Questions on Maritime Patrol Aircraft

We have discussed future Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) a number of times on Think Defence, it is a story that allows us all to continually speculate because it remains a ‘gap’, perceived or real.

I think what makes a notional replacement for Nimrod so interesting is the simple fact that it is a complicated decision!

It is complicated because there is much more to it that a simple aircraft replacement, implications are everywhere.

  • Do we actually need a maritime patrol aircraft, after all we seemed to have managed fine for several years without one, are there more pressing gaps to address
  • If we do, does it need to be dedicated to the role or multi purpose
  • What about the industrial implications, does any solution need to meet every single UK requirement or can we trade off UK specifics for low risk and entry cost
  • How does it impact on the wider RAF/RN ASW/ASuW capabilities against the assumptions made in SDSR 2015 and the current defence planning assumptions
  • Does it need extreme range or would a smaller shorter range aircraft do
  • Does it matter if it is jets or props, what performance is required and how do we manage the low level requirement
  • What would be involved integrating UK weapons like Stingray
  • What role could unmanned aircraft play
  • Is a single aircraft the solution or would a combination work better
  • How would it impact the wider RAF ISTAR fleet, especially E3, Airseeker and Sentinel
  • Where is the cash to buy and more importantly, operate
  • Where are aircrew and ground crew coming from, Seedcorn has a finite lifespan
  • Who should ‘own’ them, to what degree can the synergies between the RAF and RN ASW/ASuW communities be exploited
  • How long a shadow dies MR2, Haddon Cave and £4b (ish) down the drain on MRA4 cast
  • What are the relative priorities of Search and Rescue, Anti Submarine/Surface Warfare, Maritime Security  and ISTAR in support of joint operations
  • Where would it be based now Future Force 2020 is well on the way to implementation, the choices might not be simple
  • How will a Scottish independence vote affect the requirement

So many questions.

If we went for the obvious Boeing P8 Poseidon then logically that would mean any future replacement for the E3 would be 737 based. Would that be a problem or an opportunity for future standardisation and there is no doubt it is the100% cost solution.

Could the MPA role be combined with that of the Sentinel, thus creating a multi role MPA/ISTAR capability on a single airframe. The Sentinel has delivered but has limited growth potential and as we all know, deleting whole fleets is where the savings are found. In this scenario, is there anything that the surplus Sentinel airframes could be used for, accepting that keeping them in service negates the airframe deletion saving, my favourite is an ultra long range recce aircraft fitting them with the RAPTOR sensor, or, a high endurance battlefield comms relay. They could also possibly be used to replace the HS125’s and BAE 146’s in the transport role.

An Airbus Military C295 would be obvious low cost, lesser capability than a P8, solution. Bringing the C235/295 airframe into UK service would provide the potential of allowing the airframe to be utilised in a number of other roles, specifically as a smaller compliment to the A400. A C235/295 fleet combined with A400 and C17 would be an almost ideal mix and there is even a gunship and AEW variant in the pipeline. Accepting a capability reduction,  deleting the E3 in favour of a C295 based AEW&C is an interesting option.

Could they be used as a bomb truck, or more specifically, a Storm Shadow truck and how would this affect fast jet numbers i.e. trade one off against the other

Is there any merit in looking at a few of outsiders, the Kawasaki P1 or upgraded ex USN P3’s for example.

Japan is making slow but steady progress with the P1, has recently signed a defence cooperation agreement with the UK and is obviously forging a more aggressive defence stance in response to their big neighbour. The USN is slowly getting rid of their P3’s, they are robust, have an excellent safety and reliability record and can be bought up to the very latest specification, Brazil having just taken delivery of their eighth P3-AM (Airbus Modernised) from CASA for example. The P3-AM has the same FITS system as on the C235/295 and the eight modernised P3’s plus four for spares cost of just over $400m , a lot of capability for not a lot of cost. How about using the A400M with a roll on roll off equipment fit or taking up the various offers on the table for the ‘Sea Herc’?

Could a business jet MPA be used, an obvious place to start is the Bombardier Challenger, as used by the Sentinel? Boeing have for some time been looking at developing such a platform and have recently announced their Challenger 604 demonstrator. Incidentally, the demonstrator will use a Selex Seaspray radar, a Star Safire EO system and the mission system from the P8, or put another way, the same as developed for MRA4!

There is no doubt the Boeing MSA (Maritime Surveillance Platform) is aimed at the security end of the MPA spectrum with no provision for ASW weapons or sonobuoys for example but Boeing have stated these could be added relatively easily. Before the outrage bus gets first paraded, the reality is that any UK MPA will be doing vastly more ISTAR and maritime security than ASW.

I will be looking at this in a bit more detail soon but anyone have any opinions on the above?


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January 14, 2014 11:12 pm

From out of left field: convert some herks to SC-130J. And fly them, sometimes, off CVF. Seriously, it could be done and the ski jump would help. Software from X-47 might help too. The USN did it before:

Just another idea for the melting pot.

January 14, 2014 11:25 pm

What do you want the MPA to do?

Surface search?
Sub hunting?

All these have their own requirements. For example, surface search only can probably make do with a radar and flying at high altitude for OTH coverage. Sub hunting on the other hand needs to go low so that they can see the sub’s thermal scar with IR, so the 2 are almost mutually incompatible.

Figure out what you want to do first, then figure out the nuts and bolts. Personally, I forsee a dual tier layout, with radar planes flying high for anti-ship coverage while “MPA” sub hunters go low for SAR and ASuW.

Provided that you need such coverage in the first place.

January 15, 2014 12:22 am


I think I’ve expounded on my opinions rather enough (I hear you all sigh with relief)! But consider that there are a number of key tasks to cover – protection of the nuclear deterrent (i.e. deep ocean nuclear ASW), enhanced Force ASW and Force ASuW cover in deployed theatres (through conventional ASW and third-party targeting), contribution to the Land Component through ISTAR and the potential (through technological advancement) for tactical level/theatre ELINT (as opposed to strategic ELINT through Rivet Joint). The growth potential to interface with the next generation of UAVs and UCAVs is desirable. Whatever the solution, it must address those key user requirements without duplication and without detracting from existing capabilities.

January 15, 2014 12:47 am

Some reality, something like a P-8 comes in at $200 million an aircraft before all the additional costs (such as airfield upgrades, which are substantial) come into play. Then there is finding all the costs to pay personnel and support the fleet. It is highly unlikely that something along these lines is genuinely affordable.

Something like the Airbus CN-295 MPA is a far more practical option.

January 15, 2014 12:56 am

That P3 deal does look attractive, but then you also have to ask yourself why the USN, Australia and Canada are retiring them. In a lot of ways, these countries are making the same cost benefit analysis as the UK. After all, they could much more easily retain their P3s, upgrade them and continue operating them instead of buying new P8s. They are not buying them because their defence budgets are overflowing with riches.

Also, if you ask “Do we actually need a maritime patrol aircraft, after all we seemed to have managed fine for several years without one?”, you will also need to ask yourself if you have been borrowing someone else’s MPA. Answer: you have. Which is fine, actually. You just that ask yourself if you can live with that compromise.

Paul R
Paul R
January 15, 2014 1:15 am

Sorry to throw this in but what about UK industry and the avenue of future development in capabilities.

What I’d be worried about is buying a p8 and never being allowed or given the info to develop our own systems, which means you’ll struggle to set out your own tactics and strategy and it well all be replication of other countries with the same deficiencies. The Americans won’t be to happy to share or let develop!emt happen, after all they have their own industries to protect.

Also how about range? I thought nimrod had better range? Oh and boom refueling we’ve got a multi adapter in a draw haven’t we?

I’d rather see money spent on producing a new design or a cilvilan liner with new wings and being multi platform. I’m pretty sure France would like some new MPA as well.

Heres a task for help to find something. David Cameron at bae location which did electronics saying how we need to grow/lead the sector, shortly followed by all the work being destroyed and Nimrod getting cut up.. I’d like to see that speech again!

January 15, 2014 2:25 am


An excellent point – US, Norwegian and Portuguese P3’s I believe, as well as Atlantiques.

I do like the sound of the upgraded P3 option but look what happened last time we tried upgrading our MPAs…

January 15, 2014 2:35 am

Before anyone else suggests PS as an option read this…

January 15, 2014 4:53 am

One option is to use the 604 with the P8. For submarine sweeps, two 604s could flank the P8. It would be very easy to vector the P8 to intercept. A pair of P8s with four or five 604s would be a formidable fleet.

Also, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a pure MPA role anymore. The mission mix is very diverse and there is a real need for platforms with sensing capability.

On C295, the DHC-5 Buffalo would be a better fit to partner with A400 & Chinooks. Ideal platform for LCLA & Freedrop missions. Nothing can match the Buff as a battlefield airlifter.

January 15, 2014 5:28 am

CASA 295 all the way! Dual use, and maybe a roll on system for A400, again then dual use. ISTAR Assets I see as becoming largely umanned in the future I like Sentinal, mainly because it just looks cool! It’s a one trick pony though, Male UAV for spotting and MPA for prosecuting. the mix of C295/A400/C17 is pretty irresistable to me at least.
I f we bought 8 P8’s with a support contract we’d be looking at around three billion I reckon, add that to the four we’ve already wasted would give seven billion for eight planes, you could buy two Aircraft Carriers for that! Not doubting the need sor some sort of capability here but it has to come in reasonable and the bean counters have to like it to!. ROLL on ROLL off for C295 and A400, Hopefully find a way to use the same system on both???

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 7:16 am

For me the baseline has to be sub-hunting. And it has to cover both home and away fixtures. Undetected attack submarines are the biggest threat to any task force and if we are serious about using ours then we have to provide theatre level awareness of what subs are out there and which directons they are coming from. Then the frigates, merlins and astutes can plan their screens, sweeps and boxes in the right places to take them out.

So critical airframe characteristics are range, endurance and the ability to release weapons and stores. And I’m looking for commonality with either (a) something we already have (b) something we are comitted to buy or (c) something we can plan to buy more of in future.

So that rules out C-295. It doesn’t have the legs, or the stores capacity, for persitant patrolling at range. And its not common with any other platform we have are are likely to buy.

If Airbus were offering the FITS system on either a weaonpinsied Voyager or Atlas then I would say have a serious look. Plenty of range and growth margin on both platforms. But they aren’t and do we really want to be the launch customer for a new product?

So that really just leaves P8, P3 or K1. On the basis of future proofing and fleet size around the world I would go for P8, and look to develop it as a multi-role land and sea asset that would also replace Sentinel in due course. And maybe look forward to a Sentry version one day too.

January 15, 2014 7:44 am

That was going to be my next post, going for the pricey option but getting more utility that way, still think we’d be getting more value out of a A400/C295 mix as you can actually bung stuff in em and take it places. Fly two down south one with support tech and one with the MPA kit and one fly’s back leaving an MPA Capability and a transport for the FI, Diego Garcia, Gibraltar, Gulf, in one… List goes on.
Or if we want longer patrols/Transport/better persistence we send an A400 and a C295 and use the same kit on them both. During peacetime I see no harm in the C295 being manned over here by the Coastguard, would help with fisheries protection etc.
I like your idea of the P8 giving us ISTAR and probably AWACS in the long run but I just don’t see a future in manned AWACS /ISTAR and ELINT. I know the tech is not yet mature enough but it will be and if we buy manned now they will be outdated and outclassed before their time by UAV’s, requiring more expensive buying. Keep Rivet Joint/sentinel/AWACS, Capability as long as we can and replace em with a very long endurance UAV…

Wonder what a C295 would look like on a ski jump???

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 7:50 am


If we could weaponise the A400 I would agree.

Roll the pallets of FITS onbaord, bung sonorbuoys out through a derringer door. But it has to be able to drop munitions too, be they heavy torpedos or Storn Shadow or NSM.

And that would take quite a bit of development I guess, with ssociated cost and heartache.

January 15, 2014 7:52 am

Instead of buying p3 why don’t we use are the 24 C-130J Hercules.
Lockheed offer the SC-130J Sea Hercules MPA.
So as they are retied and replaced with the A400 they could be converted to that spec.
so we are using planes we already have in service.

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 8:03 am


I like the idea in priciple of a utility plane to fly off QEC. Could provide a solution for ASW, AEW and AAR. But such a plane would need:

Folding wings and tail (or special tail – but wither way 7m tall maximum).
Special software to help the unarrested landing.
Upgraded undercarriage to cope with the SRVL type landing
Ability to lift around 7-10,000kg payload off the deck.

That’s quite a list of requirements and wouldn’t actually come cheap either. You’re basically designing a new airframe for a very small specialised market. Only other customer would be the USN. And they (a) use CATOBAR and (b) parked their requirement for a C2/E3/Viking replacement some time ago.

My favourite starting point for such a design would be either C-295 ot actually Antanov An-72/4. But that’s another story…

January 15, 2014 8:32 am

Sort of meant that as a Joke but you never know I guess!
Don’t Lockheed have a roll on roll of solution used in their Sea Herc and some bolt on fairings for Torps etc. No doubt the M.O.D. with B.A.E. and Marshalls, would be able to string out about a five year test flight programme, just from that little lot, so perhaps we should just by off the shelf Sea Hercs and let them all spit the toys out of the pram?
Buy Hercs as the Ute and MPA and No P8, No C295, and no additional A400’s…

January 15, 2014 8:33 am

Jane’s say MOD are hinting its between P8 and CN-295 as UAV technology is 30 years away from a multifunctional MPA platform that would meet UK needs. I imagine P8 would only really be affordable in sufficient numbers if we were part of a jointly purchased and run fleet with Norway, Germany, Netherlands and maybe France (could involve sharing Global Hawk too) – but that would also require some sort of agreement to detach aircraft for ‘national interest’ tasks overseas. Although P8 might enter the picture as some sort of trade-off with Sentinel? (we probably need a lot more workaday MPA missions than Sentinel missions).

Given that the primary role is going to be UK-based – everyday maritime surveillance and long-range SAR (working with the OPVs) + ASW protection for the SSN fleet (and avoiding political embarrassment by passing Russian carrier task forces), a CN-295 buy as an ‘interim’ measure (until UCAVs that can fulfill a variety of ISTAR roles and be an effective sub-hunter are around and affordable) seems morel likely/sensible – to enter service as C-130 leaves and offer duel role capability – probably replacing the BAe 146s too.

Scottish independence will almost certainly rule P8 out.

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 8:40 am

@James F

Scottinsh independence won’t happen.

No worries entering into joint maintenance arrrangements with Norway or Nethrlands or Germany or France. But lets get our marker down nice and early so they have to come to us and negotiate on our terms. Lets not have another Typoon / NF90 / Atlas type shcemozzle with all the associated delays and costs.

January 15, 2014 8:52 am

My view is that the Maritime Patrol capability is the key rather than actually having a dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Therefore, based on where we are I think the UK should go for a strengthened layered approach above and beyond what is there currently with the FF, Merlin and Hercules combination. Also, each platform needs to be multi-role and should be deployable anywhere in the world (in some cases from the CVFs).

So the short term solution is to enhance the current MP capabilities of Sentinel and buy another 4.

Medium term, look at developing or buying off the shelf additional capability either a MP UAV or converting a V22 Osprey design, both of which should be capable from flying for traditional airfields or the CVFs.

Longer term look at the options for replacing the Sentinel, E2-Sentry and Rivet Joint capabilities onto a single platform.

Rocket Banana
January 15, 2014 9:39 am

I rather like Observer’s initial comment…

Given that the AN/APY-2 is a pretty good radar and can detect surface contacts to 200nm I’m not sure I understand the need for an MPA aircraft to do this task.

This means E3 can stay up high.

It can also then be the sonobuoy data relay and (in my mind) should also form part of the theatre level ELINT capability, the remainder should be provided by Rivet Joint since I thought that was the whole point of it.

So this leaves the low-level EO/IR, MAD, sonobuoy deployment and (sub)surface attack.

The question I have is then: Do we want to have a naval task force reliant on land-based MPA?

If the answer is yes then…

1. Buy MPA.
2. Use land-based Sentry for AWACS too.
3. Use land-based Voyager for AAR too.
4. Use land-based Typhoon for CAP.
5a. Reduce the number of F35B we are to procure to an absolute minimum.
5b. Scrap the carriers.

If the answer is no then…

1. Whatever we use to protect the task force is what we should use everywhere else.
2. If this is not good enough to patrol the GIUK gap then either…

a. Scrap Trident and stop bothering with the GIUK gap.
b. Buy MPA and scrap the carriers/F35B (as above).

This might seem a little childish but there seems to exist a mutually exclusive set of options between MPA and “naval task force autonomy”.

The Other Chris
January 15, 2014 9:43 am

I don’t see a lot of questions about tasking.

I also don’t see the various roles fulfilled by the MRA4 MPA adequately performed by anything other than a fixed wing dedicated platform.

The important questions are where do we need the aircraft, what level of readiness, how long do they need to be in the air, what roles are we asking them to actually perform and what is the equipment they will need to do it?

That gives you an idea of the numbers required, remembering that you need multiples of aircraft to keep one in the air and bearing in mind that the MRA4 cancellation decision was more about only receiving 9 workable airframes which were nowhere near the figure of 20+ that were talked about as being required for the tasking.

Once we have an idea of numbers, we’ll have an idea of cost.

The supposed £1B found behind the sofa a couple of years ago and set aside for “the right MPA” would still only deliver only 9 P8’s. Sounds like we’d still be nowhere near the right numbers based on the MRA4 cancellation reasoning without significant increase in how much we’re going to spend on initial purchase and ongoing costs.

My money’s on the Challenger 605 from Boeing being designed for MOD requirements, either on request or because somebody at Boeing is smart and pre-empting need.

At a third of the price of a P8, that’s 20+ aircraft that are similar (not identical) to the Global Express based Sentinel’s which, on the surface at least, can fit inside that (mythical?) £1B budget, including sonobuoy modifications…

Would 20+ 605’s provide enough coverage at 56% of the range of an MRA4?

As for the name? The Boeing P9 Manannan to keep the nautical pagan deity theme…

More details and a video on the Boeing site [1]:

[1] CL-605 MSA

The Other Chris
January 15, 2014 9:50 am

Should probably add that personally I’d like to see the P8 purchased in adequate numbers. It’s the only platform that comes close to what the MRA4 could have been (security, prosecution, deployment, etc) and I feel on a more modern airframe the platform will be found to be immeasurably useful over the coming decades.

January 15, 2014 10:01 am

Whilst Russia continues to rebuild its Submarine fleet, we seriously need to look at requiring a top of the range Sub hunter. However, their is a good case for a two-tier fleet. Your top of the range model, like the P8 operated by the RAF/RN and your bog standard CN-295 operated by HM Coastguard. Do we really need a high end aircraft like the P8 to do daily milk run’s around the British Isles, checking up on Fishing vessels and yachts?

All of the aircraft mentioned have their good and bad points. From being expensive (P8), not having extremely Long Range capability (P8 again and others) to your basic Ad hoc conversions A400M, SC-130J, CN-295. Whilst all having to hang munitions from the wings. Plus all being built outside the UK. Whilst I cannot see Airbus offering a airliner conversion of the A319 anytime soon!

Now this is going to sound a’bit mad! How much would it cost to build a fleet of brand new Nimrod MRA5’s!

It would tick all the right boxes. Built in the UK, very long ranged, huge bomb bay, an alternative to the P8. If the surveillance kit of MRA4 is now on Boeing’s Challenger 604 Demonstrator. Which shows that systems work. Then I don’t see why we don’t bite the bullet and have another look at the Nimrod. Because let’s face it, it was HMG’s decision to reuse MR2 airframes for the MRA4’s, not BAE systems and that was the major problem.
I will now put my tin hat and duck!!

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 10:14 am

Great idea in theory – but are there any usable, certifiable drawings for the Nimrod airframe in existance?

I remember a very lucid post from @Not a Boffin a while back in which he explained that the fundemental problem with the MRA4 was that Design Authority for the Nimrod Airframe had been lost. Fundementally no-one was left knew how the design worked. So they had to try and make it up as they went along.

Question I have: is there a modern airframe in existance with recent production and a viable Design Authority standing behind it that comes anywhere near the Nimrod airframe’s performance characteristics? If we were talking about a bespoke conversion that would be the place to start.

January 15, 2014 10:15 am

I forgot to add it would cost a fortune and would take over 10 years to get it into service. So we will just have to go for the P8! Wonder if Boeing would let us go for the 737 Max version?

Ian Skinner
Ian Skinner
January 15, 2014 10:21 am

The Boeing P9 Manannan?

Surely the Boeing P9 Manannan da da, da da da?

January 15, 2014 10:21 am

@ PeterElliott

Thats very true, it won’t obviously happen. To much time has past. We should have gone for new builds from the very start for MRA4. It was just HMG interfering/meddling on stuff they know nothing about.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
January 15, 2014 10:25 am

Personally I feel we should take our time rebuilding our MPA capabilities, not that it should be put off but rather it is done a staged manner. I would lik to see 10 C-295’s as a first stage to cover UK defence until 2030, followed by a UK designed/built aircraft, this would probably be best as a modifyed Airbus airframe assemblyed in the UK from parts (or larger modules) created elsewhere, UK engines and kit would then be added. It should also be aimed at an export market rather than be perfectly tailored for the UK. We should also be looking at driving MPA UAV’s forward to supplement and eventually replace MPA’s.

January 15, 2014 10:48 am

The question I have is then: Do we want to have a naval task force reliant on land-based MPA?

This is an interesting one. The carrier group is going to have an SSN escort, Type 26 ASW frigates, ASW Merlins… does it really have to have an MPA as well? Or is this more of a “nice to have” if the threat’s particularly high?

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 11:00 am

The Americans sacrificed S3 Viking (Carrier launched ASW-MPA) and chose to rely on land based MPA instead.

But then again the USN can to some extent afford to take the view that if a sub get lucky and manages to get a shot in and disable a carrier then the next Carrier can take over.

We will almost certianly only one Carrier Group. And a cripled or sunk HVU effectively means a mission kill. So I would say in the long term we probably need to aim for both land based and carrier based (with more range and persistance than Merlin).

Now at the moment there isn’t a suitable STOVL airframe on sale for medium range ASW. So I say buy a land based one becuase that will do the job 80% of the time. And keep looking at the options for carrier based in the future – probably as a Merlin replacement tiltrotor crica 2030.

January 15, 2014 11:07 am

@Engineer Tom “Personally I feel we should take our time rebuilding our MPA capabilities, not that it should be put off but rather it is done a staged manner. I would lik to see 10 C-295′s as a first stage to cover UK defence until 2030, followed by a UK designed/built aircraft, this would probably be best as a modified Airbus airframe assembled in the UK from parts (or larger modules) created elsewhere, UK engines and kit would then be added. It should also be aimed at an export market rather than be perfectly tailored for the UK. We should also be looking at driving MPA UAV’s forward to supplement and eventually replace MPA’s.”
I like this idea but the only ones who would buy it would be us and Europe and a Euro MPA would fill three dozen new threads I think and make my estimate of around 7 billion for 8 or so aircraft (including the four for MRA4) seem like chicken feed!

@Simon 25, your my kind of bloke, I’d love to see 1 common ISTAR/ELINT/AWACS and MPA Platform, so how about roll on/podded modules for the A400? Nothing that requires major structural changes IE lumps bumps and dishes more brackets electrical conduits and pod/panniers, and buy all the ones the sausage gobblers don’t want because as they say, they already do more than they are tasked to???

January 15, 2014 11:08 am

This is really toss a coin for me. Would the C295 be more than adequate for current needs – UK / FI EEZ patrol with a decent ASW / ASuW option but also for basic SAR? I think so. Once we start worrying about the resurgence of Russian SSNs and the GIUK gap issue, then that is more in P8 territory. But I don’t think we are there yet, or will be in the near term

I would plump for a decent fleet of C295 type aircraft now to regenerate and build capability with the ability to provide continuous or QRA style MPA capability around the UK and FI. The C295 could also replace / supplement other light transport / utility roles for commonality benefits. I would not rule out a future silver bullet P8 purchase if the GIUK / Russian issue develops and going forward the 737 may become the platform of choice to replace various capabilities.

I say C295 type aircraft as the Sea Herc (and possibly the Ocean Sentry used by the US CG?) should be considered although the C295 appears the most mature ASW version

January 15, 2014 11:13 am

There is a pattern emerging with very complex low-volume “bespoke” systems… The Aussie Wedgetail and Seasprite sagas, the Canadian troubles trying to replace Sea King and our own debacles with MRA4 and Sentinel (Sentinel is a good system but pretty much single role, single generation – no-one else will be prepared to help pay for the cost of system upgrades or platform development). And we know what a throw away ‘software upgrade’ can look like – Chinook HC3.

At the risk of repetition (something I’m good at, sorry folks) I believe our priority must be Range, Force Protection and Footprint (or the lack of it). RFF – if you like – understanding that me must retain contingency capability in an unpredictable world. Maximizing the potential of every capability to deliver at range (as our backyard is not in immediate or foreseeable conventional danger and threats are intercontinental), minimize the risk to our own forces (given we have precious few – not only woosieness), and ensure that we don’t get bogged down in pursuing high-footprint politically lost causes.

The first priority is thus (I’m open to more expert ideas as I’m not an engineer or tactician):

1. Get carrier strike property capable (F-35, Crowsnest etc.)
2. Ensure we have enough very high quality mobile and protected ground forces to meet any eventuality if deployed on interventions
3. Ensure we can provide assistance and back up in key areas to regional allies (meet their capability gaps) in critical regions – Middle East, Africa and contribution to Far East, if needed.
4. Counter asymmetric/intercontinental threats to the UK – cyber, terrorism etc.

Second priority is to put in place enough capability to what I often see on this site referred to as ‘standing commitments”.. i.e ensure the integrity of our national and allied sovereignty, and our home and civil defence requirements.

Its in that category I would place the regeneration of MPA.

That’s why i would be very happy to get anything, and CN-295 would be cheap and much better than nothing. If P8 puts more F-35s, Crowsnest or even (it will never happen), more Astute’s at risk – then forget it.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 15, 2014 11:36 am

Don’t forget that while Herrick and Telic were on and the FSU was still a basket case, it was decided that the submarine threat had gone away and that either a capability gap or the catch all Defence Planning Assumption that “Someone else” would do it came into effect.

It’s a bit like the “gapping” of f/w fleet air defence. Originally, the decision was badged as “taking risk against the air threat” which was mitigated to some degree by the “increased capability of T45 compared with T42”. However, over time the caveats tend to be forgotten and people begin to think that “Air defence is done by the T45”, as opposed to the original (correct) interpretation that T45 forms an important part of the overall capability (along with AEW/ASaC, f/w fighters, soft kill and point defence systems.

Wrt to MPA, you can see the same thing happening. The submarine threat is (conveniently) assumed to be low (which essentially is the old capability vs intent question again) and so risk is taken, which is assumed to be partly mitigated by other assets (eg Astute, T23/2087/Merlin). People are already conflating all the other things that the MR2 did (SAR, surface search, ISTAR etc) with the primary (and more difficult) part of the role which was cued wide area search, localisation and prosecution of submarine targets in some specific and some non-specific sea areas.

It will be interesting to see whether (in these straightened times for the USN), the Common Support Aircraft requirement is resurrected. The major problem of course being that they have no money to pay for it (the original reason that S3, F14, KA6D and A6E were all retired early). The Pacific might be an interesting operating environment if access to land bases is “at risk”. If people think the DF21 holds carriers at risk, imagine what it might do to the rather more vulnerable bases at Kadena, Andersen, Eniwetok etc, without which there is no ability to project P3/P8, KC135, KC10, KC46, RC135 or E3. Whicjh is why you tend to need both land-based and carrier based assets, rather than an either/or solution if you’re going to play big boys games.

January 15, 2014 11:47 am


Agreed, but its a very long time ago since we could play Big Boys Games alone, especially in the Pacific (if ever?)… And we are are playing in the ABM game – one T45 is engaged in US trials – to help deal with such threats.

UK defence spending will ever deliver a compromise based on best guesses for our immediate needs, even in a perfect world.

dave haine
dave haine
January 15, 2014 11:52 am

C-130s off carriers….I think people are getting a bit excitable.

Few thoughts on possible MPAs

P3 are getting old and knackered- the issue is not what kit you can stuff on it, it is with airframe hours. Whilst the USN had hundreds of these things the average airframe hours were kept low, but now all the low hours examples have been refurbished and sold on, so any that are left have a limited life left.
To ‘re-life’ an aeroplane, the main spar has to be replaced, as well as any load bearing frames and large parts of the skin. Speaking from experience- my airline has done a ‘D’ check on a B737-200, bear in mind that this was an airliner-so a relatively benign and sedate life. The totted up cost of that check would have bought us a another B757.
So apart from the huge cost of refurbishment and the limited life left if you don’t, the cost problems of obtaining spares for a legacy fleet, the reducing technical availability rate (always an issue when operating ageing a/c) the cost of training engineering teams…the P3 would be a good choice. BTW for P3 also read ‘Atlantique’.

Sea Hercules? Seriously, why? We are getting rid of the Hercules, so why re-introduce another smaller fleet? Why pay for a modification/ development programme on a airframe that we’re chucking. If we go down that route it makes much more sense to do it on an airframe that we expect to be keeping in service for 30+ years, the Atlas (I would also argue that we should be thinking along the lines of putting AWACS on it as well)

Sea Atlas programme- yes commonality, with part of the air transport fleet so technical management, aircrew training and operational management efficiencies to be had. A good range/payload compromise, so useful. British industrial involvement, so good for jobs etc. the Germans and French could be persuaded, possibly, so a multi-national programme, which would help item cost, and possible exports. An Airbus product, who aren’t that bad at developing aircraft. And finally, able to operate out of smaller airfields, so giving a handy operational flexibility, if forward basing required.

CN-235: Good aeroplane, but too small I think for our requirements- considering the area that the UK is responsible for. Too short ranged.

Sea Challenger: Too small and no offensive capability- any warload would i think would be quite small and at the expense of sonarbouys etc Shame really because as a pure patrol aircraft it is the answer- fast transit time, reasonable loiter.

P8: at the moment, the only player in town. My issue with it is the expense. Other people have been talking up it’s commonality with B737-800, and therefore spares availability. The problem with this argument are the facts- Boeing’s own designation for the P8 is the B737-800A, which means that it will have a different wingset, which indeed it has, having winglets based on a 767-400 design, rather than the standard -800ER winglets, and a strengthened wing to cope with the expected stress. Even the main keel in the fuselage is strengthened, again to cope with the expected stress. So really not that compatible at all, really. I hope the’ve uprated the brake system/anti-skid as well, as there seems to be a real problem with the 737-800 overrunning the runway on landing, particularly in wet weather. (Bit of a joke- it was always claimed that you could smell a wet runway on the flight deck of a B737-400)
Other than that seems like the nearest thing to the ideal (Nimrod MR4A) we’re going to get.

Kawasaki P1: this my personal favourite, the only wheel nuts up designed MPA. Might be a bit cheaper than the P8, got four donks, OK, hasn’t got the sensor fit of the P8- but as we had a big hand in that (Legacy of the MR4A) you can’t tell me that we couldn’t patch in extra stuff if we needed. We have a defence and industrial agreement with Japan, which could bring benefits to the UK. The only prob, I think, is with the donks…but that could easily be solved by hanging RR Br710s off the wings, Although the IHI F7 is actually designed for use in a maritime environment, so……

So there you go, my thoughts on an MPA, In the end, I suspect we’ll end up with P8. Although I would rather we used the Kawasaki P1.

Unless the Germans and the French suddenly decide that they need to replace their Atlantiques and P3s, then we might see a common platform A400m, or possibly a resurrected A319 based platform. But unlikely.

And finally…I wonder why we set up a defence and industrial co-operation agreement with the Japanese now…. We’ve never seemed to need or want one before….. is it just good diplomacy/ politics? Or is there something in there for us?

January 15, 2014 11:56 am

– totally agree with your comments re Astute

As someone said above, an MPA should be part of a layered defence. I also believe we run the risk of high end silver bullet fleets (T45, P8, Astute for example) with nothing beneath them, no strength in depth. By strength I don’t just mean fighty back up but lower level platforms for personnel to cut their teeth on and hone the skills etc to apply to high end assets. I also beleive in the retention of a core ‘self defence force level’ that if all the high end stuff is off to a hot war, we don’t leave the gate open for asymmetric or other opportunisitic threats. That’s why I see ‘patrol OPVs’ are important, as is QRA, basic MPA capability, facility security etc. I would advocate a couple more Astutes as they are the most effective form of long range offensive capability we have, and it is our strength. In support I would make the case for three off the shelf SSKs – low risk no gold plating. These would serve three key purposes – building the skills base for crews for the SSNs, SSK training for the surface fleet and UK EEZ (GIUK gap) ASW. If you had those, I think the C295 would do nicely for MPA for the foreseeable future.

dave haine
dave haine
January 15, 2014 12:14 pm

Oh and another thing…I would say that there is at least another generation before we get to the stage where UAV’s have any utility in in the MPA world.

The range of tasks that a MPA can carry out on a single mission is vast….most of these tasks require situational awareness and assessments, judgements and decisions to be made…not things that autonomous UAVs are any good at. RPVs have a similar issue, clue’s in the title (i.e. Remote).

The problem is that some people are seeing UAVs as a universal panacea to all military problems. They’re not, they have advantages and limitations just like any other tool.

And that right there is what we should be thinking of UAVs as…..another tool in the box.

January 15, 2014 12:22 pm

Some excellent posts…

David Haine,

A wild guess, but Japan does have a major threat in its backyard – my guess would be that UK hope the tech is going in the other direction as Japan is getting more serious about defense.

dave haine
dave haine
January 15, 2014 12:29 pm

@ Mickp

You’re right that we need more astute, and some off the shelf SSK would be a very good idea- but to assume that they could replace a proper long-range MPA is exactly what ‘Not a Boffin’ was saying in his recent post…

I’m afraid CN235 is too small an airframe to do anything other than coastal patrol-absolutely perfect for HM coastguard and HM Legalised Mugging Service but for decent area search and target prosecution you need the likes of P8.

Frankly, as a nation we’ve been p***ing about too long with defending the homeland. We’ve got a decent expeditionary capability coming, we’ve not got a bad offensive submarine capability (although we could do with more astute). We now need to deal with the potential threats to the homeland.

So sufficient MPA, proper Naval coastal forces, SSKs and a properly resourced Air Defence system. Not withstanding the cyber threat, as well.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
January 15, 2014 12:37 pm

I thought part of the reason for getting rid of the S-3B Vikings (and they’d had their ASW systems removed long before their retirement) was the realisation that you no longer stood a good chance of detecting the new generation of quiet SSNs (via SOSUS) at ranges that required onboard MPA to deal with them. Indeed you might not detect them at all.

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 12:42 pm


They may have been obsolete but the point is that they weren’t replaced with something that wasn’t. The capability gap is the point. Not the platform itself.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 15, 2014 12:55 pm

Chris W

it wasn’t so much quiet SSN (although that certainly put paid to the 2031Z passive tail and its 2057 planned successor) as the Sovs packing up and going home, which left the perceived threat as SSK, which you struggle to defeat by passive means. That co-incided with the need to replace the ASW system on the aircraft and as the US had not yet got itself a long range active system, the decision was taken to avoid spending that money, but leave the aircraft capable of undertaking radar flood search missions (which seriously degrade an SSK mobility). Until they needed to save even more money, at which point the fleet went to AMARC without replacement.

Essentially a combination of high-cost replacement of systems required, set against a perceived reduction in threat, hence let’s spend the money elsewhere. It doesn’t mean that a long range persistent asset to localise, suppress and/or prosecute SSK and SSN is not required, it just means they couldn’t afford to do that and field FA18E/F and V22 and what was JSF and the SH60 rationalisation programme, and , and , and. So they made a choice and are living with it. Fortunately, that choice has not yet been tested.

January 15, 2014 1:52 pm

The Sea Atlas makes sense. But even if you get other nations on board, and you persuade Airbus to fit it with the same Electronics suite as the MRA4 or Challenger. When exactly would you get production slots for it. We could be looking at a long wait. The same could be said of the P8. If we were to place an order today, we might not get an operational aircraft for a number of years!

Whichever Aircraft we decide on, it has to be capable of launching Storm Shadow. Then at least if that Mad Cow in Argentina gets any funny ideas. We can start taking her country apart from the start, and not wait for the RN to arrive in the South Atlantic!

Rocket Banana
January 15, 2014 1:55 pm

I don’t think there is a threat that curently warrants MPA (or Trident for that matter) at the moment.

Our strategy should therefore be to make sure we can regenerate the capability (which we’ve proved we can’t with Nimrod anyway).

I have a question for the professionals…

Which is better at hunting and killing an enemy sub? Astute or P-8? My guess is very much the former.

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 1:56 pm

Actually I think you would find countries queuing up to sell their Atlas production slots.

The question for me is whether the development work to give it either a bomb bay or significant numbers of hardpoints could be done in any kind of reasonable timescale and cost.

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 2:00 pm

Not a professional Simon but I understand that an SSN will typically be given a box to operate it. If the target is outside the box its not allowed to engage.

The great value of an ASW MPA is it allows you to decide where to draw the box and gives you a way to find the target in a huge ocean and drive it towards the killzone.

The SSN can move at 35 knots (unless its HMS Astute with its dodgy gearbox), but the MPA can move (and search) at several hundred knots.

Different tools for different jobs. The SSN will kill nothing if the enemy is hundreds of miles away from it.

January 15, 2014 2:15 pm

@David Haine – “So sufficient MPA, proper Naval coastal forces, SSKs and a properly resourced Air Defence system. Not withstanding the cyber threat, as well.”

Well said, add in a workable key infrastructure defence plan and a chinook deliverable rapid reaction tooled up ‘company’ or similar on the ramp so we are not caught with our pants down on a mumbai style event (one may already exist of course). Get the core homeland defence sorted as the baseline – its the expeditionary element that flexes in size due to threats

Take your points on CN235 (I see there is an MPA persuader variant), not sure if the C295 MPA improves on that. To me its about balance but I am clear we do need a decent ASW capable MPA fleet.

January 15, 2014 3:40 pm

” The SSN can move at 35 knots (unless its HMS Astute with its dodgy gearbox), but the MPA can move (and search) at several hundred knots.

Different tools for different jobs. The SSN will kill nothing if the enemy is hundreds of miles away from it.”
OK: Left field/Out of the Box/Out of my tree?
Would we need top class MPA in our waters if we had say half a dozen SSK’s?
It could be time to look again how all these assets work together and how we look at CASD/Hunter Killer Subs and MPA.
How much of a capability in each respect do we need and how much that little lot above will cost.
If we lessened the CASD (Bear with me!) and developed it into a stretched Nuke deterrent/Hunter Killer astute class of about six-eight boats (Obviously not hunting when CASD…ing..) with eight tubes and 8 SSK’s (Vidar looks good), with the cheap option for MPA Say the C295 or the C27, any of the yank ones going spare still? (didn’t shift em all off to the coastguard did they?) C27 has more range and the same cabin cross section as the Herc, and so may take the roll on MPA Solution?
You build/buy/operate three things.
Solution now: vengeance/ Astute/P8?
My shot Astute stretch/Vidar/C295.
You don’t take any V boat out of service until you have two Stretch Astutes in the water. sixteen subs instead of 11, could ease a lot of the Navy’s front line hull worries, at the same time I would not put any moossive cruise missiles on any surface ships as we’d have enough secret squirrels for that job then! Can look cheaper on the manning spreadsheet too, if you massage the figures right.

January 15, 2014 4:08 pm

after a lot of consideration I think the C295 now gets my vote. we just don’t have the money to look at the P8. The priority has to be to get something fast as if we leave this gap much longer it will be too difficult to close.

I also like the Bombardier based Boeing solution as it allows commonality with Sentinal but I don’t think we have the time or money to be looking at anything other than an off the shelf solution. C295 seems to offer enough at a very good price.

January 15, 2014 4:21 pm

Seems to me our need for MPA is about wide area surface surveillance and SAR across the continental shelf and specific sub-hunting/sub-deterrence where ours are most vulnerable/least stealthy (approaches to Faslane). But I might be wrong.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 15, 2014 4:35 pm

You really have to identify the roles and allow them to drive the capabities and hence the platform.
For instance a Business Jet Solution gives us long range and high speed and endurance. It could do SAR and also Build a wide area picture, it has the potential to prove ISTAR and link with other assets. What it cannot do is carry enough buoys or weapons to be effective in a traditional ASW or ASuW role.
Something like a CN295 gives you broad spevtrum capabilities limited by speed range and to an extent payload. Does this make it unsuitable?
A P8 type solution gives you the best capabilities across the entire spectrum but it is expensive.

The capability requirements need to be clearly laid out, as does any of these requirements that can be met properly by other assets.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
January 15, 2014 4:53 pm

@ Simon257

I would rather see Typhoon with Storm Shadow than any MPA, with it, Typhoons from FI should be able to strike the mainland.

@ DH

I also was going to point out the C295 rather than the CN235 (the US has just bought these)

Rocket Banana
January 15, 2014 4:56 pm


But the C-295 has only a 3000kg payload for a 2500nm range. 100 x sonobuoys and their carousels/dispensers would take two of those tonnes.

So with the other tonne we need a flight crew, systems operators, systems consoles and weapons! It’s basically a Merlin with a longer range. Not something to undertake the kinds of patrols that are being touted here.

Rocket Banana
January 15, 2014 5:13 pm

I assume people have seen PDF page 42 (doc page 40) of this?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 15, 2014 5:21 pm

@ Simon
That is exactly the sort of thing I was getting at.

January 15, 2014 5:27 pm

@APATS – The problem is that is that is not clear what capabilities need to be provided for. What exactly are we missing capability wise that isn’t provided by a current part of our inventory?

The two true capability gaps IMO are long range SAR and aerial sub hunting.

Long range SAR though this doesn’t have to be a military capability. A coast guard fixed platform could perhaps perform this mission more economically, and provide the boast to EEZ monitoring that many clamour for here.

ASW is tricker. Astute and Merlin clearly provide some level of ASW capability, but neither has the reaction speed and coverage of a true MPA.

Broadly speaking a buy of 5-6 P-8s in the same manner as the Rivet Joint and C-17 (e.g. a combined maintenance fleet with the US) probably makes the most sense. It would probably give us the biggest bang for our buck and would have the longest and best supported future – other ISTAR platforms could transition to a 737/P-8 based frame at a later date as required. It also fits in best with our current knowledge and tactics base.

CN295 is attractive in some respects, but only if we use the same platform for other roles, like light transport and maybe theatre ELNIT (taking over from the Shadows).

Sea Atlas is quite an nice idea, and one I’d love to see a detailed proposal on. Mainly becasue it would be very flexible in terms of equipment – you could create a genuinely modular platform. MPA & Light tanker for the FI?

Rocket Banana
January 15, 2014 5:32 pm

The way I read that table is that if someone had put E3D on it too the only thing we can’t do effectively is SAR and protection of the deterrent.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
January 15, 2014 5:38 pm

One role that we are missing is the photographing of evey vessel within the EEZ once a week, also what other surface vessel tracking do we currently operate?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 15, 2014 5:51 pm

@ ET

Not sure that is a task. We use AIS and reporting, Lloyds Blue shipping, MCCIs etc to track vessels allowing targetted visual ID by air and further action if required.

Daniel Hodges
Daniel Hodges
January 15, 2014 6:17 pm

This is a done deal we will incorprate some maritime capabillty on the raf sentinal followed by a small buy of p8 for anti submarine work all ready for 2020

January 15, 2014 6:26 pm

There is a very real desire it would seem to gold plate the requirement until the answer is yep as high end as we go. Yet every defence review for some time and continued statement from senior leadership in mod is that the probability of traditional state on state is low and decreasing and that more irregular and assysmetric threats are likely in the future. We simply cant afford this on the current budget so prioritising certain limited number of high end capability in some areas is what needs to happen.

Is there a traditional asw requirement? in all reality there is no equivalent to the red banner northern fleet. Yes subs ssks mainly have proliferated but country’s appear to buy them in handfuls in fact I’m sure you could count on 1 hand the number of countries considered as unfriendly that have more than five. Even the Russians who on paper may have 20 or so attack subs in the northern fleet today, the majority date from the early 90s or late 80s and most like have poor serviceability though I’m sure regular visitors you can’t possibly consider it anywhere near Cold War levels. Aircraft with 12-18 hr endurance and hundreds of buoys went with nimrod and it ain’t coming back.

Personnelly I see a mpa only returning if something else goes and if its multi mission. The overland role nimrod preformed (if you make the assumption there equipped similar to there american counterparts) has largely been taken over the shadow r1 which have proved popular, with gd endurance and cheap by comparison. They are now a core funded program.

As the tendency with all electronics has been toward rapid and ever small size components with ever greater capacity and with a clear long term goal of attempting to move the capability to uavs then the size required of manned platforms to carry similar equipment also reduces.

For me I think these guys have shown something of lead that many of the traditional large military’s in the west are slowly starting to realise is probably the way fwd replacing large istar platform with much smaller ones which are cheaper to operate.

I am of the belief that something based on the global platform is probably where the istar fleet including the mpa should be heading as they come up for retirement I doubt others will agree. There is one final benefit to using 737 or regional or biz jets for this task and that’s they look like commercial jets both on the ground and in the air.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
January 15, 2014 6:29 pm


I just came across a reference to how the Nimrod used to do that, and I am wary of AIS and similar systems as they can always be turned off.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
January 15, 2014 6:33 pm

@ Not a Boffin

Thank you for that explanation. It makes a lot of sense!

Peter Elliott
January 15, 2014 6:37 pm


Agree that we need a multi-role platform that can go over land or sea. Whether that is an evolution of Sentinel or a replacement is for me an open question.

I worry about Seninel’s ability to shift and deploy the required level of stores and munitions. But experts will have calculated the minimum number of sonorbuoys and torpedos needed to make a credible capability and that is likely to determine the outcome.

Maybe as Daniel Hodges suggests above it will be an evolution from one platform to the other.

January 15, 2014 7:00 pm

I just want to re-state my earlier point – there are two completely different ASW games afoot. One is the traditional deep ocean, nuclear (i.e. looking for nuclear powered submarines) ASW game. The threat is singleton nuclear hunter-killers, long endurance, high speed, capable crew and sensors but noisier than diesel or AIP boats. They operate in deep water, not shallows, and stay well below periscope depth in the acoustically optimal layers. Given that the US is pulling back it’s traditional Atlantic ASW forces to refocus on the Pacific, they are expecting Europe (as nuclear deterrent partners) to maintain the eastern approaches. Now I have no idea where the bombers go when they patrol – nor should anyone, really – but the safe bet is deep Atlantic and so you need ASW forces that can operate at range and with endurance to defend them. The sensible, layered defence strategy was always a mix of SSN’s, surface ASW forces and long-ranged MPAs; I see no reason why any of this has changed.

The other is conventional (i.e. non-nuclear powered submarines, the SSK). The threat is totally different – smaller, acoustically invisible but limited in range, speed and endurance and a less capable crew (by virtue of being half the size). They hunt at periscope depth in shallower waters, normally with increased background noise (coastal traffic, fishing grounds, transit lanes and chokepoints) using ESM, visual detection and third party intelligence sources – they are weapons of position and stealth and operate completely differently to nuclear submarines. The tactics are equally different – you rely on their increased ‘look time’ (i.e. the amount of time the periscope is up) and you can narrow down their operating areas considerably.

For the former, you needed Nimrod. P8 is the only sensible contender. For the latter, you still really need Nimrod/P8 but can operate equally effectively with something smaller with better low-altitude performance. Good sub-hunting radar systems are easy to install – the best we have is Searchwater or Blue Kestrel – and should not limit the choice of platform. They are also easily re-purposed to tracking ships. Existing maritime radars are capable of everything needed for both ASW and ASuW (AN/APS 115, Searchwater, SeaSpray, Blue Kestrel, etc) – all you need is altitude – and some are capable of synthetic aperture imaging of ships to ID even at long range. You do, however, need a decent weapon load – two torpedoes doesn’t really cut it. But the problem, as everyone has already identified, is that apart from the P8 there really is nothing else that fits the bill that we can realistically purchase. So on that basis, my bet is a limited buy of P8’s.

El Sid
El Sid
January 15, 2014 7:14 pm

Everyone gets dazzled by all the sexy technology that could replace Nimrod 1:1, but we really need to take a deep breath and have a wide-ranging think about what tasks we need to do, which are nice to have, and how the jobs previously done by Nimrod fit in to our existing kit and the progress of technology (on our side and the red team). I have a feeling that even if we had the money, a 1:1 replacement of the Nimrod with a Gucci “heavy” like the P-8 would probably not be the right answer. Now the money’s run out, we definitely need to think harder and more creatively. Not least with an eye to the export potential, not many countries can afford £200m aircraft like the P-8, but if we went with forty £50m aircraft rather than ten P-8’s, we might find more export customers.

As an aside, most of the P-3 upgrade programmes in the Noughties came in at around £35m/plane, I suspect we’d be looking at £45m now. The HC-144A version of the CN-235 was £25m, although the Korean one was about £15m. As a further aside, it looks like UCLASS is turning into an S-3 replacement, mostly as tanker and ELINT platform, as well as stand-off missile truck and COD.

I know the crabs are doing some of this, trying to fit in maritime patrol in the wider ISTAR picture. It’s a seductive idea to fit a software upgrade to Sentinel for maritime surveillance as the core of our capability in this area, with other platforms chipping in the extra capabilities as required. The success of RAPTOR suggests there is scope for a civilian or unmanned platform to carry an improved EO/IR sensor at lower cost than a £35k/hour Tornado. The move to “trucks” and “payloads” suggests a family of ISR airborne modules – and Libya suggests that the ability to carry ALQ-99 EW pods would be very useful indeed, maybe even a BACN-style comms relay pod as well.

The limitation of the crabs doing this is that it ignores capabilities on and under the sea. We also need to think about other forms of surveillance (and also different ways of organising it – would it make sense to include maritime patrol in NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) grouping?).

For instance small satellites are a disruptive technology, you can make and launch a 10x10x10cm CubeSat for about £50k. Obviously CubeSats aren’t omnipotent, but they can do a limited task usefully well for a stunningly small amount of money in this context. And their reach fills a requirement that otherwise distorts your airframe in very expensive ways, allowing you to concentrate more on the “detail” work. For instance, AAUSAT3 was built from scratch by Danish students and gives near-realtime AIS coverage over much of the North Atlantic. (for those that don’t know, AIS is like IFF for ships, see eg here for an example Obviously the Chinese invasion fleet won’t have AIS blazing away but a) it’s a useful thing in itself in building up the long-range picture, if only to allow you to concentrate on radar blips that aren’t broadcasting AIS, traditionally AIS has only been readable near to shore and b) it’s easy to imagine similar applications, even if GMDSS detection might need a more sensitive sensor and a small EO sensor might need a slightly bigger satellite. Whatever – I don’t think we’re doing enough with small satellites (partly because they don’t fit the traditional procurement model), but I think we could transform our “coastguard” situational awareness by bunging a few million quid at SSTL and some studentships at Cranfield. Traditionally satellites and aircraft have been seen as either/or, but once an entire satellite costs as much including delivery as an hour of Nimrod flying time, you can have both.

Looking at our requirements, whilst it would be lovely to be able to deliver a Stingray onto the Mid Atlantic Ridge, realistically it’s a nice-to-have rather than a need. We’re not going to have dozens of subs surging through the GIUK gap like in the Cold War – Russia doesn’t have that many SSNs, and long-range missiles mean that their SSBNs don’t need to come anywhere near the UK. We need long-range surveillance, but we only really need to deliver torpedoes over the continental shelf, say out to 300nm or so. Obviously you want your weapon platform to have some endurance, but it’s the sensor platform which really needs it.

So I can imagine micro-satellites doing the long-range picture stuff, a “greyhound” sensor platform optimised for endurance at high altitude, and a “carthorse” platform lumping round missiles and sonobuoys at low level. In UK terms that sensor platform might be a Sentinel derivative, and the truck could be a C-130/A400M (which can be loaned to the transport fleet when we don’t need to be chucking torpedoes into the sea, ie most of the time). In time the Sentinel might be optionally manned – unmanned for long patrols over the North Atlantic, manned over the busier skies of the North Sea and Gulf, or when it’s being used as a sonobuoy receiver. In reality, I think the crabs will go for a short-range version of the Nimrod, with P-8 mission systems inside (which the Seedcorn people are used to). Whether that’s the Challenger 605 or a reworked version of the CN295, Saab 2000 or ATR72 I don’t know. I wouldn’t rule out the ATR72 – it’s already in service with the Italians, so it’s intended to work with their versions of 2087 and Merlin.

January 15, 2014 7:30 pm

@TD some excellent points. The big problem for the P8 for me is that it is not designed to fly at low level therefore it isn’t a traditional choice for MPA and this goes someway to ruling out other business/passenger jets.

My personal choice would be something along the lines of the C295. Putting several roles into one air frame is I think a real necessity. Replacing the sentry, maybe the sentinel (if there is anyway to attach astor), Shadow, Islander and maybe the 146 and HS125. Now if you get palletable systems you gain a huge flexibility. All of these could I think be done with the same type however I do like the idea of our ex sentinels becoming VIP and regional transport.

The big point here is not only can it take on all of those roles (which arguably any of its competition could do) but it would also have the ability to as you say support the A400m due to having a possible palletized system and may even be a better choice for tactical lift that the Hercules is involved in. Also I think the 295 is already equipped for drogue refueling.

The aircraft has weapons pylons so you may be able to strap LGBs, Brimstone or hellfire to provide a form of close air support for the troops. Having said all that the web says there is a gunship variant. That will definitely go down well with the boys!

Maybe the ASTOR could be fitted to the AEWC type at the same time?

I don’t think much of the ‘rest area’ pallet though maybe a couple of plastic garden chairs would be better!

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 15, 2014 7:30 pm

When you turn AIS off you become a “non shiner” (NS) and therefore a Contact of Interest (COI), especially if you are doing 15kts plus in a straight line. I was involved in some Ops utilising an AIS fitted E3 that could detect vessels and match radar to AIS thus identifying non shiners, paired with an MPA or 2 you would be shocked at just how many of these you can ID.
Combine this with a look at typical Patterns of Life (POL) and behaviour allowed further target refinement. Huge swathes of Ocean can be covered in an 8 hour mission.

January 15, 2014 8:41 pm


I’m not that worried about load capacity it’s not a small aircraft, heavy weapons loads in particular have never really been employed from mpa since the war useful certainly target queuing other platforms more likely there’s prob room for several wing hard points if you really needed to.

El Sid

I’m sure your aware of the Israeli conversions of the globals arch rival the g550 in aew and electronic warfare. Cobham falcons are used widely in the uk for ew training to.—Air/Gulfstream-Aerospace-G-V-SP/2030826/M/

Or this less well known India global—Air/Bombardier-BD-700-1A11-Global/2371832/L/&sid=2b1ff379e4e58cba54dccceb797b47ac

January 15, 2014 9:13 pm

I’ll take that lot parked in a global express, just how many pointy sticks could you get in the pannier underneath or Sonar bouys for that matter?
Could we make a bigger swappable pannier?
Get a common fleet that way buy using that platform for a future AWACS/Airseeker too?
Not actually sure we’d get any weapons on it at all really (Glum Smiley)

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 15, 2014 9:39 pm

If we want a British MPA, at least in part, then we should look at the Bombardier Dash8 Q400, part built by Shorts. MPA versions of this have been proposed. Simpler MPAs built on earlier Bombardier turboprops are in service with several Countries.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 15, 2014 9:44 pm

@ Mark/Jules

That would be an option if it was decided that our MPA did not need an ASW capability.

January 15, 2014 10:29 pm


Dash 8 isn’t manufactured in Belfast anymore but that shouldn’t preclude it being an option.


I believe asw capability is available on that type of platform but not to same level as a p8 granted.'s%20Nav%20Int%20Ultra%20Sonar%20Systems%208pp%20Finallow%20res.pdf

January 16, 2014 12:18 am

Sopwith Camel and a couple of Oxbridge 20/20 vision graduates.

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 16, 2014 12:45 am

The C295 would be my guess for the MoD’s choice.

It would be relatively cheap compared to other options, there are at least a couple of existing mission kits and an MPA version has already carried weapons.

The Marte missile and mk46 torpedo have both been launched from C295; Marte is a fair bit bigger than Sea Skua, and StingRay is pretty similar to the mk46. Must have potential for Brimstone, so with a smart choice of radar and optics could be very useful over land too.

Worried about range? Stick a probe on it. That’s why we’ve got those enormously expensive tankers.

January 16, 2014 4:58 am

@ Simon

“But the C-295 has only a 3000kg payload for a 2500nm range. 100 x sonobuoys and their carousels/dispensers would take two of those tonnes.”

Yeah but its four times cheaper than the P8 and we really really need cheap otherwise we are likely to get nothing. Their is zero chance of starting any kind of billion pound plus project in SDSR 2015 and we need something in the air by 2019 otherwise seed corn will be wasted.

Might consider fitting an AAR probe to extend range we do after all have bucket loads of tanker capacity that we have to pay for anyway.

January 16, 2014 5:30 am

You could re-establish sovereignty patrols and a limited SAR capacity in a matter of months if you went with civilian run Dash-8s operated by Cobham. If my reading of the evidence given before the Parliamentary enquiry is correct, the powers that be recognised the utility of the ‘Coast watch’ model but haven’t yet decided who would run the show if that was the path that they took. If you are worried about Seed Corn going to waste, give the Dash-8s to those guys and let the military run it until the civilians are ready and/or your serious MPA are ready/fundable. If I remember correctly, the government own the Dash-8s in the Australian Coast Watch organisation anyway.

January 16, 2014 5:47 am

Actually, at least one place on the Internet is telling me I am wrong about who owns the Dash–8s. Whatever. I don’t think it makes too much difference at all. I’m sure it wouldn’t slow down Mr Cobham & Co from satisfying your order. It might even go quicker.

Rocket Banana
January 16, 2014 8:03 am


Four times cheaper but ineffective at sanitising the ocean ahead of our SSBN is an even bigger waste of money.

What about 2 x P-8?

Used only when the SSBNs need to go “in” and “out”.

January 16, 2014 8:25 am

And tell everyone they are going in and out?

Couple of quetions to all:
C295 is the right money, payload and fuel is the concern, how could we address that without turning it into a mini Nimrod Fiasco.
It’s boiling down to me as C295 for MPA and Localised Transport where you just don’t need a Grizzly, got to be a Bean Counter Head Raiser/favourite?

Getting our AWAC’s/ELINT/ISTAR on one platform, whatever it may be?
So what would it be?

If I could think of a way ot do the lot with Second Hand BAE 146’s I would, love that plane, just not enough of em painted Grey…

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 16, 2014 11:12 am

Simon, are you suggesting that the SSBNs have been sat around doing nothing for the lack of a MPA?

Jules, I expect that anyone who wants to know when they go in and out already knows. They can place people to watch them go in and out.

The C295 is capable of carrying a reasonable mission kit and weapons. If the MoD wants a more expensive platform, they may find themselves compromised by the number and specification of the aircraft anyway.

I would agree that a separate civilian owned, or civilian owned and operated fleet will ultimately end up doing domestic SAR, covering search and command & control, and possibly environmental stuff too. A coastguard spec C295 would be a decent choice for that role as well.

Rocket Banana
January 16, 2014 12:16 pm


What has been sanitising the water whilst we’ve not had MPA?

January 16, 2014 12:31 pm

@ Simon

Merlin , T23 and SSN.

Is the range of C295 a big issue for th SSBN mission. I’m guessing most of the required work is done close into shore anyway not in the mid Atlantic.

I really want P8 it’s just not possible. There is nothing left to cut and we don’t even have enough money for our current programs. I don’t see the point in spending $400 million for an occasional MPA capability especially when it will come at the cost of several other programs.

Retaing Sentinal has to be the big ISTAR event from SDSR 2015 and there is no way to add another billion project on at the same time. C295 will do for 95% of the tasking and we can always get a bit if help from the USN for the other small areas not covered.

Again C295 range issue can be solved for the most part with AAR modification.

January 16, 2014 1:13 pm

You have high end tasks and you also have many lower level tasks for mpas. As the “lesser” mpas don’t carry as much as the high end p8 how about the lesser mpa operate in pairs to service the high end task.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 1:46 pm

@ Mark

Even in pairs they do not have the speed and range. Also are they then cheaper? Twice the crews, twice the training, maintenance etc.
The requirement has to be laid down in Black and White before a decision can be made.

On The SSBN and sanitising water etc. We do not fly the track ahead of an SSBN scattering sonobuoys. When SR talks about open ocean ASW in support of the deterrent he is talking about the ability to localise and track an SSN that breaks into the Atlantic where it may pose a threat to the deterrent.

January 16, 2014 2:12 pm

@Mark makes a fair point

@Simon Can you tell me where the p8 exceeds the 295 please? This isn’t a challenge I would just like to no what basis the argument is on.

For me it makes sense to try to get as much ISR into one type of airframe and having a dedicated MPA defeats the object. Yes 737 will in all likelyhood become the new rivet joint and sentry but thats a long way off as far as I see it. And in this case you have 737 which will no doubt need a probe fitting whereas 295 has one. I think the MoD should be trying to get as much out of and ISR airframe as possible and leave the jets doing the niche roles. Whereas at the moment with have sentinel, shadow. islander doing these quite basic roles with very different airframes. Fair enough a couple of these were UOR but why have several different airframes when all you really need is some different specific kit.

If you could fit astor to a 295 I would love to see it fitted to the AWACS type as well. Cramming lots of clever intelligence kit into one aircraft that has to fly around for a long time anyway makes sense to me as opose to having 3 aircraft all flying in broadly the same way.

As I have said my issue is with 737 low level performance which is crucial for the old style MPA work. But then I think of Nimrod (based on comet) that was a passenger airliner so how did that fair?

Ok we had 35 nimrod upgraded to MR2 standard. P8 is a newer aircraft with arguably better kit etc so charitably I would say you would be looking at 8+ P8s to cover MPA duties considering the cold war is over. But if 4*C295=P8 8*P8=32*C295. The question is how many C295 are equal in MPA capability to a P8?

My proposition would be 32 aircraft. Say for arguments sake 14 for MPA, 6 for AWACS, maybe 4 gunship and 4 for tactical transport. I will call those dedicated even though other than the AWACS and gunship I would like palleted kit. That leaves 4 airframes for whatever you need them for. If you need more MPA stick the kit on. If they are needed for battlefield control put that kit on. 32 aircraft gets you a long way even if you can’t combine the roles of sentinel, sentry and shadow. Don’t forget you can strap brimstone to the pylons and hence offer a limited CAS capability on top of this. We are only getting 23 A400m having 4 gusting 8 (more if you don’t need 14 MPA at the time) tactical transport 295s on call is a huge bonus.

That gets you a flexible tactiacl fleet. Is there any chance of getting this with P8? If they can combine role within 737 that is all well and good but you don’t have that surge transport ability.

IMHO an A400m MPA or even AWACS would be a bit too big but again thats an option that can’t be ruled out as it brings the A400m fleet into higher figures.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 2:20 pm

@ Ted

The P8 carries more further faster. The low level issue is being overcome by a new higher altitude ASW weapon.
Simons excellent link which I have pasted below, see P40 highlights the performance issues. The issue is not with the capabilities of the platforms which are well understood but with exactly what we require.

January 16, 2014 2:31 pm

@APATS cheers for the link will look when at lesiure :(

Rocket Banana
January 16, 2014 3:08 pm


Basically a P3/P8 is twice the size of the C295 so will carry around double the payload or the same payload much further.

My inital problem with the C295 was that it has only a 3t payload (with fuel for 2500nm).

I have since read that 60-100 sonobuoys is not unrealistic for a single sortie and at 15-20kg each, that’s half the payload gone. You then have to get a crew of about 10 on board (which is 800kg) along with all the consoles. After that, we need weapons, torpedoes, missiles, depth charges, or whatever these things use to bring about the total destruction of a sub or ship (plus tea making equipment). Basically more than 3 tonnes of stuff.

I think Merlin goes up with about 1.6 tonnes for 30 sonobuoys, a dipping sonar, consoles, a crew of 4 and only a couple of torps. So I see C295 as a Merlin x 2 and a P3/P8 as a Merlin x 4/5.

PS: On that linked doc, the “New Short-range MPA” column represents an aircraft that is actually larger than the C295.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
January 16, 2014 3:40 pm

Trying to write a positive post for once I would like to try an out of left field idea. My idea centers around the C-130J fleet and incorporates exisiting systems to convert them into a Maritime Support Platform (MSP) but with further flexibility. I see the part or all ofthe current fleet being reworked either at lockheed statesisde or at Marshalls in the UK.

The rework would produce a platform that incuded elements from both the C-130s operated by the USCG and those operated by the USMC. The former would allow the MSP to carry out maritime surveilance and SAR work whilst the latter would allow AAR and logistice support. You may have spotted that I have excluded any offensive roles such as ASW) An additioanl part of the programme would be the instalation of refueling probes on the Merlins operated by the Navy and the Chinooks operated by the RAF.

Given the C-130s ability to self deploy, and its limited logistical footprint, I can see the platfrom being able to support many maritime operation from friendly bases. In these operations its ability to refuel both Helicopters and the F-35 would be a great force enabler and its surveilance capability over the horizon a valuable capability. Yes the former will technically conflict wiht the Voyager PFI but as I see the C-130 fleet being in RN Colours there maybe a loophole.

At a stretch the C-130 could actually land on a CVF though permenently operating off a CVF is a non-starter but it would allow COD operations as well as other specialised and original operations.

The new items of kit required for this role switch are all available off the shelf from US sources and I would perfer any bespoke options kept to the very minimum. The end result will be the UK once again being able to operate long range MP and SAR operations enhanced by extended SAR support due to the AAR capability. Helicopter ASW,AsuW capabilities will be enhanced by increased operatinf radii as will vertical insertion of troops from the sea and the endurance of whatever platform Crowsnest takes. There are very few possible future operations theatres where a land based MSP could not support the fleet. These would be far more realistic than land based AWACS and fast jet support before that arguement surfaces. As I said the C-130 can self deploy and its logistic tail is small btu also readily available given the number of countries operating the “Herc”. Finally given that the C-130 is aready in service there would be little new support costs.

I see this as another example of the Armed Forces getting the best out of what they have as well as filling a number of capability holes, adding a few new ones and enhancing the capabilities of other platforms. There are no doubt some downsides but I see these greatly out weighed by the gains

Peter Elliott
January 16, 2014 3:49 pm

@Lord Jim

Presumably the operating budget for the Herc runs out prettty sharply as Atlas comes into service.

If we were going to spend money on a conversion it should be Sea Atlas. There will be plenty of spare ones for sale over the next 10 years.

And we will have a budget and infratucture set up to maintain them.

January 16, 2014 4:16 pm

@ Simon

The argument with the C295 is not is it as good as P8 but is it better than nothing. The choice in SDSR 2015 is going to pretty much be C295 or nothing. The Refurb P3 option is in my mind a good one but I think it will be too embarising for the government to use 30 year old airframes.

I like the SC130 but if your going to do that may as well just buy the P8. I like the bombardier style biz jets but with no ASW then may as well use a combo or Reaper and Sentinal or sentry.

The more I go over it the more I see the C295 is the only possible option we might get in 2015.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 4:18 pm

@ Martin

That is not the approach we need, we either meet our requirements or we do not. Those requirements need to be laid down.

January 16, 2014 4:19 pm

@ Peter – your right about the operating budget for the Hercules. Buying the MPA is the least of the financial problems. Its finding the ongoing running budget that will be the real killer with so many ISTAR assets currently funded as part of afghan ops. Running a fleet like the C130J won’t come cheap.

January 16, 2014 4:26 pm


I agree we should seek to meet our requirements but how many of those requirements are vital and worth spending our treasure on.

Its seems clear we don’t have the budget to meet our requirements so we have to work out what we can afford that will cover as many of those requirements as possible. The C295 can do ASW work which few of the other budget options can. It can do ELINT and SAR roles. will it be particularly good at any of these roles (no) will it be good enough for most eventualities (probably) it will certainly be better than nothing. Currently the T23 Merlin combo is filling the gap but will this be possible with just 8 T26 in the future.

I still feel priority number 1 for SDSR is keeping Sentinal and an ubber MPA project very much threatens that.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 4:38 pm

Actually if you go and look at the table at P40 in the link with new short range MPA being a CN295/235 variant you will see that it has No next to ELINT and No next to ISTAR.
Next to SAR it has limited range.
We only have 8 tail fitted T23 so there will be no change in this with T26.

Does the CN295 bring enough extra capability we cannot duplicate to justify spending any money on? If it does not we could spend less and get some sort of SAR capability back.

Does our MPA ASW capability lie more in Open Ocean Mid Atlantic and other long range deployments?

Sentinel has proven useful but we are probably going to move away from the sort of Ops it has supported. The RAF were quick enough to offer it up last round.

The whole point of an SDSR is that you look at requirements not platforms, so the kind of requirement that Sentinel fulfills will be looked at, the various requirements an MPA of varying sorts may fill will be looked at as will a host of other things.

January 16, 2014 4:44 pm


What capability – if you’re even permitted to tell us – does a Frigate/Merlin combo provide for supporting the deterrent? In the sense of, could that cover our needs in terms of ASW?

If so then I think we have a lot more freedom to chose an MPA. Something that can do the surface search and support SAR operations would generally suffice (given our budget problems), so that could be a biz jet platform or one of the EADS/CASA options. If not then we’re back to P-8 or nothing essentially.

Rocket Banana
January 16, 2014 4:47 pm


I am very much with APATS on this one. There is absolutely no point in buying something that doesn’t deliver what we need.

A half-way house to protect the SSBN seems a total folly – we already have that.

As you can tell I still struggle with the MPA requirement but assuming we actually do need it I have a feeling it’s either 4 x P8 for a cool £billion or nothing.

How many C295s does a £billion buy us? 24 by some sources, I just seriously doubt it.

Peter Elliott
January 16, 2014 4:51 pm


Agree its all about requirments.

For me if it can’t do serious sub hunting at range there’s not much point and we may as well continue normal jogging. I fear C-295 would bring another slice of non standard niche cost without actually cutting the mustard.

And P8’s operating costs will look scary if we can find ways of using all that capacity in the airframe to also replace the clutch of bespoke and UOR overland platforms we are operating now. Maybe on a phased way. With the existing platforms dropping out gradually as both numbers and capabilities of P8 build up.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 4:54 pm


My argument would be specific to MPA that if you cannot fulfill the Open Ocean and Deployed ASW role is it even worth spending the money on an MPA?
Would we be better sorting SAR and using something else for WAP and ISTAR?

One aircraft with a variety of mission capabilities would seem to be a cunning plan.

Yes Sentinel was used in Libya but its input in an area where you could barely move for overhead assets was not crucial. I like it and it is in operation and we have 5 of them, we should be looking to keep them but as I said and you have reiterated we need to look at capability requirements not platforms.

I loved the idea of Sea Atlas especially as you could utilise the CN295 removable Airbus consoles and literally carry loads of weapons and sensors but I am sure somebody told me that although we have put a man on the moon figuring out how to deploy weapons from internally would be beyond us.

@ Simon

The Indian P8 order was in Dollars remember they cost £140 million each.

Peter Elliott
January 16, 2014 5:11 pm

OK – so to begin thinking about a business model…

If we wanted our P8 squadron to eventually cover the full spectum of ‘downward looking’ land and sea ISTAR (ie everything except AEW&C), gradually replacing all the platforms we curretnly have operating in thoese roles…

…how few would we need? 12? 20?

Now the cost savings: a core common flight and maintenance squadron of RAF personnel at a single home base. Then small numbers of mission crew from both Army and the Navy to ensure that enough aircraft could always be delpoyed in the required roles, but never all of them on any one task.

The the investment profile. Dovetail the purchases to build up slowly. 5 upfront then 1 per year for hwoever long. Splice in the OSD dates for the existing platforms.

Your classic balance of an uprfront investment, followed by steady accumulation of assets in return for reduction of a variety of non standard and becoming obsolescent operating costs.

Not beyond the wit of Spreadheet Phil surely?

January 16, 2014 5:15 pm

The nice thing about the P8 is the capacity: if we bought the CN295 I’ll guarantee in 5 years we would have run out of weight margin and power and we’d be doing the recriminations.

Why not buy 10 P8 to do the heavy ASW, and convert some of our Predators to sea surveillance for the monitoring of traffic? They already fufill this role in the Indian Ocean :-)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 5:17 pm


Do not think SAR should ever have been a Military role but when it was the Nimrod fitted the bill. This is an opportunity to separate them.

January 16, 2014 5:47 pm

Cn295 I agree its weakness is its speed, endurance is mitigated to an extent by aar capability . Biz jet platforms the very large ones anyway do not have this restriction they have similar range and speed to the 737 but not the stores capacity it doesn’t mean they carry significantly less. The miniaturisation of stores is continuing a pace and that is shifting platform requirements.

The case is repeatedly made we must have 100+ sonobuoys to make a proper mpa, well that is a high end stressing case. The are many many missions a mpa flys were few if any buoys are dropped. The question is what’s typical against the likely threat. We aren’t expecting sorties from 6 Russian ssns breaking thru the GIUK gap a la Cold War. And you don’t need a platform the size of the 737 to hunt ssks in the med or gulf. The Americans are after all gearing this for a pacific theatre we are not.

So to operate in pairs do you cover the high end requirement of stores carriage possibly, is that cheaper don’t know is the honest answer but if your buying say the lesser aircraft at anything from a 1/3rd-2/3rds the price of p8 then perhaps in stead of 8 p8 aircraft you buy 12 other aircraft and come out ahead with the options of increasing the lower level tasks. Crewing numbers is a real grey area as p8 may operate with more as standard and may also require relief crews to fly extended missions, crew to airframe ratios for the istar fleet is usually quite high.

Considering the amount sentinel was/is being asked to fly I think the not really crucial is stretching it. P8s to Indian were not to the full spec so will uk aircraft be more expensive for the full fat version? There may of course be a possibility of a split buy very limited numbers of p8 (around 4 a/c) taking on multi missions roles and a larger number of biz jet platforms taking on increased dedicated tasks (say 8). If the p8 is being pushed solely for mpa it ain’t gonna happen and its way to expensive to replace aircraft currently dedicated to overland istar tasks. If standoff weapon carriage is a possibility on p8 then f35 numbers could be cut to offset the price.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 6:19 pm


My not really crucial comment was in reference to Libya where it was not.
So your proposal is to use an A330 and 2 CN295s to replicate something like a P8 capability?

I really do think we lay down what we need and either meet it or drop it. Compromises are fine until you find out why they were not goof enough in the first place.

January 16, 2014 6:43 pm


If we buy P8 and cutback F-35, should we not have cancelled CVF in 2010 and kept Nimrod? Ultimately it amounts to the same thing.

Surely launching Storm Shadow or the like from P8 does not guarantee penetration? After all SU-35 or equivalent with RF can operate out to Stm Shadow range – if you can find an airfield for P8 to operate from to whatever war you are fighting. If you are speaking about ASuW, pretty much most surface we are likely to be in conflict with – if we are talking about more than piracy – if going to operate under an area air defense shield including carrier CAP. Not the place for a 737 to go alone, even one pepped up like P8.

January 16, 2014 6:52 pm

C295 is built in Spain, yes? And I understand the UK voyager buy pretty much propped up Spanish defence sails last year too. Should we not use that leverage to stop them playing silly buggers about Gib?

January 16, 2014 7:06 pm


No as I said up top I’d use the global express platform and I know we don’t agree on that. An option for consideration would be the p8, challenger combo with the challenger purchase being first as the budget is most stretched in 2015 time frame. Numbers in a 2:1 ratio favouring the biz jet, p8 replacing perhaps several of the larger istar aircraft as a multi mission aircraft. The thing that cannot be allowed is a re run of the carrier situation were in now, where a massively over spec’d capability has been purchased at significant cost that impacts many other capabilities and will never be used to the scale intended as to make it full operational is prohibitively expensive (I highlight this one being as we’re talking water things its by no means the only service doing it). Other people would dispute that in relation to Libya but there more light blue than dark.

It doesn’t James but we can be high end everywhere for every high end capability we need to reduce capability in somewhere else.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 7:44 pm

@ Mark

So you are confident that the Carriers are over specced and in their 40 year plus lives will never be used to their full capacity? That is a gutsy Strategic call to make.

I have no issues with what we buy but I want none of the usual well we can get by with this and this. If we buy CN295 or some business Jet option then we simply admit that we cannot do deep Ocean ASW against a credible opponent and cannot do expeditionary MPA/ASW/ASuW in support of deployed Ops.

As long as we admit that we are buying limited kit and accept those limitations then fair enough. What usually happens and you have been doing it for about 3 posts is well if we used a business jet and had AAR and a CN 295 and accepted it would take longer to get there and they were all available we may muddle through.

January 16, 2014 7:55 pm


Absolutely confident we will not be putting 72 fastjet on 2 carriers at sea flying a 100 sorties a day and I’m not the only one the current CDS has said the same thing that there way over spec’d for our needs.

Maybe I have repeated it for three post and there’s little point in continuing the conversation but a biz jet based mpa would offer almost identical range, speed and endurance to the p8 with asw capability. If the insistence is p8 or nothing then it will be nothing.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 16, 2014 8:00 pm

@ Mark

A business jet has a very low useful load though, so it can get there and stay there but cannot drop sufficient buoys or weapons. As long as we admit those limitations then fair enough but do not pretend they do not exist.
MM I was actually talking about 1 Carrier at max but even with 2 I am far less confident about the next 40 years than you or CDS.

Rocket Banana
January 16, 2014 8:49 pm

So Mark,

Cards on the table. Whats spec of carrier should we have had? And your answer cannot be “none” ;-)

The 36 jets was a figure arrived at through some defence planning thingamubob. 108 sorties day one, 72 sorties per day for 10 days and 36 for another 20 days (1548 sorties – almost the number we undertook in 1982).


$275 (from the GAO report) and an exchange rate of 1.6 $/£ = £172m a shot. I’d have been skinned alive if I’d have suggested we wouldn’t have wasted another £300m faffing around re-speccing this and re-speccing that.

Ok, ok, I got it wrong and forgot the funny S with a line through it. ;-)

January 16, 2014 9:08 pm

Remember we are coming out of a financial crisis and recession. No-one was questioning CVF before 2008. Given the likely threats, I believe CVF will prove exactly what we need – and deliver credible force at range. Libya proved that – Charles de Gaulle and Rafale doing the business while we mostly blew smoke up our asses.There is plenty of time to get enough F-35s, by the time POW is commissioned it will be about time to retire Typhoon tranche 2.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 16, 2014 9:24 pm

Well its too late now, but the decision we should have made 12 years ago, would have been a choice of 3 x 35000 ton Super Invincible VSTOL carriers or 2 x 65000 ton CTOL. Instead we have the abortion of 2 x 65000 ton STOVL, that are too flimsy to convert to CTOL.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 16, 2014 9:30 pm

The Bombardier/Shorts website says Belfast makes the mid fuselage & wing mounted flight components for the Q400 Next Gen.

January 16, 2014 9:33 pm


I agree its going to be a compromise. I guess I think MPA is desirable as a platform to improve maritime security in UK home waters and protect the deterrent, but we can get away with a more limited capability even if we would prefer to have something more gucci and useful further afield, whereas CVF is essential for any likely future power projection scenario – which will almost certainly not be in UK or European waters, and not be predicated upon building more Camp Bastions in foreign parts – the appetite is just not there (cf. Libya, Syria). CVF + F-35/Merlin/Crowsnest, T45, T46, MARS and Astute are essential to deliver that capability, an all singing and dancing land based MPA is not, although of course it would be nice. So if something has to give, I’d prefer C298 to losing Carrier Strike capability, although knowing our wise politicians we’ll probably end up with a little bit of both which will be no good for man nor beast.

January 16, 2014 10:31 pm


Max airgroup 28 max, number of f35 16, divided displacement and sortie rate by 2, crew around 400.

John the web site is not up to date.

January 16, 2014 10:50 pm

Interesting thing hindsight.

If I recall the sums in 1998 were to buy 135 F-35 to replace Harrier and Sea Harrier 1:1 and that provided the opportunity at no air group cost to replace the 3 Invincibles with 2 larger carriers that could manage a strike wing. STOVL made sense because it made these carriers affordable, although the RN asked for a design that could be upgraded to CTOL over their lifetime (when decision was reversed that assumption became questionable – not sure if they are too flimsy? did it not turn out they needed a lot of redesign to get them below decks? They need electromagnetic cats too – as they don’t have steam and they were horribly expensive, I believe).

I think MoD looked at designs between 45-65,000t – on the basis that CdG was as small a flight deck as was feasibly convertible to CTOL….

World span backwards, huge expenditure on Telic and Herrick, Sea Harrier and then Harrier scrapped to pay for it, thus basic premise for building ships to operate aircraft we already had, and planned to replace, evaporated. So, we should have foreseen this and built more baby carriers? …

Peter Elliott
January 17, 2014 12:23 am

Absolutely off thread but the tonnage of the carriers is all to do with bunkers, magazines, and accomodation for the embarked personnel.

Not really to do with how many birds of whatever type will fit parked on the flight deck.

I believe this because NaB told us one time, in a propperly convinving way.

January 17, 2014 2:57 am

There’s a lot of consensus here that a 2-tier approach is necessary. I have had a think and suggest the following.

For the national nuclear deterrent task there is no alternative – we need the P8. So, a limited (!) buy of 6, maybe 8 airframes provides a good core of serviceable aircraft that can train, maybe provide a bit of SAR cover but fundamentally focus on nuclear ASW and can surge to support the deterrent should the Russians get frisky.

For all the other tasks – SAR, conventional ASW, surface search, ELINT, ISTAR, support to land forces – let’s just acquire an effective sensor platform. I dislike the Sentinel – too specialised – but Global Express airframe is about right. Correctly equipped with a maritime search radar capable of periscope detection (e.g. Blue Kestrel – the Sentinel radar is the wrong frequency to spot small fleeting targets such as periscopes or go-fasts) and a good EO system, you are already operating a capable asset. Add in the capability to carry up to 100 sonobuoys (especially the new evolution active buoys with GPS) and a decent combat system (FITS, the P8 system, AQS901, whatever – they’re all excellent), and you have a decent all-round aircraft that can sub hunt, conduct surface surveillance, ELINT, whatever – except, critically, it has no weapons.

Everything else fits into the cheaper package and the airframe is useful – but it cannot attack. No, I haven’t lost my mind but it is an option. If we consider that future operations are as much about surveillance as they are about kinetic effects, then an aircraft that cannot physically attack is a useful asset. In times of conflict it could call forward adjacent assets to prosecute; this could be other friendly aircraft (because lets face it, we will not operate alone) or our own P8 force called up at days notice to support an operation (which is of course going to be the Middle East).

Is the lack of weapons going to put off an opponent? I don’t think so – an SSK doesn’t like to be found, and by dropping active buoys all over him he has no chance to escape. The aircraft can remain high and out of danger from sub-SAMs (should they become a threat). And we are likely to be calling on secondary assets no matter what the task – in future we could conceivably be looking at unmanned weapons carriers.

Lack of operators? No – the Merlin only has two and it’s devastatingly effective at finding submarines. The same mission system with four or six operators would be more than enough. And the Merlin system is plug-and-play compatible with the proposed Vigilance pod so radar surveillance is hardly a problem. Conceivably the mission system might also support an AEW and/or theatre ELINT concept – but now I really am getting out of my depth.

Contribution to the land component? The current and future generations of maritime surveillance radars have excellent over-land capability – Searchwater and SKASAC proved that. Add in an EO system and a decent radio set, then you have a radar and EO equipped asset that can provide support to ground forces – although it will not be anywhere near as effective as some of the current UAVs. It would still, however, be a useful C2 node and as we did in Libya, placing a spotter in the aircraft allows it to call down effective fire from remote sources such as NFS.

The big constraint is that it is a land-based aircraft and the range isn’t great. But the Global Express is a big bizjet and by flying high, avoids the low altitude performance issues.

I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but a properly equipped business jet might provide a useful pan-Defence asset and a solution to our maritime and littoral surveillance needs – if we can accept the lack of weapons capability.

January 17, 2014 8:18 am


Your biz jet will be very expensive, comparatively speaking, especially the sonobouy capable part. It will take five years of flight testing before you even see it. The best you can hope for along those lines would be the surveillance only Challenger conversion that Boeing is looking at (with P-8 systems/sensors). Even that is not a real aeroplane just yet. And if it is relatively short range surveillance aircraft you are after, I’m not sure a biz jet is really as competitive as some of the smaller turboprop conversions. There are lots of them about that are real aeroplanes and where the costs are known. I’m not sure I see the economic sense in developing your own for such a small requirement.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 17, 2014 9:38 am


A converted Global Express is not going to be cruising at 45,000 feet mach 0.85 carrying 10 men with briefcases.

It is going to be trading a lot of that fuel capacity for the weight of consoles, operators, buoys and a radar. It is then going to be flying a very different flight profile. Not certain exactly how much that will affect it but my guess is that good non expert phrase “quite a bit?”

Rocket Banana
January 17, 2014 9:50 am


Max airgroup 28 max, number of f35 16, divided displacement and sortie rate by 2, crew around 400.

So, 32000 tonnes. 220-240m long, range of 8000nm to maintain 1800t of AVCAT load (for your 1/2 sortie rate), 3 x 20WM Converteam motors to do the required 25 knots. I’m okay with this, but it isn’t going to be 1/2 the cost.

The only way to half the cost would be to bolt the amphibious capability underneath it. We’d then need 3 of these so that one can pootle around launching and recovering jets whilst the other can do the assault. I’d be happier with 4 to guarantee two available and use the third for limited rotations. So we’re now back to a similar price as 2 x CVF.

The only way this could have come about is if we had 1) foreseen the financial crisis, 2) decided to replace the amphibs before the carriers, and 3) known that F35B was going to work (or built Harrier III).

January 17, 2014 10:00 am

@APATS I agree I can see long range SAR going up for a PFI with someone like cobham operating something along the lines of Falcon 20.

With the increasing effectiveness and miniturisation of systems the weight of nessecary stores is getting lighter and it is less crew intensive. I was told that Apache if it goes up to E standard will save a huge amount of weight just by replacing the 80s wiring. Now look at how much your mission consoles weigh and see if its lighter.

Also sonobuoys will have continued to have been developed and I strongly suspect they will be lighter, more intelligent and longer lasting than the old types. Especially when you consider what can be achieved with a smart phone these days.

I had heard about the P8s need for high level sonobuoys and weapons. Quite frankly it seems to me they tested it low level and though, well it can’t do that so how can we get around it. Questions are how low do you have to be for a MAD fix. I’m going to ignore the traditional observer taking a photo idea as hopefully an EO turret comes with the package. If you have fick cloud cover though you are going to want to be under that. I think I’m right in saying that these commercial aircraft really don’t enjoy being under 10,000ft hence why even for a short trip you climb to high level to minimise fuel consumption. I also believe props are better at these altitudes.

My problems are two fold. Firstly not buying european. The UK is trying to be seen to but more european kit yes? So buying another thing from the US could degrade that. However that is a minor political problem. The other is that it is AMerican kit and we haven’t been involved in the design. So I’m guessing we will need to fit our own radar with a handy FITs system to fit it into. Also it would either have to have a probe stuck on or it would be yet another aircraft in UK service reliant on the boom method which oh wait we don’t have. DOes anyone know how the systems are fitted inside, are they on pallets or permanent? If its fixed you are buying only an MPA/Elint asset and you rely on other nations bringing into service an AEW and other variants to make savings cost from having a larger fleet.

Can we kill the two aircraft compromise apporach. That is exactly what we are aiming to avoid. The question here is, is i better to have too much of an aircraft for the 99%of the time its not needed or too little in the 1% of time that you really need it?

The UK is likely to be aiding the US and other NATO countries in the deep Atlantic work. I suspect the if you had 295 you could be looking at a flight out to the area and if its far away you then fill your tanks from an A400m or a Voyager you then have 11 hours of endurance (possibly another refuel before heading home) to search for Sub and surface contacts. I agree the P8 will make this job easier but for all the closer to home stuff you have too much aircraft for the job.

If only the MRA4 wasn’t cancelled we would arguably be world leaders in ASW at the moment and there would be no discussion.

January 17, 2014 10:03 am

My 2p on a future MPA type capability:

– Have the Coastguard takeover management / provision of main long range SAR / EEZ monitoring capability. They can get a a cheap-ish biz jet or turboprop platform, with a reasonable sensor capability, maybe operated by a contractor.

– Investigate whether Reaper can be used for Maritime Surveillance role. Can be used for both current overland ISTAR roles, but could also supplement Coastguard aircraft and support Maritime surveillance operations overseas (e.g. Counter Piracy ops).

– Buy a minimum of 5 x P-8 and reform 201 Sqn with RAF/RN crews. Operate as part of a wider USN maintenance fleet ala C-17. I think there is a requirement for Deep Water ASW, just not one that requires great quantities of platforms for the foreseeable future. Potentially the P-8 could take over ASTOR capability at a later date.

Rocket Banana
January 17, 2014 10:20 am

Okay, I started at 2 x P8, then went to 4 x P8, now I quite like 6 x P8.

4 to support the SSBN
2 for SAR

Obviously could re-task them as two sets of three for other operations if necessary.

This is not my idea, I hasten to add. I read it somewhere and thought it was a neat solution.

dave haine
dave haine
January 17, 2014 10:49 am

Absolutely…..The whole point about a biz jet is that it is designed to carry a small load very far. And because of that it is an extreme example of the payload/range compromise, that to a certain extent, every civil aircraft is beholden to.

Some interesting facts-
the R1 Sentinel has 1200nm less range than a standard Global Express, mainly due I suspect all the different sensors and excrescences.
The Global Express’s payload with max fuel is 800kg. It’s max payload is 3600kg.

I seriously suspect that once Boeing start trying to shoehorn in the sensor package, operator consoles, computors and associated wiring into the Global Express there’ll be compromises made in capabilities and fit-out. And the range will really suffer….anyway.

There is a reason why post WW2 MPA are largely based on commercial aircraft- and it’s range versus payload. (Nimrod-Comet, Orion/Aurora-Electra, Argus-Britannia and Il-18 ‘Coot’-Il-38 ‘May’) Even the Shackleton was a variant from the Lincoln/York family.

Rocket Banana
January 17, 2014 10:49 am

Just for reference regarding P8 costs:

R&D: $8.5 billion
Cost of 122 aircraft: $24.5 billion

So current unit cost is $275m.

Buying the P8 means we are leveraging on eight and a half billion dollars worth of research and development! I can’t see either the UK or Europe bothering to get close.

dave haine
dave haine
January 17, 2014 11:12 am


Unfortunately, whilst the Global Express, may have shit-loads of range, what it doesn’t have is shitloads of payload. (Max 3600kg)

If as you can see from my previous post , the Sentinel loses 1200nm range just because of the sensor fit and payload, then already you’re on a substantial reduction, add in operating at below 10,000ft, and possible manoeuvring and I reckon you’re looking at half the range of a Global Express.

Example: B757-200 at 37-39,000ft uses approx 900kg an hr fuel, at 29,000ft that figure increases to 1200kg. The rough calculation is every 10,000ft lower is a third more fuel. We once flew a B757 at 9000ft from Glasgow to Luton (had a pressurisation system failure) 2800kg fuel burnt.

Sometimes, as the actress said to the bishop, size matters…..

January 17, 2014 11:21 am

I had a read of the excellent Commons committee report, democracy is great thing – really. Forgot who posted it, but many thanks!

There is an interesting exchange where the RAF are giving oral evidence, about whether an MPA should be capable of launching weapons, or whether this could be done by something else. The answer is not conclusive, but it definitely says there are ‘advantages’ to a fully formed system..

The very well thought through options presented so far seem to be…

1. A biz jet. genuine search advantages – speed, range etc. and can carry a useful sensor fit, but needs to work with something else to prosecute an attack. Thus dependent upon response times of surface vessels and thier helos, or a mixed buy of something that can be called in to drop munitions (either way response will not be immediate – which could mean the difference between knowing that a threat is out there and stopping it doing anything nasty). Re long range SAR – can a biz jet drop a dinghy?

2. A world-beating Rolls-Royce MPA. Each platform will do everything asked of it, but we are unlikely to get very many (so will that really constitute a capability?) and the cost may put other maritime capabilities at risk (we were only planning on buying 9 MRA4 – so you can be sure a buy of P8 will be considerably less). The key question for this option might be framed as: will a very small P8 buy actually be any better than a larger buy of something else, or some sort of mixed buy (and two different airframes will have greater operating costs, undoubtedly)?

3. A fully fledged MPA but of more modest capability, and probably in larger numbers. It will have shortcomings, but it can fulfill all of the designated capabilities set out in the report (I note in the table in the report, they say something to the effect of “an MPA such as P8 or C298” (i.e. they lump both options together) – C295 is also included on the table, but should be noted here that it is a smaller platform (as used by USCG) and something more equivalent to the biz jet option, but with the option of dropping a dinghy, yet with no ASW/ASuW capability). So does a larger buy of C298 or similar provide a better or capability than a small buy of P8s, or a mixed biz jet/P8 or c298 buy?

I don’t know the answer, but its interesting as someone noted to look at the overall capability we require – i.e. how much seaspace need to be covered at any one time during routine maritime surveillance and what are the response times and capabilities required to deliver specific ASW/AsuW and long-range SAR missions.

January 17, 2014 12:29 pm


No you get two ships to replace ocean and illustrious that’s it. The cost a hell of a lot cheaper than cvf will end up at.

Global express would be something like 3 hrs endurance at 1200nm range Converted to military use. 2 or 4 torpedoes would be your lot though.

Astor conducted 12hr missions out of Cyprus. Astor requirements ask for high altitude and high endurance with out aar so it limited payload to some degree.
The brochure don’t tell u that the nice interior for the business men has a weight of around 8-10000lbs allocated for it before we even get into payload or fuel.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 17, 2014 12:44 pm

@ Mark
“No you get two ships to replace ocean and illustrious that’s it. The cost a hell of a lot cheaper than cvf will end up at.”

Yes but not half the price and the capability is hugely degraded.


With the business jet solution you have the weight issue but you then get a space issue as well.

January 17, 2014 12:56 pm

Maybe I have been too traditional. Here is a possible look at the future. How about a drone that takes off with no crew onboard and just disperses sonobuoys around an area. Take a fairly large aircraft maybe cessna grand caravan size. Strip out the seats instruments even the floor perhaps. Leave it with the nessecary sytsems and an EO turret. You then refit with a sonobuoy launcher. Here we are talking about cheap easy to produce light sonobuoys. That aircraft then flies a pre programmed loop whilst someone can sit and look at pretty things through the camera and take over if needed. Maybe 500 buoys could be dispersed over a large area. At very low cost. (could even be based on a carrier)

Your choices then are either a land or sea based interpretation of what these are picking up via a satelite uplink. If sat is not possible you can have an AEW MPA thing up there looking at the data. Now all you need is something to attack or identify the contact. It needs no loiter time it will only be nessecary to ID or destroy it and head for home. You now have a very limited need for any deployment of sonobuoys from a manned aircraft and your 6 P8s look a bit OTT as does a fully tooled up 295.

Hows that for a theoretical construct?

El Sid
El Sid
January 17, 2014 12:58 pm

@dave haine
You’re quite right about the tension between the need for payload and the need for endurance on your sensor platform – but that doesn’t mean the answer is an all-singing, all-dancing Death Star.

As I said above, we need to think of this as a team sport, rather than an unaffordable Death Star. We already have a long-range sensor platform in Sentinel (and in future, satellites and drones like the – currently unaffordable – MQ-4C). We already have turboprop “trucks” that can carry payload a reasonable distance (C-130/A400M, heck even potentially C-17 and in future a unmanned “truck” like UCLASS).

90% of the time we only need the sensors aloft and the payload capacity is dead weight. So why not adapt what we already have and use a team of separate sensor platform and “truck”, rather than a single do-everything Death Star?

January 17, 2014 1:07 pm


I never said half the price I said significantly cheaper even if its 2/3rds the price then were saving 2b pound.
If you don’t have the crew to man them and can only afford a handful of aircraft to go on them then the capability is hugely degraded anyway. To be honest in my mind there is little doubt the cost of the carriers now at what 6b quid has had a direct link to the long drawn out process of recapitalising the rfa, and to a reduction in frigate numbers. But this is really not the thread for this discussion.

El Sid
El Sid
January 17, 2014 1:08 pm

Given the running costs of any kind of reusable airframe, you might be better to think in terms of a one-shot drone. Storm Shadow started life as a way of automatically dispensing small packages over a runway, Tomahawk has similar payload (450kg) and longer range. So park some truck-launched missiles with 24 sonobuoys each on Shetland or Arran or West Falkland or Oman. You could also use Tomahawk/Storm Shadow as the basis of a super-ASROC.