If we accept that the Future Maritime Patrol requirement may well have to be redefined in order to meet smaller budgets there are a number of cheaper options to consider.
These are generally characterised by being smaller and shorter ranged than the options examined in the previous two posts on the P8, P3, P1, 319 and ATL.
Airbus Military C235/295 MPA
The C295 is often seen in suggestions for the a future UK Maritime Patrol Aircraft, it is a logical off the shelf choice if the P-8A is unaffordable, it must be said, Airbus Military are pushing it hard as well.
Many have also suggested it as a stop gap until the P8 matures or other options become available.
The problem with stop gaps is two fold, you have to demonstrate a compelling need for a stop gap, difficult, and two, stop gaps tend to become full time.
If the C295 MPA is to come into UK service it will be as a final answer to the capability gap.
The Airbus Military C295 MPA is a derivative of the well established C295 twin turboprop transport in service with many forces worldwide.
The C295 is a stretched version of the C235 which also has a maritime patrol version; notable users include the US Coastguard (C235), Chile, Oman and Portugal (C295)
The MPA version has the fully integrated tactical system mission suite (FITS) configured with four operator stations, sonobuoy dispenser, MAD boom, self defence equipment, 6 under wing hard points and an electro optical turret.
Click here for the FITS page
Endurance is reportedly 11 hours or 6 hours on station at 200nm range.
Compare that with 4 hours at 1,200nm ballpark for the P8, A319MPA, P1 and P3 and it should be obvious where the difference lies.
Stores capacity is also lower, and so is speed and altitude.
It can (and has) been fitted with a refuelling probe though.
Airbus Military are continually improving the basic design, most recently the adoption of winglets in the C295W.
These are said to deliver and extra 30-60 minutes endurance or 1,000kg payload, improved altitude, hot/high performance and reduced fuel costs.
Lets not fool ourselves; the C295 MPA is no P-8A but then it is not trying to be, the question the UK has to answer is a simple one, are its limitations acceptable or not.
What does the C295 bring?
Two things, cost and versatility.
As usual, it is difficult to pin down costs but I have seen several reports that point to a £50m unit cost and very low running costs, or put another way, 3 for the price of one P8. Airbus themselves offered uo the £50m price tag in a submission to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee.
It could be a thousand for the price of one but if it doesn’t meet the military requirement it would still be poor value for money but three to one is hard to ignore.
One of the great strengths of the C295 MPA is its versatility, the rear cargo door and palletised mission systems allow the same aircraft to be used for a number of roles.
Standard 463L pallet compatibility means that in an expeditionary deployment it can carry its own spares or other stores, as an example.
This doesn’t really become a useful feature unless you have more airframes than mission systems and this is where those secondary implications come in. In the previous posts I have looked at how selecting one airframe or the other can have cost and/or capability implications across other areas and it is here that I think the C295 scores pretty well.
If we buy into the C295 for maritime patrol then the established logistics and maintenance arrangements could support an increased number of C295 without the disproportionate cost of unique types.
When I looked at the A400M in a 5 part series (start here) I made the case for a C235/295 to occupy the space between Chinook and the A400M. When the A400M comes into service it will eventually supplant the C130 and leave a fairly large gap between its 30 tonne payload and the 10 tonne (but very expensive to operate and slow) Chinook.
The C295 would provide about the same lift as a Chinook but in a package that is faster, much longer ranged and significantly cheaper to operate. Any view on whether such an aircraft would be worth investing in would come down to that balance of the costs of such an aircraft fleet and the cost of using the A400M Atlas at payloads far below its capabilities.
For years ISAF has been using contractors to provide air transport and air despatch using smaller aircraft like the Airbus C212’s and AN25’s.
The development of low cost air despatch /air dropping equipment has allowed these cheap aircraft to be of much greater usefulness. Studies by the USAF and Army have shown that for a very high percentage of short range, intra theatre transportation tasks in ongoing operations the payload utilisation figures are very low.
It can carry 9 tonnes in its very long cargo hold, 12.7m. This means 71 seats or 5 463L pallets to a maximum range at full payload of 1,300km, plus it comes with this rather snazzy pallet loading system.
There are all manner of roles you could use a plain old C295 for; parachute training, intra-theatre lift and communications.
Airbus have also flown a AEW demonstrator
Plus of course there is always this bad boy to consider
If we are looking at different versions, greater utility, a large user base and low costs, the C295 has a lot to offer.
There are a couple of other alternatives.
Bombardier and Elta have proposed a ‘Special Mission’ variant of the Dash 8 Q-400 commercial passenger aircraft. The Q400 MPA variant is equipped with and EL/M-2022A maritime search radar electro optical turret and range of supporting electronic systems.
The Dash 8 series are adaptable aircraft and many ‘special. variants exist in small numbers.
Defense Industry Daily has the full details on the Turkish ATR72-ASW order, click here
Both the ATR72 and Q300/400 would offer a modest performance uplift in comparison with the C295 because they are larger aircraft but arguably not enough if the wider possibilities of a C295 selection are considered.
The ATR72-ASW provides a 7 hour at 200nm patrol endurance for example.
An interesting set of options though.