Future Maritime Patrol – Part 5 (Business Jet and Unmanned Options)
As we have seen in the previous posts on future maritime patrol there are some difficult issues to address in defining the need and resultant requirement.
Having considered aircraft at opposite ends of the spectrum it is clear that the differentiator between the two is not the payload but platform. Whether the mission system is from Boeing or Airbus, the radar from Raytheon or Selex and the optics from FLIR or Thales makes not a great deal of difference. They are all mature systems and pretty much available off a shelf somewhere.
In comparison with the expensive big beasts, the Q400/C295/ATR72 are compromised in the payload, altitude, speed and most significantly, endurance/range.
For many nations, this compromised range is perfectly acceptable because their requirements tend to concentrate on maritime security rather than deep ocean anti submarine warfare.
For the UK, this reduced range might be an acceptable compromise but it is certainly harder to swallow as the deterrent protection and expeditionary ASW mission tends to push range and endurance higher up the priority list than for example, Portugal, a user of perhaps the most advanced version of the C295 MPA.
If the range and endurance issue could be resolved in an aircraft platform that is lower cost than the P8/P1/A319 types then there may be a better compromise to be had.
In this post I am going to look at business jet and unmanned aircraft options for future UK maritime patrol.
Boeing Maritime Surveillance Aircraft
Spotting there might be a gap in the market between the full fat P8 and the skimmed milk C295 Boeing have started marketing a business jet solution that takes the mission system from the P8 and packages it into a mid sized business jet, a Bombardier Challenger 605.
As some have noted, Boeing obviously don’t want it to be seen as too much of a competitor to the P8 or they might have used the larger and much longer ranged Global family, the same as used for the RAF’s Sentinel aircraft.
Boeing have been very careful to position the 605 as a maritime surveillance platform, very definitely not a maritime patrol (with its ASW and ASuW implications) aircraft. They see their business jet platform providing a compliment to the P8, not a replacement, able to relieve the more expensive P8 of some of the routine maritime security roles whilst preserving airframe hours for the higher intensity anti submarine warfare.
This is a smart move, a two platform fleet would be able to cover the full span of requirements from the EEZ security and SAR to ASW and ASuW with overland surveillance and supporting ISTAR common to both whilst potentially keeping the costs down due to systems commonality. These cost reduction claims would need careful scrutiny because any savings would have to be measures against the support cost penalty of maintaining two types instead of one. .
In an ideal world therefore, not too shabby a solution.
However, we don’t live in an ideal world so could a business jet solution provide the low cost attraction of a C295 whilst retaining the endurance, range and speed of the P8?
Certainly not with the Challenger but the Challenger is not the only choice.
As currently proposed, it also completely passes the ASW mission by which kind of makes it a non starter for the UK although all the building blocks are there to extend into the ASW mission space.
Embraer EMB 145 MP
The EMB 145 MP is based on the 50 seat mid sized ERJ 145 regional passenger aircraft.
Embraer were not impressed when the Brazilian Air Force awarded the P3 upgrade contract but the P-99 did not exist and no one was prepared to wait. The follow on from the earlier P-99 is the EMB 145 MP, and this is designed to cover the full MPA mission requirement, including ASW.
Joining the usual range of sensors (including the Raytheon SeaVue radar and Star Safire FLIR)and electronic systems are four underwing pylons rated for lightweight torpedoes and other stores.
When I looked at the range for EMB 145 MP and compared it to the C295 there was a difference, but it wasn’t massive, so in a stand up contest between the C295 and EMB-145 the additional versatility of the C295 might win out. It would need a very careful analysis which would also need to examine the sonobuoy capacity and mission system capability.
Mexico has ordered the 145 MP.
What About Unmanned?
The MoD have publically stated that unmanned options have been considered for the role and discounted.
Although it should be clear that on an aircraft one to one basis, a unmanned system would be very far away, but could unmanned aircraft supplement a smaller fleet of conventional maritime aircraft?
This two tier manned/unmanned solution is not a crazy one if one limits the role of unmanned systems to surveillance.
Indeed, General Atomics have demonstrated their Mariner variant of the in service Reaper.
This entered and lost the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) contest but a UK requirement might not need the high specification the BAMS project was shooting for and the performance difference between the Mariner and higher specification RG-4N Global Hawk (the ultimate winner) might not be as marked.
Endurance was increased to a whopping 49 hours and payload described as 1,360kg. The US Customs and Border Protection service also operate a small number of MQ-9 Guardians and there have been some recent announcements about Italian Predators being modified for maritime surveillance. Although no specific announcements have been made there is a wide river chock full of heavy hints that the UK’s Reaper fleet will enter full service so a Guardian variant is not an outlandish option, it simply being an extension of an already in service system.
In addition to delivering against the surveillance element of the maritime patrol mission it is not impossible to foresee one carrying a pair of torpedoes or even a sonobuoy dispenser for operations in concert with other aircraft or even helicopters and surface vessels. Older aircraft such as the S-2 used engine nacelle mounted dispensers and the modern helicopter dispensers are lightweight, the one used for the NH-90 for example, built by MES in Italy, weighs less than 30kg with a 10 buoy capacity. Airdyne in the USA make a number of pods for the Vigilant programme that enhances the capabilities of the C130, included in the range are a number of standard pods but Airdyne make the point that adding others is simple design engineering based on existing and known principles. They have the experience with their SABIR pods and have shown example drawings with sonobuoy ejector tubes.
It remains an interesting option for off-board stores carriage and remember, ASW is the least likely to be used across the broad spectrum of mission requirements.
The most difficult problems with operating an unmanned aircraft in this role is that of weather resistance, airspace management and bandwidth availability. These are not trivial problems to address, it would seem the MoD have assessed the challenges and came to the conclusion that they would not be cost effective in solving for the MPA role and it would be hard to disagree.
I do, however, find the combination of ultra long range/endurance unmanned aircraft and a shorter ranged manned aircraft that can carry stores to be an interesting option and worthy of consideration.
A Canadian Option
If unmanned, the Boeing Bombardier 605 or Embraer EMB 145 MP are not compelling, for one reason or another, are there any other possibilities?
The Canadian American Strategic Review have a interesting proposal.[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”http://www.casr.ca/ai-boeing-msa-global-express.htm”]
They describe how the Canadian CP-140 Aurora (P3 derivative) life extension will only deliver ten aircraft at a very high cost and with a finite lifespan. The current project to look beyond the CP-140 is called the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft (CMA) and is considering the usual P8 shaped suspects but has also received a solicitation from Bombardier using their Global Express aircraft, as mentioned above, much larger and capable than the Challenger 605 derived system proposed by Boeing.
Timelines for the CMA are broadly co-terminus with a possible UK MPA, starting work around 2015 with aircraft starting to come into service a decade later. Nothing is certain with major Canadian defence projects and they certainly have their own collection of problems but a UK-Canadian collaboration, with either Boeing or Airbus providing the mission systems holds a certain appeal. There were also some reports that pointed to a Canadian preference for a two tier fleet, an absolute minimum of P8’s with the majority of tasks being carried out by either an Airbus C295 or Bombardier business jet derivative. The utility of Canadian Auroras over Libya where they provided overland ISTAR in support of naval gunfire support, bomb damage assessment and other tasks will also no doubt be fed into any future programme requirements as will the increasing importance of the high Arctic Long range and high endurance obviously become key requirements.
Read more about the CMA here
Mark Collins at the always excellent 3DS blog wrote about this issue last year and highlighted a very interesting quote from Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin of the Royal Canadian Air Force;
We’ve had a big, four-engine plane because it needs range, it needs to fly for 12-14 hours, it needs to carry people in the back, it needs to carry torpedoes and all the sensors. Does the replacement also have to be big [and will there be any budget money for such a plane?]? If you look at what is available, you’ve got the Boeing P-8 and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J adapted for maritime operations, but all of these are big airplanes that cost a lot of money. And that puts pressure on the entire air force. What if I could do business differently in 20-30 years? What if I could use a smaller, cheaper airplane to carry just a few people with some equipment in the back, and combine it with a UAV, or even a couple of UAVs, controlled by the mother ship, that would be carrying the torpedoes and the sensors. We can see this coming on our horizon…
This comes back to the unmanned or manned bomb truck idea, still an interesting idea. It also opens up the possibility of operating in tandem for the much less common ASW mission.
There is some smart thinking coming out of Canada in this area.
Coming back to the Global Express, it is already in service with the UK in the guise of the RAF’s Sentinel R1, inserting another variant into the already established support infrastructure should not present too many issues. There was a half hearted suggestion by Raytheon that the Sentinel could be used for maritime surveillance but bending the SAR/GMTI radar to maritime use. Having to accept the lack of electro-optical and weapons carriage relegated that idea to the round filing cabinet but using the basic airframe as a starting point remains a distinct possibility.
Our conversation on previous threads have focussed on the ability of a Global Express platform to carry a usable sonobuoy and torpedo load to a reasonable range with a reasonable endurance.
Starting with a bare bones airframe would certainly provide a base platform for a standard set of radar, electro optical, defensive aids, mission consoles, ESM and associated equipment that would deliver a very long range very high endurance aircraft more than capable of the general ISTAR and surveillance mission. Simply put, we would be replacing the SAR/GMTI radar and consoles with an EO turret, maritime surveillance radar like the Selex Seaspray or Raytheon Sea Vue, a possible MAD boom and other mission electronics. The DAS would probably remain and the comms fit changed slightly, none of this seems like the proverbial rocket science.
The difficult question is one of releasable stores; sonobuoys, missiles and torpedoes.
Obviously, a Global Express based maritime patrol aircraft is never going to be able to carry the same payload of releasable stores as something like a P8, P1 or A319.
But how much is enough, how much of the downgrade could be addressed by having two aircraft in the air in the very rare situation that dropping more than a couple of torpedoes is required and how much of a performance hit would have to be taken if we loaded the aircraft up to the max?
We should recognise that the Global Express is usually not heavily loaded; luxury seating, a handful of business leaders and a drinks cabinet are generally a lot lighter than military equipment like radars and torpedoes but even with this weight it has a staggeringly huge range. Cutting this in half as a result of heavily loading it will still result in half a staggeringly huge range i.e. still large, certainly much higher than the C295 club.
The CASR site linked above has a couple of interesting suggestion with regards to the carriage of torpedoes, describing how the Sentinel’s under fuselage ‘canoe’ fairing (which has been through all the relevant aerodynamic proving) could be converted to a ‘bomb bay’ for a couple of lightweight torpedoes. If possible, this avoids the aerodynamically inefficient carriage of large stores on underwing pylons.
Electronic and electo-optical payloads are trending to be smaller and lighter it must also be said.
The question is a simple one, would a fully loaded Global Express derived MPA, armed with perhaps a couple of lightweight torpedoes and about 50-60 sonobuoys have the range and endurance of the larger platforms like the P8?
Tough question, not sure, but we do know the RAF’s Sentinel aircraft are pretty heavily loaded and although their performance does take a good hit from the published Global Express figures what remains is still pretty good, reports of 11 hour missions during operations over Libya for example. That would certainly point in the right direction regarding performance.
If speed, range and endurance are in the right area is the reduced load a compromise too far?
I don’t know but also wonder if it could be compensated for by operating in pairs, or using an unmanned or other manned aircraft operate in the stores truck role in these less likely scenarios. More likely are those scenarios that see it operating in a role similar to the CP-140’s over Libya or the French ATL’s over Mali, scenarios where the absolute ASW performance is less important than range, endurance and a good sensor/comms fit.
The suitability of the basic airframe for the low level ASW mission is another uncertainty, what impact would many altitude changes and turns have on overall endurance or airframe wear and tear? We have seen how the 737 base aircraft needed a stronger wing and other reinforcement, would this additional weight further compromise performance?
If the high altitude ASW concepts as being developed by the P-8A are to be adopted, some of the same issues with high altitude weapon release would have to be factored in.
The cost would also have to be considered, the Global Express is definitely not in the bargain aisle to start with, it is unreasonable to expect it to be cheaper than a C295 or similar but if it could come in at half a P8, the performance difference would come in for some very harsh scrutiny. Boeing have stated that the Challenger 605 with all the trimmings would be a third of the price of a P8 about the same as a C295, upscale to a Global Express and I don’t think half the price of a P8 with much less of a compromise than the C295 is something that can be easily dismissed.
A number of questions would remain on the basic suitability of using a Global Express as a cut down P-8A but if this issues can be resolved, it would be a strong challenger (no pun intended)
The Rest of the Series