When an MPA is not an MPA but an MMA

One of the recognised capability risks taken in SDSR 2010 was the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 programme at a loss of just short of £4 billion. Many think the risk started with the cancellation of the much troubled and much delayed MRA4 but of course, it was slightly earlier as the Nimrod MR2 was withdrawn.

The 4 years between those two events has seen much speculation, much hinting and much written on the subject of maritime patrol (a lot of it by us). The obvious front runner is the Boeing P8 Poseidon but Airbus, Bombardier and Saab have been nipping at the Boeing heels and a couple of unmanned wildcards remain in play.

Reading the tea leaves is always an interesting activity and the latest snippets of information comes from the House of Commons Defence Select Committee evidence session on Future Force 2020, earlier today.

The whole thing is in the video below

Skip forward to 15:39 where the conversation starts on maritime patrol.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford (Chief of Air Staff) and General Richard Barrons (Commander, Joint Forces Command) both made some interesting comments.

Both General Barrons and ACM Pulford were both at pains to point out the difference between a maritime patrol requirement and a maritime patrol aircraft, fair enough I guess, requirements should be defined first and then the solution sought on how to deliver that requirement, whether it be an aircraft or some other combination of systems and equipment.

General Barrons explained that there were a number of technology options now and a number of technology options that might mature in the 2025 onwards timeframe and so any decisions taken at SDSR 2015 would need to address this technology landscape in order to avoid going down blind alleys.

The first quote from ACM Pulford was;

Don’t let George and I fool you into thinking we are after an aircraft

He then went on to explain his view (from 15.41 on) that should the maritime patrol requirement need an aircraft it would not be a Maritime Patrol Aircraft but a Multi Mission Aircraft, not just a Maritime Patrol Aircraft

MMA not MPA it is then.

During this small section watch to the left of screen as Admiral Sir George Zambellas does his best gurning show, absolutely priceless!

His final comment was to state that what the UK must not do is jump at something in the here and now because it could very rapidly be out of date.

As he closed and one of the committee said that the UK should close the maritime patrol aircraft gap, Admiral Zambellas was nodding furiously as ACM Pulford was pouring on gallons of cold water.

I leave you all to pull the bones out of that exchange, the body language, the implied position or otherwise, but it certainly makes for an interesting update to the ongoing saga of maritime patrol.


Related Posts

Roll On Roll Off in the Air

Low Cost and Manned ISTAR

A Further Look at an A400M MPA

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 1 (Challenges and Missions)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 2 (The P8)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 3 (Other Long Range Aircraft)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 4 (C295 and Similar)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 5 (Business Jets and Unmanned)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 6 (C130 and A400)

Future Maritime Patrol – Part 7 (Summary)

Maritime Patrol – Back to the Future









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November 5, 2014 10:54 pm

Wow! I thought listening to American flag officers was a chore!

General Sir Richard Barrons seemed to be so concerned about what might be available in 11 years that he wasn’t sure they should do anything now. He wants to “study it.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford doesn’t seem to know what the Hell he wants, but it sounds like an airplane to me. He, too, is more concerned about what might be available down the pike, so much so that he sounds positively paralyzed.

I’m reminded of General Spaatz in 1942, then commander of the 8th Air Force in the UK, who said of the Lockheed P-38F Lightning: “I’d rather have an airplane that goes like hell and has a few things wrong with it, than one that won’t go like hell and has a few things wrong with it.” (I guess something similar could be said about the F-35 at this point in time.)

A bit off subject is Admiral Zambellas’ statement that the second carrier was being built and that it’s operating costs were (in comparison?) relatively small. Fascinating!

November 5, 2014 11:23 pm

I feel an extended gapping coming as a new money pit project is born?

Just pick an off the shelf turboprop solution for EEZ patrol and ASW around UK and FI, any of the very decent ones mentioned although Sea Herc has a lot going for it if not quite OTS. If we do need long range MPA by 2025, P8, A400 or UAVs may be more mature. We need to de risk development of some if not all big ticket needs and decide where we do need to gold plate and or preserve UK skills

November 5, 2014 11:49 pm

MMA its then and as they also operate overland too a Multirole Multiple Use Aircraft MMUA ” you tell me what you want me to find and kill and it shall be done Adm Z”
On another side I watched somewhat before the time index and after but not all I might add, the MP’s kept trying to get the 4 Horsemen of the Apoplexy to stand up and demand more money. One MP asked that during the cold war we spent over 4% of GDP on defence and that now Russia was invading its neighbours did they think they needed more money. The gang basically avoided any kind of meaningful answer , is this normal for the team that’s supposed to be pushing to preserve and even enhance our defence capability to be so submissive? I think they have either been whipped into political line or have already got what the want and don’t want to rock the CVF as it were.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
November 5, 2014 11:53 pm

For MMA read Sentinel with the radar mods. Trouble is, it avoids the rather important need for ASW capability. Some people clearly have their eyes on a Global Hawk type replacement for Sentinel beyond that, whether or not the bandwidth will be available to make it work.

Vastly more interesting is the discussion on F35 numbers and the clear divergence of view between 1SL and CAS from 15:44.

Chuck Hill
November 6, 2014 12:28 am

P-8s are multi-mission aircraft, they can do ISR overland. They can put Hellfire on insurgents. They can launch Tomahawk, and if you wanted to it could launch nuclear tipped cruise missiles. Oh by the way it can hunt submarines. You don’t get much more multi-mission than that.

November 6, 2014 3:07 am

Exactly which variant of Tomahawk can the P-8 launch???

November 6, 2014 9:02 am

I am with Mickp and NaB on this:
– Sentinel it will be
– exactly for the reason NaB stated. Go back to the previous hearing where the Scientific Advisor gives a statement heavily loaded in that direction… I would dispute her “facts” but then again I am not in that position
– if the “Js” are retained in some numbers (for other reasons) then Marshalls is an accredited company for the airframe work, and USCG hercs were a conversion anyway, so fly a few to that “factory” for fitting out. That will solve SAR beyond the ranges the outsourced civvy service can do with their helos… Even when BAMS or the like arrives, they still won’t dispense any life rafts

November 6, 2014 9:13 am

If it’s an aircraft it needs to be an MMA, so Sea Hercules or A400 type aircraft.

Second carrier not funded? I think some Army numbers are getting cut.

Interesting comments about languages, I hope the FO are pushing for an increase in language abilities as well.

The comment that we are all as one as never before, the slow drift to a truly purple armed force?

And finally they mentioned SDR 1997, the big if only. Shame it was never truly funded.

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 9:21 am


Currently both the Harpoon and SLAM-ER variants! ;)

Peter Elliott
November 6, 2014 9:23 am

I read Zambellas body language says: “This man is talking bollocks and I intend to sort him out.” Which is what he proceeds to do during the next discussion of F35 numbers. I agree Pulford and Barrons were deeply underwhelming by comparison.

My worry is that the F35B will not be mature enough, early enough, to get Zambellas the numbers of jets he wants. Which is why we may see large numbers of USMC AV8B Harriers buzzing round our carriers for the first few years of operation.

November 6, 2014 9:26 am

Isn’t Slam-Er still in development?

Interesting that the Indian/Ozzie P8s will be carrying a different version of Harpoon. Did the US not want to sell the latest&greatest to India, either missile or battle mgt systems wise?

November 6, 2014 9:31 am

Wasn’t IOC for carrier strike going to be declared with 12 onboard?
– leaves two F35Bs into the maintenance hanger, at that crucial moment

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
November 6, 2014 9:36 am

When people mention Sentinel do we mean a new purchase with modifications or using the same 5 we have in even more roles?

Surely an aircraft with the means to prosecute Submarines is the way forward?

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 9:52 am

SLAM-ER has been used operationally a number of times. Tomahawk usually gets the headlines.

ITAR restrictions limit Indian version of Harpoon (e.g. too many military equipment deals with Russia). Australia are using existing stores from their P-3’s I believe.

@Daniele Mandelli

Yes, the current five with modifications that seem suited to perform an MSA role.

November 6, 2014 9:54 am

Interesting piece.

What is clear is that F-35 numbers are anything but certain, which takes us back to the announced 14 number and what looks increasingly like a drop to just 6 fast jet squadrons, and that the ISTAR fleet issue looks like its going to be a major one- as I have suggested before.

The UK comes out of Afghanistan with probably the most comprehensive (and expensive) ISTAR fleet outside the US, but it doesn’t have an MPA which it really needs. The issue is what to do with that ISTAR fleet, is it all needed, can it be rationalized etc, and can money be extracted from it to cover at least part of the MPA cost.

Ian Skinner
Ian Skinner
November 6, 2014 10:20 am

Re Sentinel: A Contract was recently announced to upgrade the radar on the existing aircraft- so I doubt that we will see new purchases.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
November 6, 2014 10:28 am

Two’s company; three’s a crowd…or four in this case. The more I consider it, the more I feel that the modern Air Force needs relegating to a suitably subordinate position to the two main fighting services.

Pulford creditably maintains the smarmy, supercillious, smug demeanour of previous post-holders over the last 30 years, but brings nothing to the table but waffle. A truly unimpressive Service Chief, in my opinion.

The RAF has outstanding provenance, but excellence in fighter capabilities aside, it has a clear secondary role in supporting the other services, and should be made to recognise its place. Having a full presence at the table is counter-productive to the focus we need on the Navy and Army and their power-projection and battle-winning remits.

November 6, 2014 10:56 am

Interesting French take on their Atlantique 2s’ evolution from MPA to MMA:


it sounds very much like a Nimrod MRA4 to be honest!

November 6, 2014 10:57 am


You may need to add one or two of those jets to an ocu to train pilots. With 14 ordered IOC maybe 4-6 jet available. As has been obvious for years fastjet number and f35 number in particular will be no were near grand ideas of carrier strike air wings.

November 6, 2014 11:02 am

I can’t bite my tongue…


1 sentinel is part of the “all the assets the government have will be used to try to find and help remaining hostages [after the brutal murders of UK citizens] – {that was a month ago – and the PM I assume knows where they are…}

1 sentinel is seeking Boko Haram in Africa [and I assume the PM, for operational security cant tell us he knows where those kidnapped schoolgirls are]

1 sentinel is in Ukraine to ‘monitor the crisis’ as the winter sets in and tensions mount.

1 sentinel is undergoing modifications to its radar so it can add maritime capability

while the other one is equally performing miracles, I mean supporting HM government, with its keystone cop foreign policy…

5 aircraft does not a MMA, MPA or what ever else you want to call it…

Does no-one else outside of this forum care/see this?

November 6, 2014 11:05 am

“Which is why we may see large numbers of USMC AV8B Harriers buzzing round our carriers for the first few years of operation.”
Indeed, possibly supported by his comments about standing in for a American carrier on low rate sortie operations in CAS with the mention of the USS Carl Vincent in the Gulf performing 108 sorties a week against IS. The US will be looking to free up as much as the Fifth Fleet as possible for more operations in the Eastern Indian Ocean and the Pacific long term. The last thing the US want is a Nuclear Battle Group tied up on CAS operations in a brush war when they need to posture against their latest bogey man China. We need to avoid though like the plague the US off loading more aspects of ME over watch , yes we may have created the mess back in 1914-18 but they have fuelled the fire there.
With you all the way on the Sentinel numbers and overstretch , to cover our EEZ effectively alone 24/7 will take minimum 5 aircraft .

Peter Elliott
November 6, 2014 11:35 am

For me (and I suspect 1SL) Sentinel MMA only works alongside an armed MPA MMA and not instead of.

Pulford does seem a bit of a broken reed. But at least the RAF may get something out of the RN’s successful ‘ships first the rest will follow’ political gambit. ie Zambellas is currently making a cogent case for SDSR15 delivering a larger RAF.

The ones who should be really worried are the Royal Loamshire Capbadgers who arr likely to be culled without mercy.

November 6, 2014 11:42 am


Larger RAF – I assume you mean by F35 numbers ? The radar upgrade to sentinel suggests a temporary (ie several years) fix is going to be the immediate solution ?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
November 6, 2014 11:44 am

Except that the Royal loamshire Capbadgers are likely to have the lobbying power of most of the Tory party, the majority of the SNP and all of UKIP to deploy in their favour. It’ll make the 2RRF campaign look like a “missing cat” neighbourhgood leafletting exercise.

Unfortunately, impasse looms methinks,

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 11:46 am

Based on a balanced MOD budget, fully funded allocated equipment plan, known amounts of unallocated funding and ring-fenced contingency fund, an annual +1% ROI increase, 2% GDP spend expectation and a 20% R&D / New Equipment pledge with a requirement which even that bloke with the dog down the pub knows is a considerable capability risk if the gap isn’t filled…

…we should be looking at a blend of Sentinel, sufficient numbers of a P-8 scale MPA (not saying an actual P-8) and a full fledged remote-piloted MSA solution (e.g. Triton or SeaSpray Reaper) to complement and take us into the future.

Instead we’re potentially looking at 5 x overworked Sentinels, a couple reconditioned kit bashed J-Hercs and single digits worth of a turboprop that Portugal considers to be “adequate”.

“Credible” is a word being bandied around an awful lot by Zambellas at the moment…

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 11:55 am


Sentinel R1 work reflects three key items:

1) Complete the consolidation of communications and other equipment
2) Software changes to the ASTOR radar to add in maritime functions (e.g. ISAR, specific decluttering, etc)
3) Optical sensor upgrade, believed to be inserting the DB-110 sensor into the canoe.

DB-100 likely to be cannibalised from the RAF’s existing Tornado RAPTOR pods, with Sentinel taking on the role filled by RAPTOR once Tornado retires.

There would be three pods left over if five are cannibalised (how many RAPTORS watching ISIS right now, or is that just LITENING II? I forget.) which could make it over to Reaper after Tornado retirement as well.

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 12:04 pm


Ungh, it’s so frustrating. We’re {–this–} close to forming the basis of modernised full-spectrum services despite the budget environment and you see inter-service disagreements bubbling over into Select Committees once again.

No unified voice to fight off election year budgets.

November 6, 2014 12:10 pm

And carry on normal jogging.
Why can we not base our MMA on an airframe with a side cargo door so as to allow modular fits and consolidate all our ISTAR/MPA etc in one airframe.

Some more A330 MRTT/C 40 Clipper style airframes if height and speed are desirable.

November 6, 2014 12:10 pm

“almost wilful ignorance of the reality of their respective services states”
It struck me that they did not use the loaded questions put to them by the committee to push their respective/joint services requirements above and beyond repeating in effect ‘if you ask us to do no more ,we can deliver’ but what have they been asked to deliver begs the question?

Peter Elliott
November 6, 2014 12:15 pm


I think the openning gambit to the new government should be that strategic priorities require: Sentinel upgrade plus a squadron of P8; 5 Typhoon squadrons plus 4 F35B squadrons.

The new set of pollies can then decide whether to fund that force (within the 2%) or to row back very publically from our international commitments.

Whether 1SL is saying that sort of thing behind closed doors is unknown. But watching his face it wouldn’t surprise me.

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
November 6, 2014 12:27 pm

Re. the AV-8B Harriers, the USMC are bringing the planned retirement date forward from 2030 to 2025.

Would it be sensible for the FAA to buy them, it looks more and more that the buy of 138 F-35B’s is a pipe dream and that 48 may be optimistic. The cost of the used AV-8 price compared to the cost of a F-35B would be miniscule (assuming airframes having ‘enough’ hours remaining).

The big advantage is the additional numbers which in any military conflict is paramount. You would have a two tier fleet of lead F-35B’s and and AV-8B’s, but it could be made into an effective and realistic force.

PS Never should have sold the 72 UK Harriers to USMC for £116 million which would not pay for a single F-35B.


November 6, 2014 12:57 pm

Remind me, are we still pretending that we’re going to scrap Sentinel in two months’ time?

Peter Elliott
November 6, 2014 12:57 pm

The failure of the UK Harrier fleet went way back before 2010. The initial decision to buy 2 separate single service fleets of “Harrier 2” and the withdrawal of the Sea Harriers in 07 meant yhat by 2010 the remaining fleet were not fit for modern multi-role use. While the Maritime Air gap is regrettable keeping the RAF Harriers in 2010 would not have fixed anything.

As for the USMC AV8B, which is what we should have developed and bought ourselves in the 1990s, the undermatch between them and any modern fighter-bomber by 2025 makes it not worth the crew, spares and support cost of picking them up.

For better or worse we are committed to F35B. How many squadrons (pick a number between 1 and 4) will be determined by the politics of ‘credibility’.

November 6, 2014 12:58 pm


Rory Stewart a great white hope!

No1 Daughter met him at a symposium 2 years ago designed to interest kids in politics. In the parlance of the driver who to the 12 or so kids in the minibus.she “did his legs” by the devious trick of answering a straight question and insisting on a straight answer.

After the meeting… I shit you not, he needed a flunky to show him how to operate a ball point pen.

There is a story about a church tower doing the rounds. And the phrase ‘wouldn’t send him to post a letter’ has been mentioned.

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 1:06 pm
November 6, 2014 1:18 pm


Yep! If the RAF and FAA had gone down a Joint Force Harrier route by developing a singular fighter/bomber solution in the early 1990’s then perhaps the UK would still have some in service today.

Although part of me thinks that when it came to choosing between FJ fleets no matter how up-to date and looked after the Harrier could have been the RAF would have still fought tooth and nail for it’s long-range strike ‘bomber’ Tornado’s above and beyond anything else.

I guess a multi-role version of the Harrier in service does pose the tantalizing possibility of the FAA perhaps being able to retain a small number of air-frames for carrier ops by itself post 2010 even if the RAF had decided it didn’t want to operate it’s share of the fleet anymore.

All hindsight and what if’s though.

Jeremy M H
November 6, 2014 1:42 pm

@Aubrey’s Shadow

I think those wanting the RAF to be clearly subordinated to the other services are, quite frankly, barking mad. Air warfare is a distinct, complex and very specialized field of operation. You can’t just fold them in or place them under the other services without doing a good bit of damage in my opinion. I am a big US Navy supporter on my side of the pond but I recognize the lengths the USN had to go to just to push aviation forward within the service back when it was getting off the ground and the major conflicts it still creates within the service itself. There is a constant tension between protecting the skills and advancement paths for all the various aspects of the USN. Its kind of the price you pay for that size but I see no need for the RAF to be absorbed by the RN and Army. Air combat, bombing campaigns and other such things need dedicated officers and planning groups to happen. You would waste as much time sorting out just who was going to be boss in any combined structure as you might save. I see no upside there.


If someone really wanted to consolidate a lot of aircraft onto one airframe family in the future I really don’t see how the P-8, Wedgetail combination isn’t the logical choice to make. You could fairly simply make plans to replace Sentinel, AWACS and add an MPA capability with stuff that basically all already exist on these platforms.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
November 6, 2014 1:56 pm

I agree Jeremy MH

RAF bashers out again I see. Ridiculous.

For me its the RN and the RAF that need to be the priorities. A big army is not needed unless we are going to occupy other peoples countries, and neither worked out too well last time we did.

Jeremy M H
November 6, 2014 2:22 pm


Well then we are back to the discussion of just what the primary goal of the defense budget is. Is it a jobs program or is it to be capability driven? I have no doubt Airbus could build the same type of aircraft (the A320 and 737 might as well be the same plane really as they are very similar in capability) but the R&D would be very high. The fact of the matter is the UK’s situation is drastically different from the one the US operates in. The US won’t incur much, if any, additional cost from choosing the 767 tanker over the A330 one. The same can’t be said for the UK if it decided that it needed an A320 based MPA. The UK doesn’t have the purchasing power. That is just reality.

I don’t really care one way or another. But the UK no longer buys on the scale where it can keep contractors in business and provide all the capabilities it seems to want. I think that you can still maintain robust capabilities and a strong industrial core in defense. But I don’t think you can do everything that way.

November 6, 2014 2:30 pm

Thanks Jeremy MH and Daniele M. Put it better than this crab could.

Back to the subject;

The Sentinel fleet would need expanding, even in 1’s and 2’s, if it was to take on a maritime patrol capability ontop of tasking’s (PJS, you forgot one airframe for training/in depth maintenance!), it is one of our most in demand ISR assets, both in HM forces ops and in demand by our allies. Having it also maintain a home-waters role, it would need expanding in numbers unless we foresee a dramatic reduction in operations, intel gathering and participation in allied operations.

I still think we should, if funds allow, follow the RAAF example… a combination (which the USN also hopes to achieve), be it a UAV and fixed wing, or a high-low mix of fixed wing. P-8 would be great, but the cost would mean a small and peace-meal fleet that will barely cover the gap and would take years to expand on; little near term return for a huge initial cost. If we really need a more speedily measure in a meaningful number, a MMA is the only way we can seriously do it with our stretched funds.

For once, the RN seems to want the RAF to go for an all-singing-all-dancing Gucci option… don’t blame them, but reality bites.

November 6, 2014 2:39 pm

@Jeremy M H

‘future I really don’t see how the P-8, Wedgetail combination isn’t the logical choice’

But from the video Both General Barrons and ACM Pulford don’t seem to agree they stressed a few times not necessarily an aircraft and if it was it would be multi role. I don’t see how you get multi role efficiency without modular systems whatever airframe you choose.

@Daniele Mandelli

I’d cut the army so as to get a deployable medium weight capability (which has shown time and again since the Balkans that this is what we needed) with the money. If I was the head of the army I’d think he would be well within his rights to tell the other 2 services to jog on if they wanted to spaff a large amount of money on something like the P8 when a large part of the army is not even mechanised, the P8 is not the only game in town.

Jeremy M H
November 6, 2014 2:44 pm


Very true. That is really the big question though. What priority comes first? Honestly that is the first defense question I think needs to be answered in the 2015 review is what are going to be our core industrial competencies that the MOD needs to support and where are we just going to buy the best fit available for the need. This should actually be something you can calculate fairly accurately as you should have some idea about what the life cycles of products and the R&D cost for replacements are. You know what you need to spend on equipment and what is left for R&D. I think some of the smaller European nations have a good grasp on this (Norway is a good example in my mind).

RE: P-8

Just something to keep in mind for most who seem to think you could slowly expand such a fleet. Production of the P-8 for the USN will be finished in the 2019 fiscal year. Peak production is coming in the next few years so if one wants to get the best price on the airframe you don’t actually have that long to make decisions on the thing. I am sure you could still get them build after that but it may be a bit more difficult depending on what happens in that manufacturing space as the P-8 winds down.

Jeremy M H
November 6, 2014 2:46 pm


I think the benefits of “modular” anything are drastically overrated. For a few things it certainly makes sense. But it can be taken way too far.

November 6, 2014 2:50 pm

@Jeremy M H

‘I think the benefits of “modular” anything are drastically overrated.’

Modular is good enough, we have the best anti submarine helicopters in their class and a world beating sonar would it really be too hard to live with a good enough MPA system, given our current finances?

November 6, 2014 3:43 pm

@Jeremy M H – The P-8 is manufactured on the same line as civilian 737s, the difference being the military equipment needed for the MPA role. Since the 737 is going to be built for years to come and the P-8 will need spare parts for years to come, the airframe and military equipment should be available for years to come in the event more P-8s are needed by someone.

@TD – I don’t think “modularity” is nearly as important as “commonality.” I seriously doubt that equipment is going to be shifted from one airframe to another (especially in an a/c with no rear ramp), but having the same flying and landing bits will mean that you only need one set of airframe and engine guys. Therefore, the P-8/Wedgetail, or even the MPA/AEW versions of the C295, make more sense than trying to stuff everything into one airframe, unless you hang everything on y’all’s hybrid airship, although survivability in that case might be an issue! :D

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
November 6, 2014 3:49 pm

David Niven

Off topic but I agree actually. I would happily see some Infantry Battalions cut to enable us to make 1st Division a fully 3 deployable Brigade Structure with Foxhound and / or future medium weight vehicle. Why have 7 Infantry Brigades of differing sizes in the Adaptable force when only 2 are deployable as there are not enough enablers like extra Artillery, Engineer, REME and RAMC enablers. All cut stupidly in SDSR10. Not to mention that the adaptable force has no organic RS element either. Cut them so we have 2 deployable divisions, 1 Heavy, 1 Medium. Light is 16AAB and 3 Cdo.

Oh and still prioritise the RN and RAF power projection capabilities! :-)

I also think you have a valid point with our existing ASW capabilities with Merlin, SOSUS or IUSS or whatever its called these days, T23 towed sonar and the SSN’s themselves. An ASW aircraft is still needed but it doesn’t need to be Gold plated.

Something beyond using existing Sentinels please??? They cannot take on Submarines and are already in use elsewhere. Its like the Merlin to the CHF all over again, robbing Peter to pay Paul by nicking other in use assets for the job.

November 6, 2014 3:59 pm

Hi Mark,

I was trying to be funny with that crucial moment (blink, and miss all the 12 aboard!).

Anyway, Defence IQ has drafted an overview, so which of these three concepts (if any) could be fulfilled with 4-6, as apart of the overall embarked airwing?

“shift in emphasis during the SDSR from highlighting the Carrier Strike role to emphasising the wider roles and flexibility of the Queen Elizabeth-class, in particular with regard to operating helicopters and providing support to amphibious operations.
Carrier Enabled Power Projection seeks to deliver a broader, more flexible spectrum of capability than a traditional carrier-operating concept. That is, in addition to being capable of delivering a carrier strike capability with up to 36 F-35s, CEPP calls for the Queen Elizabeth-class to also be capable of delivering options such as an all-helicopter air-group (potentially up to around 40 helicopters), or a mixed air-group comprising both fixed-wing aircraft and multiple rotary-wing types (up to 12 Merlin, a small number of Chinook and up to eight Apache helicopters alongside 12 F-35s). It warrants emphasising that the flexibility of the Queen Elizabeth-class is derived from the size of the vessels and the expansive flight deck such size confers: the size of the carriers was originally determined by the required weight of offensive airpower, calculated to be 36 fast jets undertaking two sorties per day for five consecutive days, to provide a medium-scale air capability. In essence, CEPP seeks to provide a capability more akin to that of an LHD, such as the US Wasp-class, rather than a conventional aircraft carrier.”

November 6, 2014 4:00 pm

@TD – “A bit like the USAF buying A330 tankers.” It looked for a while like the Northrop Grumman/EADS A330MRTT would be the KC-30 in USAF parlance. I won’t go into what happened in the bidding wars, but the KC-30 would have been built in the US per requirements of US law. :/

November 6, 2014 4:29 pm


Modular means many things.

But in this case it means we no longer have the cash for multiple types of transport device. Whether it has wheels, wings, or it floats.

It means you get x space y weight and z power supply to play with now make fit whatever you want to fit. Because we are going to order 60 transport units. Not 20 of type A. 20 of vehicle type C. Or 5 type B and 5 type. D

The Other Chris
November 6, 2014 4:35 pm


Think that was Final Assembly to be conducted at the NG facility in Alabama.

November 6, 2014 5:29 pm

@TOC – Absolutely correct. Mobile, Alabama, to be exact.

Jeremy M H
November 6, 2014 6:06 pm

I agree, and that makes sense for a great many things if you are able to make use of a common module carrier. I like the concept of the German AFV (Boxer I think?) where you can simply sit different kits on the back of it. Great utility has been had by many nations in things put on large trucks. The C-130 has been a great aircraft to do all sorts of things with.

But its an issue of cost on some level. For these ideas to really work out great you need a reasonably priced vehicle that is carrying the modules. It also varies from platform to platform. Finding a way to create a common drive train and basic chassis for a medium weight military 8 wheeled vehicle and then using it for all sorts of things makes great sense. You are buying a lot of them, the cost is right so go ahead and do it. Doing the same things with the A400m as many have suggested is not nearly as convincing of a case because of the relatively low numbers in service, the high cost of the base platform and the cost of integration. You may wind up paying the same or more for a modified aircraft than you would just buying the specialist frame.


It is built alongside the 737 but is its own production line.



Both of these speak to how it works. All the 737’s are built in the same place but the P-8 line is a different and secured line and space. There are two commercial 737 lines and then the P-8 line. I never said it would be impossible to get one once the US is done. But getting one to the same standards and for the same cost may be a challenge. Boeing won’t let that space go empty and they are converting to the 737 Max at some point rather than the NG (on which the P-8 is based) as well. Likely wouldn’t be much of an issue but you never know. Once that third line is done with US orders Boeing would likely task it to other production in short order. Seeing as the 737 and A320 production lines are subscribed years and years in advance it isn’t quite as easy as some might hope.

RE A330 Tanker

This is what you get with scale. When the contracted production run for an aircraft is roughly 20% of all that were built commercially (200 vs roughly 1000) and the likely production run being more on the order of 300 plus airframes you can set some rules like that and people will meet them.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
November 6, 2014 7:01 pm

Not interested in bashing the RAF, just the prima donnas who frequently run it, to the detriment of the bigger defence picture. The point is that given the few sovereign overseas air bases, with unfettered access and in range of potential trouble spots do not lend themselves to any meaningful power projection. Neither do a handful of squadrons of FJs of 1980s vintage with short legs, or 21st Century vintage, with limited weapons integration (and short legs). So the primary role of the RAF in most future scenarios will be logistics, transport, tanking (but not all of its own aircraft) intelligence and very geographically limited air defence/intercept and very possibly the odd multi-tanked twin-ship bombing adventure if there are enough tankers and we get over-flight rights in Europe.

My view is that this does not lend itself to a seat at the top table any more. Not advocating a merged or subsumed service, just that it is headed by an Air Marshall. Then you wouldn’t have so much of the fanciful episode of the committee meetings where the politics was so shamefully at play.

It’s simply recognising that the RAF should focus on what it does so bloody well, and protecting it from the consequences of fighting logic.

The Ginge
The Ginge
November 6, 2014 9:28 pm

Can I ask a couple of questions:
1. If we have a world beater in the Merlin, why can we not stick it inside Herc/A400 etc as it fits in a Merlin cab, I presume sonar bouys dropped from a plane or helicopter transmit in similar manner etc. Sticking a copy ofthe Merlin back cab in a container must be possible ?
2. How knackered are the c130k’s ? As I believed they were shagged. Or can Marshall reboot them, as we’ve paid for them reroloing for SF and MPA/MMA Or whatever we are calling it. Since all the kits built for the C130 maybe a cheap option.
3. I thought Sentinal could not carry sonar bouys or torpedoes ? If it can’t how does that make it possible to hunt subs ?
Sorry for questions but I am struggling to see where the Chiefs were going ?

November 6, 2014 11:08 pm

Isn’t the point being made that _currently_ we have a capability gap for MPA, but in 2025 our _only_ air istar platforms will be scavenger and watchkeeper. The capability gap is much larger than MPA and so if we spunk all our money on MPA now we’re well buggered in the longer term because there is no additional money.

The point made is that expected technology advances by 2025 mean that at that point we could have a common air istar fleet of MMAs that do AEW&C AGS ELINT ASW and ASuW. abd fundamentally this saves lots of money at the cost of a short term capability gap.

November 7, 2014 8:58 am

We are only just entering the Airseekers into service??
– ref Hannay & 2025

November 7, 2014 3:56 pm

I thought the F-35 debate at least as significant as the MPA/MMA one.

Reading the sub-text ACM Pulford wants no more than 3 F-35B Squadrons to equip one carrier as there will only ever be one carrier available.

Admiral Zambellas recognises that potentially both carriers could be operational at the same time and therefore there needs to be 6 F-35B Squadrons to deal with this higher potential.

So the great irony. RAF doesn’t want fast jets but the Royal Navy does!!!

The Other Chris
November 7, 2014 4:27 pm

RAF want A’s, RN need B’s. B’s don’t hamstring the RAF, A’s hamstring the RN. Neither benefits from subfleets, they risk losing their fleet once they can’t generate sufficient flights (c.f. Harrier decision). At the current numbers being discussed, with F-35 maintenance/availability models not yet proven, the two services must pool for mutual longevity.

Peter Elliott
November 7, 2014 4:30 pm

Andy C I read it slightly differently though no less ironically.

Pulford knows it will be both cheaper and easier to stick with Typhoon for the moment standing up only a token F35B force (maybe a single squadron initially) to prove the concept. He will be fearful of having to cut perfectly good Tranche 2 and 3 Typoons to pay for unproven and immature F35Bs. Zambellas wants as many F35B as possible and is prepared to make a political case for it.

Take also the arguments for an ASW-MPA into account and the 1SL is almost certainly arguing for a bigger RAF than is the CAS.

The question of who is right really depends on the flyaway cost and operational maturity of F35B, and on the threat picture, in around 2020. Neither of which we won’t know for a while yet.

November 7, 2014 5:39 pm

@Chuck Hill, et al. – P-3 Pilots refer to the “Decade of the Desert” as they were used over both Iraq and Afghanistan.

November 7, 2014 5:45 pm

@TOC – Ideally, the RN should lease F-35Bs, build the PoW as a CATOBAR CV, start buying F-35Cs, then convert the QE to CATOBAR. Once that conversion is done, the F-35Bs could go back to the USMC. The RAF should just buy the F-35C for it’s superior range and load carrying capability. Solves the hamstrining issue. :D

Jeremy M H
November 7, 2014 6:58 pm


I feel like I have said this until I am blue in the face but people really need to stop viewing leasing as some sort of magical solution. Something can really only be leased under two circumstances. The first is that the lessor makes a full return on their investment plus some income for the time value of their money under the terms of the lease (ie you pay the full price of the aircraft plus interest over X number of years). At the end of such lease you can generally take ownership of the asset for a token payment or walk away from it. The second is that there is a strong and known resale market for that asset and thus you can pay some percentage of the lessors acquisition cost off over the course of a few years and then they can sell the asset for more than they still have on the books.

Military aircraft generally don’t fit this paradigm. Certainly not military fighter aircraft. You have to have an established market that would be willing to buy your second hand fighter for it to work.

November 7, 2014 10:09 pm

@Jeremy M H – Most automotive leases I’ve seen recently are quite affordable (2 years/12,000 mi/yr) with dealer maintenance included. The problem is if you want to keep the car it’s almost full price at the end of your 2 years. As for who would want an F-35B at the end of the lease, the USMC will almost certainly be giddy at the prospect of getting more. With the promise of purchasing significant numbers of F-35C CATOBAR aircraft for the RAF/RN (ONE type for both services with software possibly being the only differentiating factor), I’m certain L-M and the DOD people involved would go for the idea!

Actually, I don’t HMG, the RN, and the RAF agreeing to my modest suggestion. In fact, they’d all probably open veins rather than go for something so eminently logical.

Jeremy M H
November 7, 2014 10:38 pm


So your eminently logical suggestion is that the UK pay a lease on an aircraft for 5-10 years (when you would probably pay at least 33% the cost of the aircraft in lease payments) and then turn around and buy brand new aircraft at the end of it? This is a suggestion to save the UK money right?

I have no doubt the USMC would love to buy some gently used F-35’s for half price. The problem is that the person leasing the aircraft prior to that has to make up the difference plus interest.

November 8, 2014 5:33 am

Jeremy, how does the Oz Super Hornet 10-year lease fit into your theory?

Or, rather the other way round, as the deal is the observed reality.

November 8, 2014 5:49 am

One loose thought into the discussion. Some people bother to stop and analyse the share of initial capital outlay in the life-time cost of a platform/ weapon system….and it can be as small as 15%.

The rationale for operating something like Seedcorn for so long (to 2017) for 70 staff (I think someone said, but add overseas relocation of their families) must have had a very strong rationale to get funded
=> what pointers does this give? Rather than just a remedy to a skills fade, how big will the benefit be in using the operational experience in evaluations? Undoubtedly big. Like Mark pointed out, £20b has already been spent on ASW platforms of various kinds. So where is the gap:
– in ASW
– in SAR far out
– in surveillance generally

Knowing the requirement is a good start to evaluating the potential solutions?

November 8, 2014 6:46 am

“Jeremy, how does the Oz Super Hornet 10-year lease fit into your theory?”

Sorry, what lease is this? They were bought outright.

November 8, 2014 7:29 am

I don’t think so… These pages contain discussion about the deal, just tgat I can’t ever make the search function work.

The proportion within the total that received Growler wiring as a factory fit was raised subsequently, i.e. the terms of the deal were altered. It was never reported whether this was at tge lessor’s or lessee’s initiative.

November 8, 2014 9:56 am

Saab have been leasing gripens for years.

November 8, 2014 10:41 am

And Drakens before that
…those deals were often followed by an outright sale of a newer (or heavily customised) version of Draken
– by the time those rolled off the assembly line, everything was in place with the recipient to support them.

November 8, 2014 12:04 pm

The answer to the question is obviously: “When you won’t afford a proper MPA.” Can’t doesn’t come into it. This country has £49 billion tied up in premium bonds. Odds against winning – 28 billion to one.