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?