t think the P8 is without its problems- the P8 has the same undercarriage and brake systems as the B737-800, and that can be a bit ‘interesting’ when trying to stop on a short or weather-compromised runway. A number have managed to ‘depart’ the runway, unintentionally. Not an aeroplane I would go into Gibraltar on. In fact, not an aeroplane I would go into Leeds Bradford on, willingly.

January 31, 2014 8:17 pm

APATs but first you have to justify the flying hours and coverage. Let us be honest, Europe is a “safe” zone, you can get away with a mission a week and ramp up only on special occasions like a Kirov coming to visit. Or even skip it entirely like what is going on now.

BB, you should have asked for the instructions in Chinese. Engrish is what happens when you try to translate from a language that does not have the L sound. :)

January 31, 2014 8:22 pm


No, your sums are wrong. As El Sid correctly points out the military customer is providing a capability- that is very different to a commercial customer.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 31, 2014 8:38 pm


Having spent a fair bit of time in a training environment, it is not quite that simple to just “ramp up”, well not if you want to be any good.


That is a flight characteristic, not good on short runways but I only found 4 incidents of that class.

January 31, 2014 8:59 pm


Well, if nothing ever happens even when the Russians sail by the UK, then what difference is it from a training exercise? And it’s not about the training environment only, it’s the slack time. One patrol a week is really slack. Seen some training environments that had us out in the field for a whole month at a time, they called it a Preparation Phase for one of my courses, you really appreciate a bed after that. I had the distinction driven into me this year in my recall when I got transferred from a very active training unit to a really slack one, the lazing around drove me absolutely nuts, people kept telling me to stop pacing around and fidgeting. Couldn’t help it, kept needing to DO something. You could see the decline in standards.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 31, 2014 9:07 pm

@ Observer

Yes but in something like MPA/ASW you need to keep doing what you are doing. Remember that the whole point of an MPA is that other than European Ops it is also deployable. We attempt to locate and track every Russian Submarine that ventures South of the GIUK Gap as well.
You came across as we could fly one mission a week from half a squadron and then resurrect the rest if needed. You have to maintain a base line of both numbers and activity. It would take over a year to try and grow extra capability from scratch.
It takes about 6 weeks to take a T23 from mincing around the UK and give it a FOST deployment ready tick.

January 31, 2014 9:40 pm

Ace Rimmer

You raise an interesting question the american and the Japanese have gone with turbofans and the promise of high altitude asw almost everyone else is going the turboprop route for low altitude patrols in the form of dash 8, Saab 2000, ATR, cn235/295 and upgraded p3 to name a few, two different concepts for the same mission is one wrong or are they both right with differing budgets?

El Sid
El Sid
January 31, 2014 9:46 pm

Can’t stop long, the short answer would be that I’ve some sympathy for that approach and we do do it to some extent, but different approaches work better for different things. Ships are inherently more modular and so can be more tolerant of a batch approach with different fits (the Leanders are perhaps the ultimate expression of this), fleets within fleets gets a lot more expensive for aircraft where certification, software qualification etc tends to happen on an aircraft as a whole (compare the problems with syncing FAA vs RAF Harrier upgrades which was one reason for the former getting canned, and the hand-wringing over Tiffy Tranche 1). It also reflects the production process, aircraft are amenable to mass production techniques and get a lot cheaper if you can get that going successfully. Also if you do use batches there’s a danger that you get 3 lots of the Astute problem (to a smaller extent but still potentially problematic), and don’t get the efficiencies of people learning how to do things better over the course of a production run (T23 is one example, ditto the Virginias).

Chuck Hill
January 31, 2014 9:57 pm

Do really think you need to add consideration of which aircraft could stand in for a cruise missile launching bomber, both as a land attack alternative and as an anti-ship weapon a la TU-16.

Would have been the proper cover for discovering a Soviet task force in your backyard.

January 31, 2014 11:03 pm

APATS you got me the wrong way round, the one mission a week was from the comments above of 750 flight hours a year, that’s no way to maintain capability, 3 times a week is probably the minimum I’d recommend, one patrol every 2 days.

Unfortunately, with Europe “safe”, the UK government will for long haul MPA capability is lacking, hence no MPA and no planned MPA and no budget for it. My point was with regards to the security situation in Europe, not capability. You’ll get crap standards at one flight a week, but it beats the 0 MPA flight hours that is the current situation now doesn’t it? It’s more of a “glass half full” kind of outlook.

If budget was not a problem, my real preference would be 3 shifts of 8hrs for 24/7 coverage on a one day on/one day off roster with a northern patrol route and a southern patrol route, total of 12 planes and flight crew with a few spare airmen for those “family emergencies” that crop up. But first, convince Parliament that you need MPA.

February 1, 2014 1:05 am

It might only be one flight a week on average but in my experience the front and back end simulators run practically 24/7 so that the crews can work up to the much more complex and demanding wartime requirements that can never be replicated in a normal training environment (i.e. World War III). So people are busy even if the aircraft aren’t. And that’s as it should be. It’s peacetime, you know.

February 1, 2014 6:37 am

Utility Utility Utility.
Futility Futility Futility
It’s one or the other, passing a £2BN for ten planes that may become a £4BN for ten planes deal past an HMG that seems to have no appetite for defence matters at all, just won’t go in my book.
I like the idea of the P1 but then I’m bloody minded and it’s about time someone gave the Americans a bloody nose buy not rolling over and buying Apple just because it looks nice! (P8).
It is however mind numbingly expensive, and unless we can lever the P1 or indeed the P8 (More chance) into a workable paltform for other duties, and get just a little Airfame commonality going to show the bean counters were are trying to make savings…. no really we are!
It’s erm a non flyer, just too damn expensive.
We need in on the ground with a progamme that has legs, which I guess means a decision, do we want Jet or prop? (Contraprop at that?) P8 could become the elctronics/Subhunter and the Americans seem to have a plan here but for me this is where the A400 wins hands down, it has the possibility in all probabilty (Bear with me!) to become everything, not about cutting holes in planes but about what we have covering the hole in the arse end? The Ro-Ro Looksmart solution for an MPA Will just as easily roll onto an A400, you replace the ramp with an ejector for munitions/Sonar Bouys and pointy sticks/depth charges whatever and fly em like that until it’s time for a refit, then swap it into another plane Missiles go on the wings of course, which will need a plumbing job (Oh no Grizzly MkII) ! Otherwise internally the Grizzly is well plumbed for electrics for all the electronic gubbins required, having recently stood in the back of oe I can sort of from a laymans point of view attest this anyway. I’m sure the same could be developed for other electroic duties too?
It offers the size to be adaptable it offers the range and hualage capacity in spades, the high altitude, high speed cruising ability and it’s in production and development now, it’s european and there is some spare Airframes going about shortly, isn’t it too good an opportunity to miss? We could build up to the MPA by simply buying a few sets of Looksmart kit to roll on the back and use it for surveillance only while we develop the pointy sharp bits with the French maybe?
A lot of maybes!
French are in the same boat as us money wise, in fact even worse as their boat is sinking, they will need to replace the Atlantique sometime and we just love co operating with the French don’t we? Shudder…

February 1, 2014 8:16 am

The P1 looks a really high end aircraft, but aren`t the Japanese not allowed to sell arms abroad. We need an MPA , so nwhatever is the best deal the UK can get, maybe it’s time for an open competition and see who offers us the best deal.

dave haine
dave haine
February 1, 2014 9:51 am


Only four? (Still four too many) There have been 6 ‘infractions’ in Europe in the last two years, although an infraction, is a lower issue than a departure. A ‘departure’ is where an aircraft goes ‘off road’. An infraction is where the aircraft goes onto the over-run. and there’s a running joke about ‘smelling’ the runway state on a B737-800/900 flightdeck- old joke, first started with the -400. Such jokes, like cliches, don’t start without some basis in fact.

Not wishing to keep pressing, but all the CFM engined variants have a lower crosswind landing limit( absolute max 34kt), as well. The A319 is bit better(40kt), and from what I could find, the P1 is much better (50kt-although they also talked about using asymmetric thrust, so not sure that figure is right)

As you have probably guessed, I’m not that keen on the P8, although if that was the only way to get a decent MPA, then it would do.

@ Derek, (& APATS)

Sorry Derek, but you’re saying we should keep a fleet of aeroplanes, which only undertake one mission every 5 days. £150m a pop, for doing nothing four days out of five? Not including operating costs, crew currency, maintenance, logistic support- some of which are still incurred, whether the aircraft is flying, or not.
You perhaps might want to reign in your rather condescending tone. Us civvies, frankly, have vastly more experience in operating large aircraft, cost effectively and safely, than the RAF. Which, to their credit, the RAF recognise- which is why the RAF went to BA to build a fleet management programme for their Tristars, and have gone to the air transport industry for the A400M fleet management programme. And introduced a new trade to use aircraft more effectively.
The USAF have been doing this stuff for years- I can tell you for a fact that, when they were looking at their tanker programme, they came to my airline to see how we operated our B767-300s, and how we achieved our utilisation figures. I can also tell you that we received the USN, recently, for exactly the same purpose (ref our B737-800 fleet).

Please don’t take my comments on utilisation as anti-MPA. I’m really just trying to get a reasonable solution. The bean-counters will use exactly that sort of argument, and I think in some ways they’d be right- as a nation we need to leverage maximum value from any budget spend. And having a fleet where aeroplanes are sitting on the ground for four days out of five, will not be perceived as value for money.

So if you want a MPA fleet- you need to make a strong financial case for it, otherwise we’ll end up with half a dozen little turboprops, with half the range, and half the capability.

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 1, 2014 11:57 am

I would not claim to be an expert on Japanese law, but from what I can gather, they are trying to boost exports to cut the unit cost of bespoke kit. They would probably sell us the P1 for maritime patrol, but not with the weapons, that way they get round their no weapon export ban. Those we would buy & bolt on ourselves.

February 1, 2014 12:11 pm

Great post TD and a good summing up of the options. I love the P1 in the MPA role but I think we would end up with an expensive one trick pony. For the same kind of money we can get the P8 which is probably not as good in the MPA role but will likely give us far more options for ELINT and possibly Sentry replacement. So if we had the money it would still be the P8 for me. Given that we don’t have the money the rebuilt P3 option is interesting and will give a dedicated long range and highly capable MPA for a bottom dollar price. At those kind of prices even if we have to replace them in 10 – 15 years it would still be worth it.

It really brings tears to my eyes when I think of just what could have been done with a fraction of the MRA4 budget. Something like the A320 MPA could have been quite a capability and delivered for a lot less.

February 1, 2014 1:02 pm


My condescending tone is entirely appropriate for somebody attempting to layer their sketchy knowledge of commercial airline practices directly on to a military capability provision model.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
February 1, 2014 1:30 pm


The idea is not for in the next 5 years.(Though with sufficient incentives I’m sure it could be done) C295 MPA and other things would cover the gap I guess, and then move those over to search and rescue, light transport (and special forces support?). If you start with the MPA variant, using a significant proportion of existing pieces it shouldn’t take as long as a wholly new aircraft and you get a relatively free hand on form and function of the fuselage.

Other european customers will be looking to replace their patrol aircraft too. Then you expand the variants into other jobs that the MoD and other military and civilian customers might want to get airframe numbers up and spread development costs as wide as possible. It would keep the wings and engines side of the A400m production line busy despite nations reducing their orders.

Imo we should either buy off the shelf, or develop something that will sell (but not necessarily as an MPA) in order to get the costs down. Modifications to the A400m ought to be attractive to other A400m operators.

I expect what will happen is the P8 will be bought but in insufficient numbers to make use of it in any role other than MPA.

February 1, 2014 1:42 pm

Does anyone know, what technical hitches, the P1 is currently encountering?

February 1, 2014 2:32 pm

Derek, dave has a point, civvys have a lot higher aircraft utilization rates than armed forces, it’s their need to show a profit so they have to fly on a heavier schedule than military aircraft which only fly when there is a purpose. Our retired fighter pilots tend to end up in civilian airline service, so they do get to see both sides of the coin.

BTW you were also condescending to a C4I operator working side by side with a UAV platoon that his opening premise on UAVs is wrong. :P Can we just take it that you are just condescending, period?

Brian Black
Brian Black
February 1, 2014 7:07 pm

The P1 might be very capable and able to do what we want from an MPA; but my perception of Japanese defence equipment is that it doesn’t come cheap.

It might be an unfair prejudice, but I’m sceptical that the Japanese could compete against the various European and American options.

Seems more likely to be a dead-end too, as far as operating further variants, compared to the P8 or A319.

It looks like the wildcard option; I’m not putting my money on it being selected, no matter how good it may be.

February 1, 2014 8:36 pm

I hear you Gareth however I’m just not convinced. Even using the same wings and engines it’s still a new aircraft that will require testing etc etc. Which would take time. I really don’t think an interim solution will work in the long run because it’ll just end up becoming the permanent solution despite never really having the true capablities we need/want. Anyway just an opinion. :-)

I like the idea of European colaboration but I think a better airframe would be something from the A319/320 family.

A question for the experts out there…..I always thought that a turbofan/jet MPA was better than a turboprop? Better range, speed, endurance and more difficult for a potential target submarine to hear?

I could be wrong, just thought i’d read that somewhere.

Chuck Hill
February 1, 2014 11:06 pm

Don’t you need a plane that can fly low to look at foreign fishing vessels, do maritime SAR, and look for the occasional Russian task force in you EEZ?

February 2, 2014 5:16 am

BigD think it’s differing needs on different phases of the mission. In transit, you need fast and high to get to the area of interest in a timely manner, but then you need to change to low and slow to sweep the area and not overshoot your target going too fast, so basically two almost mutually contradictory requirements. You’ll need a very very impressive engine that can operate in both modes for that.

Or turn one engine off.

February 2, 2014 9:10 am

With hifast/loslow mission profile postulated above , how are the Indians looking at this? Their version of MPA ,the P8I , has the MAD option put back in and tell me if I am wrong you have to fly pretty low for it to detect anything?
They will be looking for low level sweeps to also cover for their extensive anti-smuggling/piracy problems before calling in surface units to deal with any possible pirate/smugglers in blue water areas.(In littoral waters I believe they use more conventional light aircraft).

February 2, 2014 1:22 pm

“With hifast/loslow mission profile postulated above , how are the Indians looking at this? Their version of MPA ,the P8I , has the MAD option put back in and tell me if I am wrong you have to fly pretty low for it to detect anything?”

The reason the P-8 is designed to perform medium-altitude ASW is not because it has a bad low-altitude performance. It’s because it adds wing-load, which reduces service-life (btw, same goes for any other MPA). And because the USN expects low-flying ASW to be challenged in the near future. Clearly, their new ASW strategy incorporates forcing enemy submarines below the surface through continuous surveillance.

As for the other options; really, an A400M-MPA? Gold-plated equipment still not in service and still only on IOC, with even basic requirements like air-drop still years away? And, don’t be fooled, this aircraft will have enormous operating cost.

The A319MPA looks good on paper, but the Germans rejected it on grounds of considering MPAs a total luxury item, where no vital funds will be attached to. This will not change. Italy is currently replacing their Atlantiques with ATR-72, with interest in the P-8 in the medium term. Maybe, France will bring this back to the table in the mid-2020s, but I also bet on a ATR-82 solution, a “made in France” option to make the trade unions applaud.

In the next years, we will have two options: harmonize with Italy and France, or harmonize with the US, Australia, India, maybe New Zealand and others.

On a broader sense, we should question the need for a manned MPA. Maritime surveillance can and has be done with unmanned assets. That UAV are capable to act as cheap bomb trucks is a matter of fact, it should be no problem to adapt as a MAD-bird, a sono-buoy- or torpedo-truck. If this is true, all we need is a manned command and operator node. This could be – depending on communications requirements, environment and available bandwidth – Whitehall, a warship, a helo, retained Sentinel R1s or an ISO-container loaded onto a transport. If we can solve naval surveillance that way, why not aerial and ground surveillance? If the UAV has foldable wings or -better- is VTOL-capable, then we have carrier / frigate capability. There you go, Crowsnest.

What is needed to develop this system? The aircraft is already available (MQ-9), General Atomics has already designed a foldable-wing variant of the derived Mariner. If we want UK-only, take the god-damn money and develop Mantis into something usable. The communications network and the operator nodes already exist. Nice to have would be directed light comms.

What will happen is that the USN with it’s UCLASS requirement will deliver such a system, and let us complain about lost opportunities. We have currently stated to not go for “silver bullet solutions”, but with P-8 we will ultimately buy one.

Nick Hall
Nick Hall
February 2, 2014 2:12 pm

How about an A319/320 fuselage with a new wing, less swept, designed to fit the current wing box, 4 engines in wing root and an unpressorised bomb bay below the fuselage.
I know we have no money, but is this technically feasible?

February 2, 2014 2:51 pm

“MPAs a total luxury item, where no vital funds will be attached to.”

And this ultimately is the biggest hurdle. It’s really up to the individual countries to decide if an MPA is really worth it in their books.

McZ, unmanned MPA have one big disadvantage vs manned, though you are right in saying that there are advantages too. Situational awareness is bad for a UAV. Sure, in a turret you can stuff EO, NV, IR etc, but it’s only a single turret with a single (rather intensely focused) FOV, sometimes MPA is called on to do SAR and in a case like that, one pair of eyes out each side of the plane gives a huge amount of all round coverage to help spot an orange floating blob in the middle of the ocean. Humans also have a decent amount of peripheral vision, something a camera does not have. Sometimes, being there makes all the difference, otherwise we won’t be going on holidays but just sitting at home watching National Geographic.

Another potential weakness is the secure comms and anti-jamming comms modes, they cause a few seconds lag before the plane responds, not something that’s really responsive and it can be a pain. You tried playing a FPS where you lag by 2 seconds? It makes a lot of difference between a glancing hit and a total miss. Hellfires etc are guided so the initial shot does not really matter too much as long as you are somewhat close and the laser is on the target but a torpedo does not have that luxury. Not sure how badly it would affect ops but the lag is something to remember, especially when landing. UAVs (RPVs) tend to land hard due to it.

Nick, anything is possible with enough money. And many things are impossible without enough money. :)

Angus McLellan
Angus McLellan
February 2, 2014 3:26 pm

Chuck Hill asks “Don’t you need a plane that can fly low to look at foreign fishing vessels, do maritime SAR, and look for the occasional Russian task force in your EEZ?”

The first two don’t sound much like jobs for the RAF. Fishery patrols are covered elsewhere and the military are bowing out of Heli-SAR, so why they should be involved in FW-SAR is not so obvious. Any future dedicated fixed wing SAR aircraft would be much more likely to be commercial, on contract to the Transport Dept, just as (all rather than some) SAR helicopters will be. As for Russians, I’d be very disappointed if E-3s couldn’t track them after getting a hand-off from whoever had been tracking them previously.

February 2, 2014 4:16 pm

How about something designed around the Bombardier CS100/CS300?

They have modern engines and being a largely carbon fibre airframe would be easier to adapt to the maritime market.

The Canadians have 18 P3C which will eventually need replacing.

This article appeared on CASR


with 198 total orders to date there might be production availability and the CSeries can also operate from shorter air fields like London City and Toronto Airport

No reason why the airframe could eventually be a JSTARS/AEW/ELINT versions as well

dave haine
dave haine
February 2, 2014 4:30 pm

@ Derek

Son, leave it out- resorting to such tactics just shows your argument is shaky.

And, Son, if you consider twenty years as a Aircraft Operations Officer/Controller/Manager as ‘sketchy’ then I think you need to reconsider your terms of reference. (Mainly for the largest charter airline in the UK, but also for a smaller executive outfit). For your info I’ve dealt with a crash and total hull loss, numerous french air traffic strikes, fleet airworthiness groundings.
I’ve been a fleet planner, crew controller and aircraft controller, I’ve also been on a project team that successfully achieved JAR-Ops 1 (and ISO9000) certification, as well as writing a procedures manual for the Operations department. I’ve been seconded to Commercial and Cargo. And finally, I hold a DfT aviation security Managers Ticket.

……Any questions?

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
February 2, 2014 6:13 pm

“That UAV are capable to act as cheap bomb trucks is a matter of fact, it should be no problem to adapt as a MAD-bird, a sono-buoy- or torpedo-truck.”

Can you give an example of a UAV that can be used as a bomb truck?

The MQ-9 Reaper that you mention can according to
carry “Up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles … or four Hellfire missiles and two 500 lb (230 kg) GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs”.

A Sting Ray torpedo weighs c. 600lb so I think that a Reaper might be able to carry two torpedoes and four sonobuoys, assuming that the sonobuoys don’t weigh much more than the 100lb that a Maverick does.

That does not strike me as a particularly useful load.


February 2, 2014 8:49 pm

You’re right about the problems, but I think you get me wrong on a central point. I don’t want to let UAVs do the ASW work. I want them to act as broad surveillance nodes and weapon platforms. They are the “oops, something’s wrong” and “kick ass” part, the decision making inbetween will be done by manned command nodes. Isn’t this the way we currently employ Sentinel and Reaper in Afghanistan? Isn’t this the way air battles are managed by E-3s?

Coms are really the problem, but this is also true regarding any other field of defence. With manpower ever thinner spread, communications will become much more crucial, than they already are. Maybe free-space optical communication can litigate some problems, who knows.

@James Bolivar DiGriz
The Mariner variant was designed to double payload on the middle pylons to 1,500lb. That would make up to four Stingrays.

A DIFAR-sonobuoy weighs 17lb. Volume is a greater problem than weight.

February 2, 2014 9:23 pm

A Uav in the reaper size could today carry up to 4 torpedoes as bomb truck with a local surface detection capability, a long ranged manned aircraft which can do the asw detection and wide area surface picture and control the uav that tech should be there to do that now.

A uav carrying torpedoes and sonabouys is not possible today and would be to ambitious for our budget.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
February 3, 2014 12:40 am

Thanks for the extra info.

‘Bomb truck’ is a rather vague term. I have mostly (maybe only) heard that used about planes carrying significant numbers of bombs, e.g. a B52. That was what came to mind when you said that.

From what you say the Mariner would have had a maximum load of c. 6,300lb. With 4×1,500lb hardpoints each with a Sting Ray then that would leave the two 150lb hardpoints for sonobuoys. 150 / 17 = 8 (and a bit), so a maximum of 16 sonobuoys if they would fit.

The Kawasaki P-1 is supposed to carry 100 sonobuoys, Nimrod MRA4 had a capacity of 22,000 lb. In that sort of context I would not call this a bomb (or anything else) truck.

A over-water UAV as a long endurance sensor platform as a complement to an MPA makes sense and, AFAIUI, that is what the Mariner was intended to be.


February 3, 2014 1:16 am

@ kernowboy

The C Series is an interesting MPA choice. The wings are also made in the UK I believe and the UK government has paid for part of the development costs. Probably more industrial benefit to ordering this than an A319/A320 as Airbus has no shortage or orders.

That being said I just can’t see anyone other than Canada going for this and given A) Canada’s budget constraints and B) its willingness to back out of projects it is signed up to such as F35 I just can’t see it being worth while entering into a joint development with them. We need something that’s available today with zero delivery risk.

February 3, 2014 1:43 am

One limitation that few look at with the UAV MPA solution is satellite bandwidth. Its not proving to be cheap to operate platforms like Reaper and our satellite bandwidth is increasingly required for other missions. Skynet 5 already has four satellites in orbit and they are not cheap. Having to launch another one could come at a similar cost to a small fleet of manned MPA’s. While something like Mariner would be useful for surface monitoring I just can’t see it being effective at ASW. If all we want is the ability to monitor the sea surface then there are plenty of cheaper manned alternatives. Also while the loiter time is good the range is not so great. If we go for this option we risk loosing the ability to regenerate manned MPA which is high risk as the UAV solution is untested.

February 3, 2014 2:00 am

The transmission lag in military UAV equipment isn’t really about transmission rates, the problem is mainly with the encrypt/decrypt process. By the time the system finishes decrypting the commands from the control station, there is already a noticeable lag. Then there is the encryption process for the camera feed back to the control station which is another lag area (unless you want a repeat of the feed grab by persons unknown that the Predator had). Then there is the anti-jamming pattern matching for frequencies that suck up computing power too. Add these all up, it gets fairly hefty. UAVs for surveillance, no problem, but for unguided shooting? Forget it. Just play any shooting game online with a 2 second lag and you’ll get a fair approximation of how a UAV will fare in war. This makes them a bit problematic as a shooter platform.

February 3, 2014 5:18 am

I get what observer is saying and I agree that lag is a show stopper in some types of operation but I doubt if it would make much of a difference dropping a Torpedo.

But I just can’t see us getting a UAV capable of operating as a fully fledged MPA with ASW capability. By the time we factor in the sonar buoys and the range the thing will be massive. Then we need enough bandwidth to listen to all of those buoys and process the information which could be done on board with a penalty for weight and power or off board with a penalty for bandwidth and lag. None of this sounds cheap or easy compared to a manned MPA.

If all we want from our MPA is the ability to fly over water with a search radar then I would suggest its a waste of money for the military and a combination of Sentry, Sentinel and possibly Coast Guard flying beach craft or C235 would be a better way to go.

I can see the Merit for Someone like Australia that has a massive Ocean to patrol having something like Triton I just can’t see a UK need for such a platform.

February 3, 2014 8:47 am

TD, possibly. It might mean the difference between dropping the torpedo in front of the target with time to acquire/track or dropping it on/after the target.

Is there such a thing as too close to the target for torpedoes? In some ways, the torpedo release is very similar to the unguided bombing done in the past. It might also seriously depend on the type of delivery mechanism. Pure momentum launch from a fast platform or one with a drogue chute or an RBU type launcher etc. Personally though, I don’t think the Stingray would have much of a problem, but that may not be a universal situation.

martin has brought up another good point and more. Do you want an MPA that has to turn back after every engagement or give it enough capability to spot, persecute and carry on the patrol? That also bumps up the needs and cost.

February 3, 2014 10:29 am

Is it beyond the wit on man to factor in a time delay of a couple of seconds between shouting fire and a weapon dropping? It’s hardly unprecedented.

A Uav could allow a cheaper manned platform to be used in the role that’s there benefit they are not a replacement for a manned platform.

February 3, 2014 11:31 am

These “jet with sensor operators and electronics and perhaps sonobuoys, plus a drone carrying the torps” schemes all have the feature that they try to save money by introducing 2 aircraft types instead of 1, i.e the MPA, and the UAV. As well as the air vehicles, and the maintenance tail, we need to get the ground stations and the airborne station (which needs integrating on the MPA) and the satellite bandwidth as well. I can’t imagine how all this stuff, and most importantly, all the people attached to it, can possibly be cheaper than a NEW DOOR to let you chuck stuff out of the aeroplane.

After all, Mr Door doesn’t get a pension, doesn’t need feeding when standing still, doesn’t have harmony guidelines, and doesn’t give thousands of pounds a day to private satellite operators.

And just look at all the complexity it adds to the whole system. Compared to a NEW DOOR, it means another turbine engine, another autoflight system, another airframe, an air-to-air secure radio link, a satellite link, a ground station, a local ground station for landing, and an air control station. It’s so much stuff, all of which can go wrong.

Am I too cynical in suggesting that the real purpose of these proposals is to find something for Reapers we bought through UORs for Afghanistan to do post-2015, and therefore make sure they get into the core budget, while heading off budget commitments for worryingly navy-y maritime stuff?

February 3, 2014 11:43 am

@ Mark – but does that mean we end up having to buy two platforms when we don’t even have a budget for one.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 3, 2014 12:14 pm

Would a part manned aircraft be a better solution in the long term, i.e. have to 3 person flight crews on board with sleeping arrangements etc. and a kitchen, and then have all the sensors linking back to a base on land where the rest of the personnel are based. In this way you could have a smaller aircraft as the cabin space wouldn’t be required for the work stations etc. and instead you could have more rest space for the flight crew. If you had weapons systems that lag would be an issue with you could have a work station or two for these to be operated by the flight crew.

Obviously there would still be the issues with getting the right airframe and also transmitting the data to and from the aircraft.

February 3, 2014 12:21 pm

@Engineer Tom: I suspect the biggest issue with “reach back” is the expense of satellite high bandwidth channels. When you consider the potential bandwidth of 30 sonobouy channels plus radar and IR data, having a few humans along starts looking cheap :-)

February 3, 2014 12:59 pm


No. For example does a reaper care if it’s dropping a bomb over afghan or a torpedo over the Atlantic. What we don’t current have is the asw survelliance element of a manned platform. 99 percent of an mpas role is survelliance after all.

Rocket Banana
February 3, 2014 2:48 pm

Didn’t we determine that one of the main problems with MPA was the required payload?

100 sonobuoys at 18kg each is 1.8t.

A couple of stingray (which is an absolute minimum) is about 0.5t.

MQ9 Reaper isn’t going to be able to carry this AND patrol 2500nm AND go low enough to drop the things. So perhaps a modified Global Hawk at $222m a pop?

If you’re going to use a low-altitude ASW surveillance UAV you’re going to have to come up with an alternative to the sonobuoy (or a much lighter one), create a nice cheap UAV so that you can have four on patrol (e.g. 30 buoys on each), AND you’re going to have to procure something that can fly out 1250nm quickly (Mach 2 is still an hour) to deliver the payload.

February 3, 2014 3:02 pm

Alex, it isn’t even a government proposal, just online speculation from TD readers. The UK MoD isn’t even in the market for MPA at all much less drone MPA.

If you want to use a manned MPA as a node to control UAVs, you’ve to really make sure the UAVs don’t hold you back. No point having an MPA node that goes at 300+ mph when you’ll lose control of your 200 mph UAV (think this is the MQ-9 speed) within an hour, all you’ll end up doing is flying in circles around your UAV so you don’t lose control. So instead of a gain in coverage and capability, it ends up as an anchor holding you back. This brings to light the difference between a UAV and a UAS (unmanned aerial SYSTEM) where the UAV is designed to be integrated into a whole system that supports each other and not hinders it (i.e higher speed than the node so it can get ahead and scout instead of having the node wait for the vehicle etc). Think we covered this before in the question of why the Black Nano microchopter was not used for armoured advances, it was too slow and too short ranged.

The Other Chris
February 3, 2014 3:59 pm

I think is the only person so far to mention the MQ-4C Triton in the recent debate.

If we’re discussing either the P-8 or any UAS (e.g. MQ-9 Mariner) this system deserves to be considered.

Remember that a UAS is the whole system, not just the stats on paper. Research points for those interested in following up:

– The US Navy intended P-8 to work alongside BAMS;
– India have been considering MQ-4C’s alongside the P-8i;
– Australia concerned that MQ-4C will not provide enough coverage, investigating increased P-8 purchase.

On the MQ-9 Mariner front, investigate how the USCG and CBP are getting on with their Guardians.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
February 3, 2014 4:07 pm


McZ (February 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm) said that a DIFAR-sonobuoy weighs 17lb not the 18kg that you say.

I have no idea which os you is right but that is a non-trivial difference.

February 3, 2014 5:07 pm

2sec on 30 kn are around 35 yards. In most instances you will try to hit the propellers, so I think it qualifies as academic.

I also cannot think about a difference between torpedoes dropped by a helo or an UAV.

To think, the patrolling hunter and the torpedo-armed killer are the same aircraft is the error explaining most range-to-payload problems.

Rocket Banana
February 3, 2014 5:10 pm


I’m a little out of my depth here ;-) but the 19lb AN/SSQ-53F DIFAR Sonobuoy is passive. I think the active ones are quite a bit heavier.

However, having said this I appreciate that my mobile phone lasts longer now and is lighter so the higher weights may well be due to older batteries.

Some Sonobuoys

February 3, 2014 5:54 pm

It’s almost a wonder we keep hold of our uavs over afghan when we fly them from 6000 miles away but hey maybe that’s the RA excuse. http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/raf-to-move-reaper-mission-control-to-uk-356632/ we seem to do it for a few hours a day.

Failing the use of a sat link how far is line of sight from a plane flying at 40k ft to a uav cruising at 20k ft?

Uavs are here to stay there no getting around that and reaper is staying as the interim step so let’s see how useful we can make its, we are currently designing a new one with the French, so design them as a simple truck they would have a payload bay in them nothing fancy essentially similar to the scorpion jet only in a flying wing shape (the most efficient configuration for carrying cargo)



But why would you put the sonobuoys on a uav they would go in the manned plane. The uav would simply get queued to a local area by the manned platform to investigate a surface target or to drop a weapon is that not exactly how there operating today.

February 3, 2014 6:15 pm

Mark, think it might be around 40km going by vehicle radio sets but that is not really a firm comparison. Signal strength drops very badly past that range for small sets.

And yes, surprise, surprise, radio range is surprisingly pathetic. It was an eye opener for me when I first learned that too.

February 3, 2014 6:48 pm

Interesting thank you observer.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 3, 2014 7:29 pm

@ Andrew, re horizons with 2 entities, one at 20,000 feet AGL, the other at 40,000 AGL.

637 kilometres visual, 777 kilometres radar which is bendier than light but a bugger to actually achieve (blame the first Fresnel Zone).

But as Observer wisely points out, there’s wattage to consider. You need some serious ooomph to pump out LOS radiation that far.

February 3, 2014 9:33 pm

Thank you RT

maybe we should just trade some of the early reaper air vehicles in for these then they use the same ground equipment http://www.ga-asi.com/products/aircraft/pdf/Predator_C.pdf

February 3, 2014 11:13 pm

design them as a simple truck they would have a payload bay in them nothing fancy essentially similar to the scorpion jet only in a flying wing shape

Why not just have the payload bay, and get rid of the rest of the drone and the ground station and whatnot? I mean, what good is it doing?

Angus McLellan
Angus McLellan
February 4, 2014 12:21 am

It seems I was mistaken in my previous post. According to Phil Hammond, the UK doesn’t actually rely on E-3s to track the Russian Navy.

Instead, the intelligence services monitor the Russian Navy’s announcements on social media. Twitter and Facebook for the win! A triumph for open-source intelligence, as was previously predicted by our host in a piece on mapping and data visualisation.

The future is closer than you think.

Chaos Theory
Chaos Theory
February 4, 2014 5:48 pm

An interesting topic and discussion chaps thank you.

On the topic of of airbus and boeing backlogs, an option worth considering to negate the waiting list would be that of buying used aircraft. It is an option worth considering given the success of the BAE 146 conversion for the RAF and case studies from other nations (Pakistan SAAB 2000 AEW/AWAC and ATR42/72 for some navies, B767 tanker for Columbia, Israel etc)

For the past few years. airbus A320 family lease and market values have been under threat due to the development of the A320neo (new engine option) and higher production rates. According to Collateral Verifications, a 10 year old A319 can be had for a little over $15m compared to the $45m airlines would pay for a new one after discounts. Any A319 built post 1999 would be capable of the 75.5t MTOW and would have 25000+ flight hours remaining. An example G-EUPT, a British Airways A319 built in 2000 has 32000 flight hours on the odometer with 28 000 remaining.

As things stand, there is no shortage of available stock to choose from (there are at least nine stored A319s as I type), and given the A319s decreasing popularity due to relatively high fuel burn per seat, there will be plenty of cheap stock to choose from.

Furthermore, given Airbus’ excellent track record with MPA system integration on other platforms and the established and relatively cheap logistics support, the A319MPA would purely from a numbers perspective seem like a no-brainer.

It would also be worth noting that the A319 has excellent field performance figures (as does the 737-700/800 contrary to D Haine’s post).

dave haine
dave haine
February 4, 2014 9:15 pm

@ Chaos Theory

I hadn’t thought of the possibility of refitting older A319s- wonder what the conversion/ integration cost would be.

The issue with the B737-700/800 field performance isn’t general, it’s with the field performance on wet or contaminated runways…Using NLR-ATSI (NLR-Air Transport Safety Institute) figures the facts are clear (All in the landing phase):

In 2013
B737-800: 3 overran
In 2012
B737-800: 4 overran
B737-700: 2 overran
B737-400: 2 overran
In 2011
B737-900: 2 overrun
B737-800: 2 overrun
B737-700: 1 overran
B737-400: 2 overran

In 2013
A319: 1 overrun
A320: 1 overrun
In 2012
A320: 3 overrun
In 2011
A319: 1 overran
A320: 2 overran

Interestingly, landing on a wet/ contaminated runway was a causal factor in 58.8% of incidents (the next highest causal factor was a long landing at 38.9%, followed by speed too high at 19.9%)

The link:

Chaos Theory
Chaos Theory
February 5, 2014 3:31 am

>d haine

Those statistics are comparing the A320 vs B737 family are meaningless ( there are a lot more 737s flying than a320s – what is the over run rate per x number flights?).

Furthermore, a lot of 737 over runs over the past few years can be attributed to a single country – Indonesia. There is an EU blacklisted carrier there by the name of Lionair due to their maintenance and training deficiencies identified by EASA inspectors. They’ve had 10+ 737 over runs in the last 3 years. Last year they even had a 737 go swimming and last week one of their 737-900s suffered a 4G (yes you read that right) landing after a bounce.

Now you could make the point that Indonesia is a v wet country = high incidence of over runs for 737 but then there are many other countries with similar climes where 737s are operated without issue – Rio Santos Brazil with little over 4000ft runway.

Lastly, if as you say you’re in aviation, have a look at the 737 and a320 landing distances in the QRH and operations manuals. There is nothing between them. Factor in the SFP available on the 737NG (special field performance) package and the landing distances come out slightly in favour of the 737.


(1100 flight hours on 737 and 2700 on the ‘bus courtesy of BMI)

March 25, 2014 12:48 pm
Reply to  dave haine

Sorry to bring up an old subject but looking through this whilst I respect your civilian experience but you are missing one CRITICAL point when it comes to the difference between a military MPA and an airliner! The latter is in “Revenue earning service”!

Indeed an airliner needs to be kept in the air as much as possible to make money to pay for it and generate a profit for the airline. As you well know the margins are tight so the hours have to be high.

A military MPA is not in revenue earning service, every hour that it is flying is burning money that can’t be made back. The military and the taxpayer does not have the money to keep valuable airframes flying 24/7. The more you fly it the sooner the OSD. The price tag difference of an MPA packed with expensive sensors vs a vanilla airliner is significant. More flying means:

More pilots
More maintenance personnel
Increased per hour costs
Reduced service life

That all costs money! An airline in revenue earning service can afford to fly an airliner for 4,000 hours per week for eight years then scrap it the military cannot unless you are happy to pay for a massive increase in the defence budget.

What would an MPA be doing flying more hours anyway? An MPA is doing one of four things:

1) Sitting on the ground going through maintenance – with constant salt water exposure and complex electronics that is going to be a significant task Remember it is not an airliner, there is much more to maintain and go wrong.

2) Sitting on the ground being used for training – an MPA is far more complex then a Ryanair bus for the personnel that operate and support it even with modern synthetic training aids they still need to get hands on. There is only going to be a limited amount of airframes that means that they will be needed to support ground side training of personnel. This is something an airline doesn’t have to face per say.

3) Sitting on the ground in a hot state ready for a call to do something – 24/7/365! No schedule to rely on. Just keeping a couple in that state imposes a huge logistic and personnel burden. That costs money and the aircraft isn’t even flying, remember military aircraft are not “Revenue earning”. What would it cost Ryanair to keep two of its 737 sitting on the ground 24/7/365 awaiting a two or three times a month call to fly somewhere random without any warning?

4) Flying on training missions – once you factor in 1, 2 and 3 plus the fact they are not revenue earning 750hrs is actually a perfectly reasonable figure and slightly higher then the Nimrod MR2 fleet maintained.

Now don’t get me wrong I think the military should sweat its equipment to a degree and there is much to learn from the civilian world But! It is a different kind of flying operation and that needs to be factored into the figures.

Peter Phillips
Peter Phillips
April 21, 2014 9:45 am

I live in Perth, Western Australia, son of an ex RAF pilot, and with fond memories of the old Shackleton’s growing up in Singapore in the 50’s.
It does occur to me that if the issue we now have here in Perth with the search for MAH 370 were to occur in the Atlantic, you would be unable to mount a convincing aerial search ! At least the RAAF does recognise its challenges and can mount a good response.
You have some great commentary, both in the article and in the responses, but it would seem that there is no action likely, so maybe its time to extract the digit?
It might also pay to find out just how well the P8 went in this search. I have a sense that it struggled at the distance!
Maybe the Chinese will lend you an Ill 76. I will warn you though that at 6 am in the morning they are very noisy!