An Unfashionable Answer to the Nimrod Question

The fever pitch surrounding the UK’s yet to be announced maritime patrol, or perhaps more accurately, multi-mission, aircraft, is getting unbearable. The not very secret but terribly hush-hush trip aboard the Kawasaki P-1 by RAF officers, the rush of Russian submarine stories in the media and multi forum discussions about the relative advantages of business jets over unmanned types or even whether four engines are better than two or MAD is yesterday’s news, or not, continues unabated.

There is no doubt the P-8 is the real deal, it is capable, has a clear development path and is supportable.

Many think the UK and other users can effectively freeload off the back of the US Navy. After all, they will pay for all the future developments and clearances and then make sure Boeing let us have them at ‘mates rates’


I also think there is a great deal of wishful thinking about leveraging the 737 user base to drive down support costs, people assuming this will translate into supporting a military product, with the MAA and an integrated support contract in tow?

We will be purchasing a military product in small quantities with all that this entails, make no mistake.

There are also issues to resolve, lightweight torpedo for example, do we opt for the US Mk54 or integrate Stingray, or do we follow the Indian path and make sure the MAD boom is fitted, or stick with the medium to high altitude vision as defined by the US Navy.

That said, if we want to get a capable aircraft into service soon to fill Nimrods big shoes, an aircraft that above all else will be supportable and supported, one that has benefitted from UK experience and provides a return on our SEEDCORN investment, and we are thinking with our heads;


I may well have said this once or twice but what makes this such an interesting subject is its implications beyond MPA/MMA. If we buy a P8 we are effectively giving Boeing a de-facto monopoly on NATO maritime patrol aircraft because P3’s and Atlantiques, however well they are upgraded, have a relatively short life. It also means that when the time comes to replace 707 based SIGINT and AEW&C aircraft, the only show in town will be from Boeing.

In a previous short post I also commented on the palpable desire from many quarters to consign Sentinel to the scrapheap as soon as possible to pave the way for a P8 purchase that could be turned into a Sentinel replacement by hanging a pod underneath it.

Another de-facto victory to Boeing (and a mistake I think)

I have no axe to grind against Boeing whatsoever but are we really sure we want to slide into giving a single US company a monopoly on a large and expanding sector of UK, European and NATO defence capability.

What about the P1?

The P1 might have some element of thinking with our hearts because clearly, it has been designed from scratch for the ASW role, right down to the big cockpit and observation windows.

The Japanese have some very advanced technology, an equally serious attitude to ASW, a commitment to producing many P1’s and a desire for more defence industrial engagement.

I think many people would quite like to see the P1 win any future UK competition but it is not quite as advanced programmatically as the P8, is an unknown in cost terms and represents a greater risk overall than the P8.

Using a business jet platform, perhaps in conjunction with unmanned systems is postulated by many to the ‘way of the future’ and the new F sized sonobuoys that follow the general trend of electronics miniaturisation mean using unmanned aircraft to place them becomes a realistic possibility, subject to confirmation of course.

Even the proposed Sea Hercules has some merit; it might not be a product anyone can touch yet but the technology components all exist, ease of integration of other complex systems onto the Hercules has been well proven. Pending structural assessment, the donor airframes exist and so does much of the support infrastructure. There is a lot to be said for developing a modular fit for Hercules or even Atlas in the medium term.

The smart money is clearly on the P8 with the P1 as a credible contender, although we should be very clear with Japan and not string them along because that would be damaging for the longer term and potentially fruitful defence relationship.

The general point here is a simple one, there are loads of options and all of them are good. It is unusual to have so many mature or maturing offerings to choose from.

But hang on a second.

When did we give up our ambition, when has our risk appetite sunk to such a monumentally low level that the default solution is buy from the USA?

Is the UK and Europe destined to be merely a customer of US products and a subcontractor to US defence organisations?

Have we learned nothing from the F35, a project designed specifically to create a US monopoly and eliminate Europe from any kind of ability to design and build complex combat aircraft, or the USAF tanker competition, or Brimstone, or efforts to stop Paveway IV being sold abroad.

I don’t blame the US defence industry for seeking market dominance and I don’t blame the US government for wanting to buy domestic products, but do we have to help them on their way?

No, we don’t.

We should also observe that the P8, and the P1 to the same extent, carry out their tasks in a pretty similar way to the Nimrod MR2 and P3 Orion that they replace. Of course they have moved the state of the art forward but they are both medium sized aircraft that carry sonobuoys and weapons. Both were started many years ago, critically, before the revolution in airborne, surface and sub-surface unmanned technology, autonomy, artificial intelligence and large scale data analytics.

But whoa I hear you say.

Have we equally learned nothing from Typhoon and A400M, European projects are a nightmare and we need an MPA right now, not in a decade plus time.

All good points, allow me to address them.

No doubt, Typhoon and Atlas have not been a showcase for how to manage multinational complex projects, both have taken longer to develop and cost more than anticipated but no more than any other development project of similar magnitude. Doing complex things is hard, takes time and costs serious money, especially when those complex things are at the cutting edge.

We should also be able to look at where those projects went wrong and avoid repetition.

We need a maritime patrol aircraft now for our struggle with that nice Mr Putin and with the increasing importance of ISR in our generational struggle with militant Islam (in all its various guises), a multi mission aircraft.

The counter to that is, well, we have done without a maritime patrol aircraft since 2011. Yes, we have operated at risk, yes we have had to rely on allies and yes, the risk environment has changed somewhat since 2011, but the world has not stopped turning.

Pretty much all of our European allies have opted to update their Orion’s or Atlantique’s so for the short to medium term, one could make a reasonable argument that the European MPA capability will be maintained in both quality and quantity.

So a question arises, could the UK continue to rely on our allies for the short to medium term for maritime patrol requirements by trading some of our capabilities, simply contributing to costs and formalising the ad hoc arrangements we have relied upon since 2011?

I am not sure if there would be enough to go around but if they have been covering our requirements since 2011 then logically, there is. Whether this level of capacity can be maintained for the next x number of years is an unknown.

Given that the sharing and pooling of resources is widely recognised to be an essential element of future collective defence, why not.

Seriously, why not?

For the multi mission requirement, what is the great big urgent gap that needs filling?

We have a range of excellent ISR capabilities, world beating in many cases, all of them have plenty of life left in them, and all of them have development options for the medium term.

The MPA requirement is therefore a great deal more urgent than the MMA requirement.

By pooling our allies MPA and sharing our ISR assets, a breathing space into which a replacement for European P3/Atlantique/Nimrod can be developed.

This does not need to be an A319/320 MPA either, I asked whether the ASW role needs to be delivered by a P8/P1 looky likey.

The answer is maybe, maybe not.

Textron have shown clearly that with a careful approach, a realistic set of performance objectives and selective use of bespoke and off the shelf components, aircraft can be developed in relatively short order. This isn’t a pitch for the Scorpion by the way, just a point about how fast aircraft can be developed.

The European aerospace industry has an enormous well of system components from which to draw. Mission systems, flight control software, undercarriage, sensors, weapons and crew toilets are all available off the shelf.

As mentioned above, unmanned and autonomous air, surface and sub-surface could form part of the solution. Business jet sized aircraft could also feature. An aircraft would also be designed to provide a range of ISR capabilities, a common aircraft for SIGINT, AEW&C, SAR/GMTI and even a weapons carrier. Not in the same aircraft at the same time, but a common base platform designed from the ground up using a range of common components already available and in production.

So to summarise, let’s not rush in, work with our allies on practical pooling and sharing and develop a European replacement for Atlantique, Orion and Nimrod that takes advantage of the revolution in unmanned systems, autonomy and sensors.

Failing that, if we all OK with just buying off Uncle Sam, let’s just get on with buying the P8 because the constant hype is getting boring now!

P8A Poseidon

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July 22, 2015 9:25 pm

You diplomatically dodged the A400 MPA bullet quite nicely TD!
I don’t like the P8 I see it as the thickening end of the wedge, we’ll end up with a host of 737 clones, though but to honest, I don’t see it as the answer to any of our future ISTAR/MMA/MPA/AWACS desires, it’s a ford transit with a 13 gallon tank and no more, calling it Poseiden doesn’t make it a god either…

Pic: Poseiden enjoying a P8 flypast

From Luddite Lodge
From Luddite Lodge
July 22, 2015 9:26 pm

Has the UK yet reached an age where we forget everything that happened recently and remember those things of years ago?
Have we forgotten the fiasco of two recent Boeing products, the Special Forces Chinooks and the threat to the Apache fleet? Together this is over a possible billion pounds of products where the British tax payer will not get full value.
The Kawasaki looks a potent tool, what do we want ? The latest in fly by light with four engines or an adapted 737?

July 22, 2015 9:38 pm

If I remember right the justification for reworking MR2 into the RMPA (that’s replacement Maritime Patrol Aircraft for those with short memories) was that the mission profiles demanded an aircraft with large area deep chord wings to enable long duration flight at low level? Something like that. So what’s changed in our required mission profiles? How come a perfectly average civil passenger jet is now adequate for the job?

July 22, 2015 9:44 pm

@Luddite Lodge: unfortunate examples. The Chinooks were a disaster because the MOD decided those American avionics were too expensive and decided to develop their own systems instead…which failed. It’s hardly Boeing’s fault that the MOD screwed up getting the training pipeline in place to roll out Apache either.

Deciding to develop our own MPA when we’re barely going to make into double figures is insane. Developing a fighter makes a lot more sense, since we’ll buy into the hundreds. Just buy the fucking P8 and stop this ridiculous over analysis. Anyone in the MOD who is spending more than a week on it should be fired as a matter of course.

July 22, 2015 9:45 pm

If nothing else we should be sending some seedcorn to Japan for their P1. I don’t think it will be as good as the P8 in all aspects but time and time again variety in capabilities is often good, it provides a benchmark, an extra skill or capability and competition for the supplier. We are in danger of giving in too easily to the US. Having said that Wildcat was giving in to easily to ‘domestic’ Westland

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2015 9:51 pm

TD the sonorbuoys may be getting miniaturized but the ordnance isn’t. Lugging decent numbers of Stingray fast out to range will need a certain minimum size and strength of airframe. And that means P8 or P1.

The European governments have no appetite for developing anything new just now. So anything that we do do needs to be UK funded, incremental and on the margins: Surface radar for Reaper and Sentinel; Scorpions in the RN agressor squadron that can double up as maritime bomb trucks. Simple force multipliers.

Peter Elliott
July 22, 2015 9:57 pm
Reply to  Chris

They aren’t standard 737 wings. They strengthened them for the extra stress of the role.

July 22, 2015 11:02 pm

For the British, I think the Boeing P-8 Poseidon is their only option. They can piggy back off America and get the MPA while it’s still in production. They can follow India and make it UK specific while keeping the Airframe.

July 23, 2015 3:44 am
Reply to  Nicky

Sadly I think you are right, reality bites…

July 23, 2015 4:12 am

The UK sent RAF (perhaps RN) personnel to the US, Canada, Australia and NZ for the Seedcorn initiative. NOT Japan (unless they were sent but hush-hush). Exactly how hard would it be to fly and use the P-1 since no RAF personnel have been trained on it?

Lord jim
Lord jim
July 23, 2015 5:29 am

Yes, the P-8 is the only realistic option for the UK. By the time it would enter RAF service it would be a mature platform. Calling it a Transit Van actually highlights one of its real strengths. Like the 707 it is well suited for use in many roles. The UK would need two specific modifications to the US Navy version, namely the fitting of a MAD boom and most importantly a refuelling probe. The former is still very useful in shallower waters and the latter should not be a problem to install. Remember the 707, 727 and 737 basically share the same fuselage, but vary in length. the probe installation on the E-3 could be transplanted on to the P-8 with little difficulty.

Using the 737 as a platform to replace the Sentinel and E-3D also makes perfect sense. Buying 8 to 12 P-8 would be the start followed by 4 to 6 to replace the Sentinel. Fitting the Sentinels mission equipment into a 737 airframe again should not be a lengthy or costly affair. The satellite comms gear blister and the SAR canoe should easily be accommodated, and remember these items together with the terminals were the expensive part of the programme. In fact given the increased airframe size it might even be possible to expand the platforms role, adding a battle management function so that the system it not solely reliant on ground stations. All 12 to 18 platforms could be delivered before 2020 and the ISTAR platform could be seen to have considerable export potential by Boeing as its systems are battle proven as is the airframe. The fact that both platforms could work together, with a joint maintenance programme would also reap benefits.

Post 2020 we will need at look at replacing our E-3D fleet as with NATO with their E-3s. The Australian Wedgetail programme and that of Turkey mean an 737 based AWACS platform would be available with only the need to fit a refuelling probe, but this again would be advantageous to Boeing and a simple task. 4-6 airframes would meet the UK’s needs, but it might be better for the UK to actually join the NATO programme this time, arranging for a permanent NATO detachment to be based in Scotland permanent,y as part of the agreement. This make sense as its role would be to cover the North Cape and GIUK gap, the role the UKs E-3 force currently undertakes in conjunction with NATO.

Finally, airframe management of the 737 fleet could be done by any airline operating the type with mission avionics either done by RAF/civilian contractor at the operating station or at he same airline maintenance facility. Initial pilot training again could be carried out by an airline with mission train being done at the OCU. Alternatively, a small number of basic 737s could be purchased or leased for pilot training and continuity training, similarly to what the NATO E-3 wing did with 707s.

I cannot see any down side to a programme such as this. The fact that the only real alternative to the P-8 is the Japanese P-1 should make all Europe, especially Airbus ashamed. The fact that the US continued to invest heavily in military R&D over the past decades where Europe stagnated at best is our own fault. The delays in the Typhoon and Rafale mean many orders were lost to the F-16 and F-18. Delays in the Atlas have meant lost orders to he C-130 and even the C-17. Delays in ASRAMM have meant that the US have caught up with the AIM-9X and again we have lost orders. The list could go on and on. I have said this before, Europe’s defence companies need to concentrate on building platforms and systems that appeal to many countries and are competitively priced. At the same time Governments need to tailor their requirements to match what is already available or in development, where possible, not always come up with such a comprehensive list as to make a project applicable to one country.

The A320.319 would have made a good competitor to the 737 in military roles as it has in the civilian sector but Airbus have missed the boat. The P-1 will be an excellent platform but like all Japanese products it will be overly expensive, the F-2 being a case in point. All other alternative do not meet the UK’s needs. A turboprop or turbofan platform might be useful as a pure MPA to supplement the P-8s and operated by a civilian agency and allowing the purchase of the lower number of P-8. If said platform could transfer data to another platform it would be a good force multiplier.

An out of the box add on to the above platforms would be for the RAF’s Reapers to be modified to take the proposed CROWSNEST pods and adapt its comms gear to allow transmission to control stations be they airborne, sea based or land based. Together with its already excellent optical sensors it would make an effective. smaller and cheaper alternative to the navalised Global Hawk the US Navy is developing. In addition it could be used over land on operations where a low footprint is needed to provide both AEW and ground surveillance data, identifying enemy UAVs etc. Just a thought.

July 23, 2015 5:51 am

Monopolies will be filled. In this case, my bet is on Dassault.

They’ve all but announced that the new Falcon 5X will include a maritime patrol variant. Dassault already has all the mission equipment Lego blocks. On the avionics side they can port the Atlantique upgrade, including AESA search radar, ASW suite and Thales AMASCOS-derived combat system. On the airframe integration side, they can port elements from existing Falcon 900/200 MPAs, including the radar pod, weapon pylons and sonobuoy launchers.

All that was missing was a large, efficient platform. Falcon 5X solves that, being 50% larger and with longer legs than the previous Falcon 900/2000 MPAs.

This is hardly pie-in-the sky. Boeing is following a similar avionics porting strategy with P-8 avionics in a Challenger 605 airframe. But they have admitted that they will stop short of “weaponization”, obviously to avoid cannibalizing the P-8. Also they are limited by the fact that they are taking stock aircraft from Bombardier’s production line and then integrating systems, which adds costs and reduces scope for airframe changes. Dassault has better odds of putting out a viable solution… and ironically their latest MPA customer is the Japanese Coast Guard!

July 23, 2015 6:25 am

My overriding thought: it’s 12 aircraft, tops. I think if you want to do anything developmental for that number of aircraft, you probably need to have a good look at your priorities. It is one thing to have an industry policy. It’s another to spend money on this when you have so many more priorities and so many more possibilities for export potential.

I also think the US is on the right track re airborne ASW. It is undeniable that there is an increasing SubSAM threat and there is real tactical value in standing off and flying at high level to avoid counter-detection as well as increasing your LOS horizon (for ESM & RF for ‘bouy fields when EMCON silent, radar horizon when you are not). It helps the performance of the aircraft to be sure, but even if you are flying turboprops, you’ll be looking for ways to fly higher sooner rather than later. People carry-on about the need to be low-level for MAD like it is some sort perfect sensor and a rock-solid tactical move, but it is not a search sensor and it will only help you localize and track after you have gained contact. If the tech exists to substitute for MAD in the form of a disposable UAV, why would you not take it and avoid the pitfalls of getting low and close? Cost is not an argument. You can simulate the tactic in training and use a real UAV about as often as you would drop a real weapon – rarely. It’s crazy to risk either counter-detection or the loss of the aircraft for something so inconsequential. Times change, tactics change.

The torpedo issue is a no-brainer as well. 12 aircraft, people. Your old Nimrod weapons are still perfectly usable on your ships and helicopters. They aren’t going to waste. Any mk54s can be easily maintained and have the dual benefit of saving you money on integration as well as making you interoperable with your fabulous allies. There aren’t many downsides that aren’t really about industry featherbedding as opposed to capability. Save the money and run, I say.

July 23, 2015 7:23 am
Reply to  wf

WF & Luddite Lodge: The Chinook debacle happened because Def Stan 00-55 was not called out in the contract. It does not matter whose avionics were offered they would have failed because they could not meet the critical software requirements of the Def Stan. Once compliant avionics was researched into they were too expensive; hence, the helicopters languished at Boscombe Down until reverted to analogue.

The big challenge as experienced by all recent platforms is that of Certification. Neither P8 nor P1 will come with UK certification so that will have to be built into the programme. Fortunately, the MOD employs specialists who are now more familiar with the challenges.

July 23, 2015 7:55 am

Can I point something out… Something that I’ve pointing out for a while now (in various guises), and something that everyone is vaunting as an advantage to the P8….

The P8 is not a B737 variant… In fact it is sufficiently different for Boeing to allocate a new model number. As PE said upthread, the wings are not standard 737-700 wings, they’ve been redesigned (different structure to cope with the different loadpaths and stresses). The fuselage has been redesigned (unlike other variants, they haven’t just plugged the window apertures, the fuselage panels are different) without the headaches caused by the rows of windows the loadpaths will be different, consequently so will the structure.
I suppose the hydraulic and electrical systems will be similar, with some mods for military use- but in reality these are the bits where commonality doesn’t matter, because most of the parts are industry-standard rather than type-specific.
Even the donks are different, upgraded and changed to cope with the different power generation requirements.
I’m presuming that Boeing have fitted the BBJ tankage to get decent range. (Still not as good as the ACJ- A319-based corporate jet)

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 23, 2015 7:59 am

I think that because of the Nimrod problems folks overestimate the difficulty of creating an MPA, or other intell, surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft.

A few decades ago, only a relative few countries went for all this stuff, and the result were expensive bespoke designs and builds.

Everything is modular nowadays. Manufacturers have sought to expand their markets and sales while the budgets of the few big players have been increasingly squeezed.

Even an A320 series MPA shouldn’t have been that difficult. The design work had been done for weapons carriage; flight tests had been carried out with both dorsal and ventral radars as part of the European AGS program, before the aircraft were dropped or dropped out.

An A320 series platform could have been the basis for several ISTAR aircraft. And would presumably been favoured by some other European nations when they came to replace MPA and so on. P8 will be seen as very low risk though, and I can’t imagine it isn’t already an assumed winner.

There’s good potential for a cheap MPA supplement with C130. Chuck the Crowsnest kit in there perhaps, drill a hole for sonobouys, and there’d quickly be the surveillance and control needed around the UK. Even bolting on a torpedo mounting surely couldn’t be all that difficult.

July 23, 2015 8:12 am

….As for an airline maintaining the P8- nope, an airline would require another engineering type approval (different model number, see) to work on the aeroplane- and that cost would be added to the contract. (Not like the Airbus A320 family- modular you see)
Buying a few B737-700s for flight crew conversion, training and continuation wouldn’t be a bad thing- the flying characteristics wouldn’t be so different, as to make it a problem.

….I still prefer the P1 though… (Isn’t it being designed for the Mk54 anyway?)

As an aside, I remember a USN senior chap saying how they liked the RAF with it’s Nimrods, because with it’s slightly different capabilities, it gave NATO more options.

July 23, 2015 8:23 am

Replacing our E3D’s I suspect won’t happen for a long while- Airframe hours and cycles wise, they’re way off even a major check. Remember they were some of the last Boeing Military Airframes (read: B707-320) to come of the the line. The electrickery inside is probably a different matter, mind.

The NATO E3’s are a very different matter, though. It is my understanding that they’re C135 airframes, not B707’s and were taken from USAF stocks. I notice the USAF are starting to retire KC135’s as hours expired now, so….

July 23, 2015 8:40 am

“There’s good potential for a cheap MPA supplement with C130. Chuck the Crowsnest kit in there perhaps, drill a hole for sonobouys, and there’d quickly be the surveillance and control needed around the UK. Even bolting on a torpedo mounting surely couldn’t be all that difficult.”

Nice plan. Presumably you are not factoring in the five thousand years it will take to persuade the military aviation safety authorities that drilling holes and bolting stuff on is fine, really, no seriously. After all, it’s not as if we cancelled MRA4 because it was an utter safety clusterf**k that was likely to be just as dangerous as the MR2 that killed 14 people over Afghanistan.

Someone please tell me what the f**k is wrong with Sentinel? Why this rush to replace it with something vastly more expensive? I don’t get it.

Rocket Banana
July 23, 2015 8:47 am

IMO this country needs sovereign aircraft design and build capability for two things and two things only. MPA and QRA.

What is utterly astonishing is that we have neither.

Happy to buy air tankers, AEW, CAS, strike and a whole host of other jets from the USA or Europe, but not the basics for defence.

July 23, 2015 8:59 am
Reply to  Brian Black

That is such a military solution! Ha! I love it- not sure the RAF would be quite that amenable…

July 23, 2015 9:21 am

When was the last time a fixed wing aircraft found and sunk a submarine, anyway?

July 23, 2015 9:53 am

Found? Very frequently – last week actually. Sunk? When was the last shooting war where submarines were faced with an air threat? WW2.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 23, 2015 10:01 am

I thought the only reason to dump Sentinel was to save money as we thought we didn’t need it after Afghanistan, i think that has been proven wrong so why are we still going to get rid of it. Also any talk of replacing it with a common platform is odd as we already have a perfectly good aircraft doing the job.

There is no way that the RAF will ever share maintenance facilities with an airline, for one they wouldn’t get priority and two the aircraft are so different I doubt it would save money. Also I am guessing learning how to take off land and fly in straight lines at efficient speeds like an airliner is only a small part of the training needed for an MPA.

Also what happens when the USAF decides that they don’t want a 737 based E3 replacement, are we going to pay for it on our own or are we going to then go for what the US does whilst saying that when we replace the P8 we will use the same airframe as the new E3.

The argument should be capability first and foremost; does it do the job we need it to or do we need to modify it, then is it cost effective and finally what options are there to add UK specific kit without driving up cost.

John Hartley
John Hartley
July 23, 2015 10:14 am

If the Nimrod MRA4 had been new build, it would have been in service a decade ago & we would be boasting about it. Whoever said fit new wings to old airframes, should be hanged for treason.
Still, we are where we are.
So P8 or P1. Not fussed which, but for pity’s sake buy one & close the gap.
We will not have enough for all roles, so lets keep the 10 short body RAF C-130J, refurbish, then convert 4 to special forces use, using off the shelf bits from USMC & USAF SF Herks. Then convert the other 6 to USCG HC-130J standard for ocean patrol/SAR duties. We do not need a mega expensive nuclear sub hunter to go look for a missing yacht/airliner.

July 23, 2015 11:15 am
Reply to  TAS

Last week – whose aircraft and whose submarine?

stephen duckworth
July 23, 2015 12:05 pm

My money is on a P8A buy but as alternatives could be:-
Take up Lockheed on their refurbed P3’s or lease some P8A’s/P1’s for the ten years or so it will get us to get a European origin MMA designed, tested and certified based on an Airbus/Dassault airframe.The refurbed P3C’s will have support network throughout Europe as its operated by many NATO partners and they are having theirs refurbed to. They will become scrap after a dozen years eventually due to their 60 year airframe life. The leased P8/P1’s could be given back as replacements for the inevitable service losses by their primary users. Europe needs to replace 70 MPA alone and lots of other ISTAR airframes be it AWACS,AEW,ELINT,and the rest of the alphabet soup. So long term there is a big Europe only market to build on. The reason we are not already there with a credible Airbus/Dassault platform is that the A400M overuns crushed European governments trust in Airbus Military systems from delivering on time and on budget. It could be done but will we ?
PS it will take some European loyalty and cooperation , opps!

The Other Chris
July 23, 2015 12:27 pm
IMO this country needs sovereign aircraft design and build capability…”

We still have it!

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 23, 2015 12:33 pm

“Nice plan. Presumably you are not factoring in the five thousand years it will take to persuade the military aviation safety authorities that drilling holes and bolting stuff on is fine, really, no seriously. After all, it’s not as if we cancelled MRA4 because it was an utter safety clusterf**k that was likely to be just as dangerous as the MR2 that killed 14 people over Afghanistan. Someone please tell me what the f**k is wrong with Sentinel?”

TAS, you do realise that every aircraft we put into service will have holes drilled in them and stuff bolted on. Including, quite obviously, Sentinel; all sorts of crap hanging off that one.

The MR2 was a fuel line problem. Aircraft tend not to immediately blow up every time they have a new sensor, antenna, plug, or mounting bracket fitted.

Hercules has an olde worlde metal airframe, which has come in numerous variants and has had countless modifications throughout its long history. It would be relatively easy to mount a radar, a manual sonobuoy launcher, and weapon mounts for a couple of piddly little torpedoes.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 23, 2015 12:39 pm

The MR2 issue was a symptom of the problem, not the actual problem.

The real problem was that the design authority had been lost – ie the assumptions and safety factors included in the original design had not been adequately recorded – which leaves you making modifications without actually knowing the consequences of those mods across the whole design – including little things like release parameters.

Not as easy as you might think………

July 23, 2015 12:49 pm
Reply to  TAS


July 23, 2015 1:07 pm

No Brian, you’re right, it’s much simpler than I made out. What do we know, hey?

July 23, 2015 1:08 pm

Falklands was by rotary wing not fixed wing…

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 23, 2015 1:20 pm

The biggest problem with converting a cargo aircraft is carrying enough ordnance, the P8 can carry 11 torpedoes and the P1 12. But if you also need to use the hard points on a C-130 to carry sensor pods realistically how many torpedoes will you have available. The advantage of the P8 and P1 is they have bomb bays and the main sensors fitted internally.

July 23, 2015 1:39 pm

Yes, and they are designed to do ASW, rather than some bodgett-and-scarper half-assed utterly futile conversion of a worn out cargo hauler that far too many people think is a good idea.

Um, where did we get 11 torpedoes from for P8? Last check it was 5 in the bomb bay. Hanging them off the wings will ruin any hope of getting long range out of the aircraft. That’s why Nimrod was good; it had the internal carriage space. That alone is a good reason for looking hard at P1 with 8 internal weapons stations.

Tell you what, P1 is a lot bigger than I thought it was!

July 23, 2015 1:49 pm


What about the other point – converting what are indisputedly ‘worn out cargo haulers’? It’s the same argument against refurbished P3’s – these planes are old and tired. Have we learned nothing from the idiotic idea to rebuild MR2 into MRA4? Cheap is not necessarily effective if you spend most of your life patching the thing up.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 23, 2015 1:49 pm

Yeah that was including 6 external on the P8, and I just checked on the P1 and I was wrong, it is 16, 8 internal and 8 external.

July 23, 2015 2:01 pm

For the love of god lets please not get involved in another euro cluster f**k.

The export potential for a high end MPA is zero for the UK. So there is no benefit to British industry of building our own from scratch. A modified A400M would be the only decent idea outside of buying P8 but as pointed out on another thread BAE is charging us £400 million just to integrate SS on typhoon so how much is it going to costs to integrate a tonne of MPA kit onto A400M.

P8 is really the only realistic game in town. Give the UK location and the fact that we are an island I think MPA is too important to leave to allies.

Donald of Tokyo
Donald of Tokyo
July 23, 2015 2:37 pm

1: On P-1 from Japan.

I agree P-1 has a risk. But, it is not “a small fleet” already. Total number we ordered is 33 to date.
Cost: Last year, we ordered 20 of them with a total cost of 350 Billion Yen, i.e. 17.5B Yen/plane =
1.42M Dollar/plane = 0.91M GBP/plane = 1.29M Euro/plane. (currency today). The 20th plane will be delivered at 2021.
Production line: We will continue its production line till we have 50-70 of them, so if we continue the production line with 5 plane/year, the last plane will be delivered around 2026 (in 50 case) or 2031 (in 70 case).
Future: At least 50 to be purchased, and with severe ASW needs in Japan, P-1 will be maintained, modified and operated for at least coming 30 years from now.
Risk: But still, there is a risk, I know. Engines issues was/is there (although they are flying frequently), testing is still on-going (they went to Djibouti recently, and also to your Air Tattoo, now).

2: If not P-8 now for UK and opt for new European common MPA,
I think the only answer is to get 8-12 ex-US or ex-Japan P-3C now, for coming 15 years, and then buy new ones at around 2025-30. Select between the Japanese P-1 (manned, classical ASW option), or European new options (full of UAV technologies combined). At that date, you have already seen results of the new high-altitude ASW tactics USN is trying, but not established yet, now.

I see no merit for developing new European-lead MPA right now. UK requirement is too small in number, and other European nations are not requiring it now. Also, if you hurry, you will get ill technology and go into trouble , AGAIN, I am afraid.


The Other Chris
July 23, 2015 2:59 pm

Some cases for Sea Hercules:

SC-130J proposal is 6 x Internal Bay (rather natty extended sponson based system with 3x each). Mainly torpedo’s but options for other internal carriage.

Sonobouy launching is a rotary launcher. Derringer-door and other Common Launch Tube systems available too.

Two of the external hard points are taken up by the extended range tanks we’re used to seeing. The other two pylons can be piped wet as per KC-130J Harvest Hawk and have demonstrated 2 x Harpoon, 4 x SDB, 6 x MALD and 3 x Paveway each to date.

More delivery options via the rear ramp than almost any other aircraft.

Door mounted, nose mounted, side mounted sensors and natty SLAR options all available too without using the pylons if you do not want to.

Your choice of the Artamis (P-3C) or the Merlin (now sporting Crowsnest ASaC features) mission system. Searchwater in the 360 degree dome…

Main issue with our own existing C-130J’s is wing box related, for which there is already a refurbishment path. LM say a full assessment is required in any case. Even so, we’re not talking of new-build C-130J or C-130J-30 being astronomical costs in comparison.

A lot of UK systems and work available. LM UK, Marshals, Cobham, Ultra and the usual crowd.

Main case against Sea Hercules:

LM clearly have all the Lego bricks and have solidly proven all bar the sponson torpedo bays individually, but they haven’t put together a prototype yet. It’s not ready now.

Other comments:

Both the P-1 and the SC-130K/J are being pitched in various forms globally, particularly South East Asia. UK consideration helps their profile. UK selection would guarantee a few more sales.

Jeremy M H
July 23, 2015 3:18 pm

Addressing the original post points in a different order.

1. I think the idea that the P-8 has to serve as a sort of wedge for future aircraft is kind of silly honestly. You won’t have to buy any future versions of it for signals or AEW&C work. You certainly could and it may be a reasonable decision but I am not even sure the US will go down that route. At the moment at least the US probably is still looking at something bigger than a 737 for its eventual E-3 replacement according to someone I talk to on the contractor side who would know a bit about what was being kicked around. That surprises me but doesn’t shock me. You can go down the route of more 737 based products or not. That would be entierly the UK’s decision. I don’t think the P-8 locks you into anything.

While I think that you are right to an extent that the civilian/military aspect can be oversold by some one of the big advantages is not so much that you can buy all the parts straight from a 737 operator but that many of the major parts that wear out are civilian or civilian derived which should help contain cost over the life of the project.

2. I think this idea that the US is trying to destroy European aerospace and defense company knowledge is something that needs to be addressed because it is frankly ludicrous and shifts the blame for problems that are almost entierly European across the ocean where they don’t belong. Bottom line, Europe doesn’t spend enough money on major new programs and R&D to support all the things people here love to talk about. Europe isn’t making these things because no one wants to put up the money to do it.

You are right that you don’t have to help the US do this. I agree with that 100%. But if that is your choice then you have to spend sufficient money to support an actual production capability. But let us look at the two examples you give.

The F-35, obviously just the latest conspiracy to destroy the many superior national aircraft programs in the tradition of the Arrow, TSR-2 and god knows how many others in history, is a big program that likely won’t leave a lot of room in the first world fighter market. This is true. But why is that? Why are many European nations going to end up buying the F-35? I would argue it is primarily for two reasons. One Europe didn’t develope a low observable fighter and apparently (despite all the arm chair generals out there) many nations seem to think that is a big deal. But the second reason is that Europe didn’t develop the aircraft that many of their potential customers wanted.

The French pretty much insisted on building something that could also be a carrier based aircraft. That and a bunch of other reasons split up the Eurofighter partnership. So you got the French plane, which was more multi-role and has a carrier capable version but doesn’t use a huge swath of ordinance that many NATO partners already have. Then you have the Eurofighter which has taken a very long time to become multi-role and still has a ways to go in that regard and isn’t a carrier aircraft at all. So in effect you basically conceded that for at least the UK and Italy (two major Eurofighter partners) you would either have to buy something like the F-35 for your carriers or build your own program to put aircraft on your carriers or get out of the aircraft carrier business. If you don’t want the F-35 then buid somethig that you can fly off of carriers or give up the program.

So Europe developed two fighters, one from France that was not likely to be bought by other NATO members for many reasons and one cooperatively that no smaller NATO member would have wanted until it was multi-role. It also did’t meet all the fighter needs of two major partner nations (possibly 3 if you look at Spain and their carriers). But nothing on earth stopped you from building another fighter. Stump up the cash and build something else that is multi-role and can operate from your carriers. You could split it up front with Italy and Spain. Might get the Netherlands and Belgium to chip in a bit too. The bill will on the low side be at least $10 billion and is much more likely to be in the $20-$30 billion range just for the R&D phase if you are wanting a modern, stealthy, supersonic STOVL jet I would guess. The per unit cost will likely be very high because you don’t buy enough equipment to support the industry.

The reality is Europe is in the F-35 program because it is cheaper. The UK paid $2 Billion towards the R&D cost last time I looked and gets a big pile of work in the process. The rest paid well less than that. You chose to destroy your own industry by not investing the money in it to develop another aircraft after the Eurofighter. If Europe wanted to do so and sign up to build 1,000 of them then you could have. The fault for it not being done falls on one party really and it isn’t the US. The F-35 program was designed primarily to fill the needs of a baseline tactical fighter for all the US services. As they serve in all environments this would, by default, cover pretty much the whole marketpalce. I am sure putting pressure on other manufactures is a huge side benefit to this.

You will run into the same problem of R&D cost verse total procurement size on the MPA front. The P-8 cost 8 billion or so to develop. The UK is looking to possibly buy what….12 aircraft if things go extremely well? France might eventually buy a similar number. The rest of Europe might be good for another couple dozen. For a similar product your R&D cost would optimistically be at least 75% of what the US spent. For those screaming for soverign design capability you can have it, it just might cost you a half billion dollars per airframe if no one else is involved. You are 100% free to go down this route. You just have to decide to spend the money. To put it in perspetive the US has spent roughly $500 million per year in the five years leading up to production and $2.7 billion per year since they started building the things. That gets them the aircraft they are getting at the price they are getting it at. No one is stopping you, you just have to carve a few billion out of the defene budget over a period of say 5-10 years. If you don’t do it it is not because of some conspiracy against European manufacture but rather the fact that given the limited resources Europe wants to apply to the situation spending a couple hundred million a year to buy a few P-8’s is cheaper and less risky than spending the same amount of money to fund an R&D program and then spending yet more money to build your own.

I also remain boggled as to what lessons need to be learned because of Brimstone. This seems to be a particular annoyance around here but no one other than Saudi Arabia has bought that thing other than the UK. Everyone seems to think its brilliant (at least on this forum) and others internationally like it but it seems to fall very much in the nice to have but can do without category for the entire rest of planet earth. Is it a vast conspiracy against the UK or is it just the case that it is a weapon that the vast majority of forces can easily do without?

3. Even saying all that I would fully support Europe developing its own solutions. But trying to place blame externally is silly. Europe spends enough money on defense to do better but you all have to agree on major projects which you almost never seem to be able to do. In particular when you start looking at stuff like signals intelligence and a big AEW&C aircraft you need a ton of ongoing updates to keep them relevant. Look at how difficult it is to get anything done on Eurofighter (for example has anyone officially contracted to actually put an AESA in service and which modes will it offer when it does enter service and how broad will the user base be?).

Europe could get a huge portion of this done by simply agreeing to buy certain systems from one another. But people here will argue with passion that the UK needs to build its own armored fighting vehicles, support trucks, complex warships, submarines, combat and support aircraft and weapons and radar systems and on and on and on. Well where does that leave room for cooperation? You instead end up with a situation where a relatively small number of Eurofighters are being built in various places and assembled in 3 different places to try to placate everyone. Or you end up with everyone building their own frigates to different designs.

I mean if you want to find the money in Europe to pay for the R&D to an aircraft to rival the F-35 rather than getting run out by it the solution doesn’t seem that hard. Don’t spend billions doing very similar work on the Type 45 and Horizon. Don’t do similar work on the Type 26, FREMM and whatever the Germans are building. Don’t build 4 different types of light armored vehicles for effectively the same job. Don’t develop 4 or 5 different types of heavy and a nearly equal number of light torpedoes in Europe. Pick one type of air launched cruise missile. Build one self propelled artillery piece. There is where a ton of the money is that you need to free up to not be dependent on others.

If you wanted to be proactive in actually getting this accomplished then you really might want to be the big ones and start by saying we are no longer going to produce X capability ourselves but will buy it from this other nation. Instead even today we have people celebrating the move of production for an AFV to the UK from where it originally was built. At some point to get the efficiencies and scale needed someone in Europe has to give up something. Not a single nation or interest group within any of those nations seems willing to do so.

Rocket Banana
July 23, 2015 4:06 pm


That made painful reading.

The only thing I’d want to point out is that fundamentally there is no such thing as European defence. I know you know this, but it is really the reason why we (Europe) fail to complete with the USA on these kinds of things.

So we can either a) put 2% of our respective GDPs in a bucket and create real competition to the USA, or b) aim lower.

My person position is the latter – do some things very, very well, and others, very, very differently, and cheaply.

Jeremy M H
July 23, 2015 4:18 pm
Reply to  Rocket Banana


I would agree with that. It is all about defining core areas of importance and then buying other stuff as cheap as possible to do the job.

The problem is there doesn’t seem to be an agreement, here or at the MOD, as to what really are critical sovereign abilities.

July 23, 2015 4:38 pm

“My person position is the latter – do some things very, very well, and others, very, very differently, and cheaply.”

Sighs like a lovestruck schoolgirl – “Oh for a Bombardier Q400LR sporting 4-6 stingray…”

July 23, 2015 5:00 pm

I think for the UK, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon is their only option. The A319 MPA is still in development and many years away from production. So for the British, they can get in on the Boeing P-8 Poseidon production line.

stephen duckworth
July 23, 2015 6:59 pm

It would indeed take a massive European wide strategy to stop reinventing the wheel but even the US deliberately and artificially keeps production and design dispersed geographically and commercially. There is already a similar pattern developing here in Europe. Some ‘national’ entities have thrown in the towel , BAE doesn’t do armour here in the UK but does elsewhere in Europe for instance. AMV happliy liscence their products a collect a tidy royalty from Poland etc. BAE stepped away from big European multinational fighter projects but co developed the Gripen. Ship builders are trying in the warship market , surface and sub surface but keep running into POLITICAL barriers . I feel more cats amongst the pigeon companies such as Textron are needed to stir it up a make countries question the vast tickets on even getting a weapon certified for launch from a platform it was envisaged and funded to be launched from. £400,000,000 to have Storm Shadow certified to be dropped from Typhoon! Someone’s having a laugh aren’t they ? It was always meant to be dropped from Typhoon so why all the money to get it certified. Yes I understand you have to bolt them on , and fly them and then launch them at a target which it then delete destroys itself on but really , £400m! Just how many test launches will be performed. Before those in the know shout out Storm Shadow was at the outset to be compatible with Typhoon , so no more random firing whilst parked on the apron, the missile electronics telling the plane to dump its fuel etc. Holistic design is what I looking for here to meet a need on well known parameters. I suspect a lot of it is to do with how hanging a Storm Shadow shaped weight off the bottom of a Typhoon effects the Typhoon’s aerial performance but again early co-operation between the missile designers and the aircraft engineers and lot of computer time should of knocked that on the head early on not after the missile is accepted as a weapon but can’t be fired for lack of a suitably approved platform.

July 23, 2015 7:03 pm

Some here have suggested to purchase and operate an interim MPA solution (refurbished P3, lease of P8, joint effort with allies, …), while at the same time working in a European project on the future MPA-concept. You are not alone.

At the rpdefense blog there is a post about a speech delivered by the PDG of Dassault in which he calls for more efforts by military, industry and government to develop the weapon systems for the future rather than concentrate almost exclusively on the short term of the next “Loi de Programmation Militaire”.
As such the French PATMAR 2030 program should not target specifically to replace the Breguet ATL2 but instead should develop tomorrow’s concepts for maritime patrol. He says that surveillance missions will most certainly be accomplished by drones 24/24 while fast armed aircraft will intervene rapidly to attack surface or sub-surface threats discovered by the surveillance drones.

July 23, 2015 7:10 pm

A319 MPA isn’t in development; its a collection of line drawing Airbus is using to try and convince European countries cough up actual development money, and it’s not making much progress.

Converting large airlifts to the MPA role is stupid, they drink fuel and their basic design does no lend itself to installing MPA equipment.

The P1, at least on the face of it, is awesome and I would love to see it get an export order. But safety first P-8 is the obvious answer, it does what uncle-sam wants it to do, is being procured in very large numbers and will be around for years.

Peter Elliott
July 23, 2015 7:28 pm

One suspects some other Typhoon upgrades may have been rolled into the programme, on the premise that they support Typhoon’s flight characteristics (range and agility) whilst the (big heavy) cruise missiles are in situ.

July 23, 2015 8:37 pm
Reply to  Peter Elliott

Europe has developed a dedicated MPA in the shaoe of the C295 has this been ruled out for the UK ?

Peter Elliott
July 23, 2015 9:32 pm

It lacks the range and ordnance capacity for the amount of sea we expect to patrol.

July 24, 2015 3:37 am

If what Donald of Tokyo says is true, the P1 is looking like awfully good value- and with a production line open until the middle 20’s, at least, we have options.

This is equally the case for the P8, though.

And I quite agree with JMH ref the idea that buying the P8 will mean that the next large aeroplanes will all be baby Boeing based, is falacious. The Bizz-jet platform based Sentinel seems to be working rather well- and I suspect will be the model for future programmes, of this sort. (Aren’t the USAF looking at a Raytheon platform for a similar role?)
Equally, I suspect that the USAF will use whatever airframe wins out on the KC135 replacement, for their E3 replacement. So I suspect that that NATO will go along with that, unless Airbus produce an A330 platform based solution. The UK I think will just do a big mid-life update on the E3D’s and defer any replacement decision for the next government.

…Just like they’re going to do on the new runway for the south-east, again. I mean, another runway at LHR?, what moron thinks that is a good idea?. LHR is a sod to get to, a sod to op in and out of, and is a sod of a headache for NATS- I haven’t heard any operator outside BA, who thinks it’ll improve things… The answer is a new airport to the west, or south, or north. Expand LTN (20mins by train from the city, 40mins from LGW), even Boris’ Thames Estuary airport has merit. (F**k STN- too far up a dodgy A-road, and no sensible train link)

July 24, 2015 3:40 am

….Apologies to TD, and all the honourable correspondents, for off topic rant.

July 24, 2015 5:00 am
Reply to  Peter Elliott

Thanks for that reply, we don’t have any ordnance capacity at present and the C295 can remain airborne for 11 hours which seems reasonable.

Peter Elliott
July 24, 2015 6:37 am

Jack 11 hours out to what range and what speed and carrying what load? No I don’t know the answer either but the wiki stats show it to be a considerably less capable platform than P8/P1 and I trust the likes of APATS who has catagorigally stated that it does not meet UK requirement.

The fact we gapped the requirement is not an argument for sinking money into a non solution.

Peter Elliott
July 24, 2015 6:40 am

If you’re spending 5 hours out and 5 hours back on transit and only have 1 hour on task you need an awful lot of planes and crews to complete the mission. That’s the point about the relationship between range, speed and cost.

The Other Chris
July 24, 2015 6:47 am
July 24, 2015 8:05 am

Barb – ref building new airports in uncluttered rural locations: I remember school trips to London Airport which still seemed out in the sticks – as I remember it. Big airports cause their own congestion of hotels, scruffy industrial estates and vast quantities of road traffic so wherever they go never turns out right. I vote for the next UK hub to go to the PM’s nice quiet rural retreat of Whitney – Brize Norton could be expanded I’m sure. Let’s see how much in favour of the economic benefits he remains when his own votes are at risk.

I can’t quite understand the angst over airframe choice for MPA – surely the systems within are airframe agnostic, such that any suitable aircraft type could be kitted out without much risk? I thought the major issues with MRA4 were 1) that new CAD-perfect wings didn’t fit old hand-fabricated fuselages, and 2) the ASW systems suite was all new and suffered big integration issues? Well the integration issues worked out and paid for here I understand made the P8 programme successful, so presumably the US would hand over the tactical systems at a very reasonable cost (as we paid for its development already). So we can just pick the right airframe for the mission profile and make it happen…

July 24, 2015 9:02 am
Reply to  Peter Elliott

Again Peter, thanks for the reply.
I am not deliberately being dense but I am struggling to nail this in my own mind, Britain is a small island our MPA ‘s are there to detect Russian subs in the North Sea, take part in maritime rescue efforts and look over our deterrent, do they need a massive range to do these tasks ?

The Other Chris
July 24, 2015 9:07 am

Our “Country of Countries” isn’t limited to the British and Irish Archipelago of which the United Kingdom nations are a part.

We’re global, with Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories stretching from the North Atlantic to Antarctica and the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific.

We have a responsibility to look after everyone, which includes maintaining assets that can reach all of our regions, no matter how small or far flung.

It’s why we require long range, long endurance and persistence assets such as heavy-weight patrol aircraft, “cruiser role” frigates and delivery/support systems. The world may have changed however memories are long and who knows what could happen in the future.
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Peter Elliott
July 24, 2015 9:19 am

Jack it’s not just the North Sea: its right out into the Atlantic as far as Greenland. That may be a legacy of when Britannia Ruled the Waves but it’s still officially enshrined in our Search and Rescue area and in our NATO commitments.

Seems not unreasonable if we expect others to bring the bulk of heavy land forces in the East that we take care of NATO’S maritime northern approaches.

And our posh new Carriers won’t do much good sitting on the bottom because we sailed beyond the range of a land based C295 and the North Koreans (or someone else) decided to take a pop.

July 24, 2015 10:57 am

Could you extend the time on task of a small MPA protecting a carrier group by refuelling it mid-air with F-35s carrying buddy refuelling pods? Then the only limit to its endurance is the crew getting hungry…

Peter Elliott
July 24, 2015 11:14 am

Sounds a bit over elaborate. And there are no funded plans to put buddy pods on the F35 right now. And it doesn’t help C295 get to Greenland which is the primary task.

You are right in theory that we should look to optimise how land based and ship based ASW complement each other. For my money this means making sure the eventual replacement for Merlin HM2 goes both higher (for AEW) and further (for ASW). If it’s also fast enough to carry a tank, hose and drogue for a spot of tactical AAR so much the better. Luckily for us there are some pretty interesting rotary concepts on the drawing boards at the moment that may be mature by 2030 when we will be looking to buy.

July 24, 2015 12:45 pm
Reply to  Barborossa

Nope, the NATO E3A are built upon standard Boeing 707-320B airframes just like the rest. The exceptions are the RAF, French and Saudi examples that used 707-700 series airframes. The KC-135 is smaller than the 707 so any KC-355 fitted with the AWACS avionics and radar would look significantly different.

I would also be wary to state that KC-135 retirements was purely down to hours albeit that would form part of the picture. A major reason would be to free up spare parts for the active fleet. The USAF maintains its active fleet in a different way to how the RAF does. With the RAF for each component installed beyond the core airframe the manufacturer is meant to provide a maximum safe life for that part before it has to be scrapped or refurbished. The idea being to maximise the life of the part by keeping it on the airframe as long as possible. The USAF picks an arbitrary date and pulls it off for scrapping or refurbishing regardless of if it needs to be done or not. On top of that every few years the aircraft, in this case a KC135 is put through a deep bare metal overhaul. Everything is pulled off down to bare metal, stressed airframe sections/skins x-rayed and then replaced as needed. The aircraft is then rebuilt with fresh or refurbished as new parts in effect giving the USAF aircraft an almost zero timed aircraft. The Depot level overhaul for a KC135 is a major thing. This means a USAF crew knows the KC135 they are flying is in effect only a few years old in a maintenance sense. Compare that to the RAF Nimrod fleet where by the end maintenance was an almost Heath Robinson affair.

As I understand it Corrosion is a more major issue with the KC135 fleet than loss of fatigue life. Depot level maintenance on the type has increased in time and cost as the type has got older. Nevertheless the KC135 and RC135 will remain in service until the 2040’s. The RAF RC135 are the youngsters of the fleeting being the last off the line in the 1960’s.

Problem with the RAF RC135W is the lavish way Americans do maintenance is not compatible with how the MAA do things in the UK. The MAA wanted the total safe life for all the parts and systems just the way we do things here. The Americans didn’t have that as their maintenance model always ensures there is a fresh part on the aircraft making the need for its total life. For the Americans it was rather nonsensical considering to clear the aircraft as “Safe” we were asking them for information that is “Less Safe” in their eyes. Add to that all the uncatalogued upgrades and changes to the core airframe and it all got stuck. The Americans got fed up in the end and threatened to park the Airframes in AMARG leading to the eventual face saving delivery flight with a USAF crew.

The funny thing is whilst the British press were focusing on the aircraft being grounded and not meeting MAA safety rules post Haddon Cave in reality the Aircraft had been maintained in a far more lavish manner than RAF aircraft are used to.

July 24, 2015 1:46 pm

Fedaykin, apologies, you are quite right- E3s are all B707-320 airframes, even ours. The -700 airframe you speak of was a test bed -320 airframe with CFM engine pylons, actually intended to test the concept of the USAF re-engining all their E3s with the CFM56 donk. It was later converted back to a standard -320 and sold to Morocco.

As for the KC135- The differences in MX programmes aside (funny how most US airlines operate the ‘safe life’ system as opposed to the ‘check and replace’ system). I was given to understand, that USAF were retiring their older KC135’s because they were reaching their max hours and cycles, my source was a USAF Colonel who’d come to talk to our engineering department about doing ‘A’ and ‘B checks on their C-40B’s. After all there are only so many times you can drill out the rivets, and oversize them, before they exceed the safe load limit.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
July 24, 2015 4:02 pm

For me the P-1 seems more ‘right’ for the job than P-8. I think it is my suspicion that if the UK government had been prepared to start with a clean sheet for replacing Nimrod they would have ended up somewhere close to the P-1. Maybe with undercarriage folding into the wings rather than into the fuselage so it could have a long sensor canoe / bomb bay. But not far off.

I would be wary of a joint European project. The big ticket ones seem to always drag on and on and the UK has demonstrated it is perfectly capable of doing that by itself. A joint project would imo be too susceptible to having to be cutting edge in all possible aspects rather than based on existing airframes and components and would, of course, need to outdo the Americans on some petty metric.

Unless you plan to make a family of aircraft – bomber, AEW, etc in addition to MPA all it needs to be is a modified airliner. Unlike the P-1 it would not be hoped to feed into a passenger jet programme (Kawasaki YPX) because Airbus already builds them. Anything extra like UAVs and high altitude weapons and whatnot can come later, if at all. But I don’t think european governments and Airbus have the ability to restrain themselves. It would have to do things needlessly different to existing platforms from day one and day one would end up being a decade or two later than planned as a result.

wf said: “Deciding to develop our own MPA when we’re barely going to make into double figures is insane. ”

I’d sooner question the sanity of such low numbers than the sanity of a UK made project.

July 24, 2015 5:35 pm

Ref “I would be wary of a joint European project” – it would be interesting to compare the UK investment (both design & development and procurement cost) for, say, Harrier and Tornado? Also the total project timescale from get-go to IOC, and the returns on exports. I picked these two because they are roughly of the same period so comparisons ought to be on a level playing field (similar technologies, similar certification requirements, similar customer interaction model etc).

Its said many times over the UK can’t afford to go it alone with military aircraft any more, and yet simple peer comparison for the costs/returns of both UK national and UK share of multi-national programmes never seems to be offered as simple proof of the statement.

July 24, 2015 5:58 pm

“Unless you plan to make a family of aircraft – bomber, AEW, etc in addition to MPA all it needs to be is a modified airliner”
Even if you did plan to make a family of aircraft, all it needs to be is a modified airliner

stephen duckworth
July 24, 2015 6:20 pm

TD postulated a quick question on an earlier open thread about a medium range bomber. It having a large internal bomb bay , 6000km range ,military end use from the outset etc , such a beast like the adaptations of the WW2 bombers to future roles , Shackleton etc with a new lease of life due to standoff weapons systems and integrated defensive aid suites are survivable ( for the air crew) except in your face to face OPFOR fighter challenges and then by bring along some Typhoon shaped air to air buddies , job done . Perhaps Europe needs a clean sheet of paper design like the Textron Scorpion , this range, this payload , this crew and keep the mission parameters open to encourage adaptability to niche roles like the freighter specific Hercules adapted into but better. Robust ,rugged design adaptable inherently through redundancy .

Engineer Tom
July 24, 2015 6:30 pm

Personally I see the way as buy either P1 or P8 now and then in 15 years time start talking about designing a UK MPA from scratch, give the MOD 5 years to concept what they want it to do, then give industry 5 years to produce a design to fulfill the requirements and then the company that is going to build it will have 5 years to get the first couple of aircraft fully operational. There is no way we can spend 15 years doing that now and to cut it down to say 5 years would ultimately lead to massive compromises in capability.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
July 24, 2015 7:48 pm

I will have a gentleman’s wager on 12 P8. Allegedly a done deal.

The Other Chris
July 24, 2015 8:04 pm

Based on that being the number of MRA4 prior to cancellation, that would be not a bad result at all. Especially if all 12 are fully operational, rather than 9. Can always buy more. Can always retain Sentinel. Can always augment with RPAS. Can always supplement with other platforms. Later on.

Now, about those SF C-130J’s and the last white tail C-17…

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
July 24, 2015 8:48 pm


I would have too but not now. Also very interested to hear someone who has operated P8 waxing lyrical about its capabilities. Especially in the area of sensor fusion and ability to gather and share it both on and off the platform utilising shore side specialists in real time.

The Other Chris
July 24, 2015 9:06 pm

Would we share the US satcom system or utilise our own leases for non LOS?

This potential news has cheered up a rather glum Friday, thank you.

July 25, 2015 10:49 am

I have enjoyed this debate and my suggestion regarding C295 was at least partly playing devil’s advocate.
The seedcorn programme has been extended by three years with the emphasis on P8’s.
I think most people would agree this is a hugely capable plane and the RAF will make the most of any aircraft it receives. Hopefully soon.

July 26, 2015 5:47 am

Horses and carts: what came first, the USN’s desire to do ASW at altitude or the P8’s inability to effectively fly at lower speeds & heights? Clearly the Japanese believe ASW has to be low and slow – are they right?

Just asking.

The Other Chris
July 26, 2015 7:30 am

The P-8A low level myth has long been busted. They’ve been replacing P-3C’s one for one for a couple of years already.

HAASW has been in the works for a long time and it just makes sense: If you can deploy and monitor systems from altitude you can cover orders of magnitude more area with one aircraft.

MRA4 intended on deploying the Ultra sonobuoys with the necessary features once ready: Multi-static Active Coherent, variable lines, geo-positioning and battery/transmitters to allow aircraft to handover monitoring of large seeded areas.

Although Tyler’s not so great on factual analysis, he is good at arranging and presenting a good story. Worth having a read of the following:

Faram also has a nice piece that will make Brits smile: RAF crew winning a US sub hunting competition in the USN’s own aircraft:

In all seriousness, it’s good to see Seedcorn is keeping the skills of very experienced crew sharp and also good to see how close the scores were amongst allies who we work very closely with. Reassuring.

July 26, 2015 9:31 am

Ron – way up at comment no. 3 I noted I had heard the justification for the use of the Nimrod airframe was its ability to operate efficiently at low level and at moderate speed – big thick robust wings seemed to fit the need. 737, wings strengthened or not, is still optimised for high level fast cruise. Whether the higher faster flight profile is still considered a disadvantage I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure back in 1996 it was one of the reasons for reuse of Nimrod for RMPA.

On the plus side I am overjoyed to read that despite the modern fad of fly-by-wire & fly-by-light the trusty old 737 retains the steel cable to flight surface back-up for flight controls. I taught myself to fly in a 737 full-flight sim (I was on the build team) and have fond memories of gliding down from 40000ft using nothing but muscle-power to control the aircraft. Entirely possible to achieve a safe landing without engines hydraulics or electrics; even the battery is unnecessary. It was also – if the simulation was accurate – one of the most benign handling aircraft; almost every stupid manoeuvre could be recovered from by letting go of the controls and letting the aircraft roll itself back to its trimmed flight condition. If it wasn’t for the pesky rudder trim tab servo I would have said 737 was probably inherently the safest passenger jet there is.

July 26, 2015 11:24 am
stephen duckworth
July 26, 2015 2:08 pm

I like this image very much from the FTA link you posted , the long-range ASW airbourne speartip of carrier defence showing the way , closely followed by a couple of SSN’s.–sEE2dESd–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/793475083671977361.jpg

stephen duckworth
July 26, 2015 3:05 pm

I was reading through the ToC linked FTA article on the P3C v P8A and the author mentioned a possible engine problem on a transatlantic flight on a P3C causing a bit of tension . He mentioned the cruise flight altitude being 24,000′ on the journey flight i.e. none operational flight . Along with the age of P3C’s , their flight speed restrics them from commercial routes enjoyed by the P8A crews being basically 737’s to all intents and purposes as far as commercial air traffic control is concerned. If we took on turboprop MMA this a restriction we would also have to contend with.

July 27, 2015 3:45 am

Thanks for the HAASW replies.