A commentary from Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham and Air Vice-Marshal Andrew L. Roberts in support of filling the maritime patrol aircraft gap.
Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 10), the planned Nimrod MRA4 fleet was scrapped. Four years later, it is clear that this is a major loss of capability. At a time when our maritime interests are so obviously of higher profile, the need for a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) is now a topic for Government attention and brought into sharper focus by the recent events surrounding the disappearance of Flight MH370, in which a very large area of the Indian Ocean needed to be searched. A variety of MPA from several nations participated in the search, led by the Australians. Britain could not now undertake such a mission were a similar tragedy to occur in UK waters.
Ships, submarines, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Experience strongly suggests that modern maritime warfare, especially ASW, is best undertaken using a ‘layered approach’ with a mix of platforms. Even with the latest technology, this is likely to continue to be the case. There is no cheap panacea. MOD has now acknowledged (1) that cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 has resulted in a significant capability gap. Because of the need for a combination of rapid response and reach, we believe that, at least in the short and medium term, this gap can be filled only by airborne platforms. As SDSR 15 approaches, it is timely to review the options likely to be available for filling the gap.