MH370 Demonstrates the Need for a Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Except does it?

A force of very advanced maritime patrol aircraft, including the Boeing P8-A Poseidon, failed to locate, or provide a great deal of tangible information on an active acoustic source pinging away and asking to be found..

If they can’t find an acoustic transmitter specifically designed to be found, perhaps they are not that good at finding actively evading submarines after all and we can save ourselves a billion quid or so.

Of course I am playing devils advocate with a silly argument and know full well ‘it isn’t that simple’ but those who were loudly proclaiming the search for MH370 demonstrated a glaring gap in UK force composition seem to have gone a bit silent on the matter.



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All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
April 25, 2014 7:03 pm

If a submarine wants to hide itself in any number of locations that may be on land or in the oggin and seem to be separated (depending on who you believe) by over 5000 miles then yes we probably would not find it.
If it wants to transit a choke point, interfere with known SLOCS or attack an escorted TG or interfere with a maritime op it narrows the search area somewhat.

April 25, 2014 7:20 pm

When the boomers leave Faslane they have to go either north or south to reach the open oceans. For them to get on station we need to clear the seas ahead of them, either with SSNs, Type 23s, Merlin ASW and if we had one an MPA.
Can we do that task without the MPA? I would say yes, presumably we have been doing just that since Nimrod was disposed of.
Then there is the protection of the UKs EEZ, I do not believe we not need something the size and cost of the P-8 for that and could get by with a cheaper version, that could also double up as a sub hunter if required . Something like the C-295 or C-27 which can double as a smaller transport aircraft etc.

April 25, 2014 7:42 pm

In a 2005 joint exercise with the USN ,Exercise Silent Fury, the HMAS Rankin successfully evade several US destroyers and a SSN culminating in ‘sinking’ a US destroyer if only by photograph! It illustrates the difficulty in detecting a sub sea target even if they searchers know within a few tens of kilometres where to look.
With regards to the acoustic transmitter ‘designed’ to be found just who did they test it with and how? It would seem not with the people who would actually be looking for it.

April 25, 2014 8:11 pm

If MH370 demonstrates a lack, then might I point out that the “lack” seems to be international?

Besides, those stupid ELTs ping only once every 30 min, only thing it really informs you is “Hi, I’m somewhere around.” If you can triangulate a location from a single possible contact, you are either very, very lucky or really God-like with your equipment.

Or you got a whole lot of people with very accurate timepieces measuring the propagation of the ping and estimating a direction. Good luck with that too. IIRC, even temperature and salinity affects the speed of sound in water. And a thermocline.

Deep water is just a terrible media to be looking for things in.

April 25, 2014 8:23 pm

MH370 demonstrates the need for mandatory gps tracking of all over ocean aircraft with no ability for persons on board to disable it because I don’t think they really have a clue where it is or what happened to it.

April 25, 2014 9:03 pm

MH370 demonstrates a need for updated ATC procedures and automatic aircraft positioning systems- not for a new MPA for the UK.

The Russian Navy is what demands a new UK MPA but the UK is now so corrupted by self loathing socialism and its ruling class so craven and ideological that even a so glaring and obvious security concern will, and is, simply be papered over.

Ace Rimmer
April 25, 2014 9:32 pm

‘But those who were loudly proclaiming the search for MH370 demonstrated a glaring gap in UK force composition seem to have gone a bit silent on the matter.’

I’m guessing that it’s the tragic nature of the situation, not something any politician with an ounce of decency would openly make political capital out of. I’d suggest (hope?) things are being soberly discussed behind closed doors.

April 26, 2014 4:09 am

One thing that did come apparent in the search for MH370 was that range was a factor for the MPA’s. An ubber long range nimrod would have been dam handy. Could this event expose the relatively short legs of the P8 as a bit of a weakness. search areas of 1900 miles off of Perth are not that far compared to hunting submarines in the mid Atlantic.

I am also confused about the capability of military sonar to find the black boxes. we always hear stories about how our SSN ‘ scan listen to ships on the ore side of the ocean yet they are completely unable to detect a pinger. I know the depth is a big issue but it would be interesting to get more information on just how far away military passive sonar can detect and track vessels.

If something similar had happened in the middle of the Atlantic in the UK’s area of operation it would be quite a national disgrace that the only thing we could do is send out our C130’s using the mk 1 eyeball for detection.

April 26, 2014 5:04 am

The problem this time was also with the target. Passive sonar listens for things making noise, like pump noises in nuclear reactors or cavitation on moving propeller blades.

What noise does debris just sitting there make? None as far as I can tell. Same with MPA, they look for thermal bloom, but debris and dead bodies are ambient temperature, so they are left with the mk 1 eyeball looking for debris on the water (I don’t suppose we can call it flotsam as it wasn’t from a ship), C-130, P-8, P-3 or Kawasaki, they are all still left with the mk 1 eyeball.

A “live” target is a lot easier.

April 26, 2014 6:25 am

Agree with the comments above, MH370 neither proves nor disproves the need for MPA.

Peter Elliott
April 26, 2014 6:44 am

Kind of agree on the range / endurance point.

There’s nothing on the market right now with Nimrodesque range. If we were only talking about the ‘home’ game of protecting the deterrant then that would not be an issue. But our armed forces also play ‘away’ fixtures and those could be anywhere. Depending on what basing rights are available and who is trying to interfere and from which direction they are coming we could need very long range indeed to protect either our Task Group group or just our resupply tail.

The conventional solution would be adapt an ultra long range airliner. A330 MRTT would be an obvious candidate. But the costs of that look prohibitive and our Euorpean partners aren’t shopping.

Does the combination with MQ4 Triton fill the range/endurance gap? Some of our allies seem to think so.

If proved successful would we consdier replacing our Reaper fleet with Tritons to cover both land and sea?

Could this be an intermdiate step on the way to Future-Taranis?

With Watchkeeper and Scan Eagle set to occupy the tacical UAV niche I’m not sure we would want to be operating multiple UAS at the Theatre level. Time for some Joint thinking maybe? :o

April 26, 2014 9:42 am

The worrying thing for me is why some controller was not screaming across the room that he had just lost SSR data for an airliner. There should still have been a primary radar trace, definitely when it turned around. And why did this loss of SSR and either lack of observation of primary radar trace or seeing it turn not trigger the scrambling of fighter aircraft or at least a more intensive tracking of the target.

All seems a bit weird to me. The MPA were not so effective in the search is that suitable steps weren’t taken to track the aircraft and hence narrow the search area.

The Other Monty
The Other Monty
April 26, 2014 9:55 am

I’d also agree with the OP and most of the comments, especially Derek’s.

One further point of which I’m surprised relatively little has been made, is that this has demonstrated what strong capabilities the UK does have. For an incident in Asia, the UK AAIB was drafted in at the start along with its US counterpart. It was the UK agency, along with the private sector engineering expertise of UK firm Inmarsat, that worked out which path the plane had taken. We then provided the only submarine involved in the search operation ( and continue to provide very specialist capabilities via HMS Echo.

So whilst we don’t have MPA, it would appear that we do have civil and military capabilities that other nations either lack or can’t/don’t deploy.

April 26, 2014 10:55 am

TED, the plane turned around when it was out of ground based radar range. Unless you want to build a new radar network costing billions smack dab in the middle of the ocean, it simply is not cost efficient and frankly pointless. There is no benefit to building a whole new network of radars to monitor a once in a decade event, even if it means 300+ people dead. In terms of national security, which is the primary duty of defence radars, it is a non-event. Even if a hundred planes were to disappear, it does not affect national security at all because none of the planes were out to attack a country.

There was NO radar trace because there was NO radar anywhere near the plane’s turning point, only trace was from a defence radar that ignored the plane because it was flying away from anything it needed to defend.

April 26, 2014 11:31 am

NTSB would be contacted as its a boeing aircraft and FAA are the certifying agency. AAIB would have been contacted as there was Rolls Royce engines on the aircraft and there a UK company. This is mandatory on all aircraft accidents investigations. All the major oems have teams set up to assist in these situations.

All civil airlines flying in the north altantic operate on the North Atlantic track system and most are now equipped with the automatic dependant surveillance broadcast systems which will be mandatory in europe in about 2 years time so the chances of loosing an airliner in seas around the uk is significantly reduced.

April 27, 2014 3:36 am

@ The other Monty

Its a good point, its easy to forget with all the UK bashing just how capable the UK civilian and military are in such situations. Only one or two other countries can match this and the work of the AAIB and Immersat is to be commended because with out that we would not even know which ocean the plane was in.

April 27, 2014 3:39 am

@ Oberserver

North my reference to noise was from the black box pinger and not that floating debris. I can understand why for instance our trafalguar class submarine in the area can’t hear it when we here story’s of listening to fishing boats etc on the other side of the ocean.

Is it the depth that’s the issue or is military sonars capabilities exaggerated?

The Securocrat
April 27, 2014 9:03 am

I’m not an expert on the performance of sonar at depth, but the Washington Post has done two infographics which show the scale of the problem in both area and depth terms: