Following up from yesterdays post on the Defence Select Committee evidence session in which ACM Pulford was at pains to draw a distinction between a maritime patrol requirement and a maritime patrol aircraft I thought a useful question to ask is whether there is a practical difference or is it just playing with words.
Whenever the words maritime patrol requirement comes up the default answer is actually a maritime patrol aircraft but you do have to wonder if things have moved on since the Nimrod MRA4 was designed, does the P8 offer much by the way of change or just newer way of doing older things?
Since then we have seen rapid advances in surface, sub surface and airborne unmanned systems, massive leaps in target recognition software, sensor technology, long endurance power supplies, positional accuracy, communications and autonomous control systems.
The attraction of getting a working system like the P8 into service as soon as possible to close the capability gap is obvious, phrases like ‘proven’, ‘low risk’ and ‘off the shelf’ seem to be the weapons of choice in the verbal battle between proponents of one solution or the other.
In the UK’s extensive ASW armoury there is actually very little off the shelf so why this should apply to a maritime patrol capability and not Merlin, Sonar 2087, Stingray, Astute or Type 26 is somewhat of a mystery but that aside, the simple fact is, the UK remains at the very top of the ASW credibility stakes by any objective measure, with or without the P8.
This leads on the question of the nature of this maritime patrol gap, especially in the demanding business of anti submarine warfare AND ESPECIALLY in the context of UK only requirements.
I know we keep coming back to defence planning assumptions and strategic objectives but if the gap is so critical as to render the massive UK investment in ASW worthless and the nuclear deterrent under threat then we have to think seriously about prioritising it over future expeditionary aspirations.
If the lack of a P8 really does put at risk the UK only mission of protection of the Vanguard and successor submarines as they enter and leave UK waters then to be be blunt, we need to chop a handful of infantry brigades, frigates or fast jest to pay for it.
If it is a little less clear cut then that (and I accept these things are never clear cut) then we have to understand that spending money on it will mean not spending money on something else (welcome to the world of defence politics)
Which brings me on the original question.
Does technology developed since MRA4 and P8 was designed offer us the opportunity to do things differently, cheaper and more effectively?
Is there really an alternative to a Maritime Patrol Aircraft for a Maritime Patrol Requirement?
And I don’t mean calling an MPA an MMA, which they have always actually been.