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cancellation of the much troubled and much delayed MRA4 but of course, it was slightly earlier as the Nimrod MR2 was withdrawn.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was to state that what the UK must not do is jump at something in the here and now because it could very rapidly be out of date.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.