JSTARS and the P8 Poseidon

Just as the USAF may be accepting that their JSTARS replacement might look a lot like the RAF’s Sentinel, the mood music seems to be indicating that the Sentinel can be sacrificed on the altar of getting the JSTAR’s size P8 in service.

OK, so I am taking some rather large liberties here but Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Bombardier are offering this;


Which to my untrained eye looks very similar to this;

RAF Sentinel

Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Gulfstream, and L-3 are also partnering, obviously with a Gulfstream business jet platform.

Boeing, the third competitor, will be offering a 737-700 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) derivative, not a version of the larger 737-800 based Poseidon.

There seems to be an almost casual assumption in a great deal of online chatter that the capabilities of the Sentinel can be replaced as part of a possible P-8 Poseidon purchase, either taking a Boing JSTAR’s recap win (artist impression below), or by adding an external sensor pod to the P-8 and using the same aircraft for both.


The external sensor pod in question is called the AN/APS-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS), a US Navy programme that is a derivative of the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS). It is currently on track for Increment 2 of the P-8A Poseidon programme.

Naval Air Systems Command describes the AAS as;

The APS-154 radar represents the next generation of maritime patrol and reconnaissance radars which will provide military commanders highly accurate battle-space situational awareness as an integrated Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (ISR&T) asset.

In January this year Boeing were awarded a $60.7 million contract for AAS integration kits for Low Rate Initial Production Lot IV (13 aircraft) and Full Rate Production Lot I (16 aircraft). The AAS is said to be a very advanced system, superior to the E8 JSTARS but the million dollar question is, is it as good as the ASTOR, especially given ASTOR and AAS ar Raytheon products and ASTOR is being modified to incorporate maritime and littoral surveillance capabilities.

The sensor is only one part of the equation, the platform is just as important. One of the key selling points of the Bombardier Global Express platform used for Sentinel is its high service ceiling and long endurance. Both are reduced by the weight and drag imposed by the mission equipment but they are still impressive. Altitude is important, the higher you go the further you can see although someone much cleverer than I once explained it was all to to do with graze angles. Long endurance also has obvious benefits, as does its high speed. The P8 is a bit lardy in comparison, much shorter range than the Sentinel. The Sentinel cruises at the top speed of a P-8A and can fly about five or six thousand feet higher. Unless an RAF P-8 is modified with a refuelling probe or Voyagers fitted with a boom, range may be ‘a bit of a problem’

It is also not clear whether the Boeing proposal for the JSTARS recap utilises the AAS or some other system. Interestingly, Boeing are not offering a P8 plus pod for the JSTARS programme and reading between the lines there is more than a fair share of inter-service shenanigans between the USAF and USN.

This poses a few interesting dilemmas for the UK.

Sentinel currently has a reprieve until 2018 but no funding beyond that, the final decision coming out of SDSR 2015 and the ISTAR Optimisation Study completed by the RAF.

We cannot know the performance differences between ASTOR and AAS but we can reasonably estimate the flight performance differences between the P8 and a Sentinel, and not forgetting the range figures given for a P8 are without the hefty podded sensor attached.

Costs are equally an unknown but the problem for using an RAF P-8 in the Sentinel role is as much about politics as anything else, if we can have British Poseidons off doing the Sentinel mission then obviously the glaring gaps and massive risks used to justify a P-8 suddenly look a bit hollow. Go for a larger fleet of P-8’s to cover both missions and you are lugging around all that maritime patrol kit (and having to support more than you would for a pure MPA role) so the overall costs rise.

As ever, trade-offs to the fore, but personally, I see using Sentinel replacement as part of the business case for P-8 as rather weak.

We also don’t know whether the US Navy would let us have the AAS and at what cost it would be.

I would rather see us expanding the role of the Sentinel by the use of a range of software and sensor upgrades such as adding an electro-optical turret or the DB-110 sensor from RAPTOR pods as GR.4 goes out of service. With advances in computing technology some of the weight of the ASTOR systems may be possible to be reduced. Certainly, as its role has evolved and connectivity improved, the field deployable ground station component would seem to be of less value so some cost savings, particularly in squadron manning, may be found there.

Any purchase of the P-8 would then be right sized for the maritime patrol mission, optimised for such and personnel dedicated to this very important mission.

So, a developed Sentinel plus a minimum sized fleet of P-8’s (or equvialent, including combinations of unmanned aircraft) instead of an overiszed P-8 fleet trying to do everything.

The flip side is to go with the 737-700 based Boeing JSTARS and use the same aircraft platform for a future AWACS replacement, thus having very high levels of commonality across the three large missions.



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July 12, 2015 9:17 am

A 737-sized replacement for Sentinel will cost more than extending the curent platforms or buying a new business jet platform. Just fuel costs alone will be a massive saving for the business jet fleet.

The business jet platform is likely to have more capability in the land surveillance role as well, given much longer endurance and greater area coverage from the higher altitude.

In terms of commonality savings from an all 737-based fleet: roughly 5 aircraft are a minimum to have a capability (deployed, training, maintenance, attrittion). If we want to seriously do the land surveillance role then we need at least 5 additional platforms. Given the very different skill sets between land surveillance and ASW we also need at least 5 additional specialist crews.

Whilst there will be some maintenance savings from having an all 737 fleet (but not if they are different 737 variants), the crew issue means that you’ve got fleets within fleets anyway. Makes far more sense to go with a specialist platform that is lower cost and more capable – or upgrade the one we currently have.

July 12, 2015 9:53 am

As I’m the resident doom monger about reinstating a p8 mpa (apparently) I’ll offer this the mpa version Boeing initially offered to the usn was also based on the 737-700 until that was the navy also wanted to lug around the ground radar which meant up sizing the platform and more power to the engines. Tech has since moved on and Northrop are current jstars supplier so there more to the g650 tells all.

Not overally a fan of making these platforms capable of more than one role they tend to become expensive quickly and software, cooling and power requirements go thru the roof exponentially. Certainly I like the biz jet route many others are going down this line in a number of configurations and sentinel still has much to offer and very much is in demand.

A third option would be to purchase the global hawk platform as part of a p8 buy (the navy moaning would surely stop then) and integrate it with the NATO ags using a similar configuration to offer a sentinel replacement.

July 12, 2015 10:13 am

I wonder if there is any intention to integrate high res EO sensors on the new U.S. Replacement for JSTARS?

July 12, 2015 10:55 am

i have an emotional preference for something on a Bombardier chassis, but really i am happy to put it out to competition: who can provide the most potent and sustainable capability for ~£1.5b…?

The Other Chris
July 12, 2015 1:38 pm

I’m a fan of Sentinel and agree largely with Mark.

I would be very shocked if an MPA wasn’t announced in the SDSR (or before, to soften SDSR announcements…). Although I wouldn’t be surprised if P-8A was not the platform selected, a gambling man stands good odds.

Where I differ in opinion (I think, apologies Mark if we’re closer in opinion) is in modularity of software and pluggable systems. Not in terms of do everything at once and from the beginning, but in terms of architecting an expandable platform that is added to over time.

The counter argument here to Mark’s (very valid) point on expense, is that adding a function to an existing platform can prove less expensive than creating two platforms if the platform is suited.

Simplistically, the proper architecture linking multifunction workstations, pylons and payloads enables this.

If you want to S.W.A.P. an ASTOR for a Selex or Thales primary sensor (if they offered the desirable functionality), the bespoke integrated approach taken by Sentinel complicates matters. Unique to Sentinel is having to return the whole aircraft to the US for sensitive work to be performed there under the technology agreement.

If Sentinel were instead equipped with a more pluggable architecture with centreline pylons where attached equipment fed their control and data to existing workstations, we could instead equip it with more sovereign sensors. Conformal shrouds are available for some equipment already.

Up to you how far you take it, from periodic system changes to Textrons claim that Scorpion “can be a flight Trainer in the morning and on Maritime Surveillance Patrol in the afternoon”.

This is also the approach we’ve taken with Merlin, that others have taken with the C-130J (as well as Scorpion) and what GA-ASI (UK) are proposing with the next iterations of Reaper.

I still favour a case by case look at platforms rather than insist on a rule of thumb approach though: There’s room for specialist and multirole systems as best applicable. Sentinel and P-8A both have a place.

Some other thoughts in an even more random, rambling manner:

Sentinel splits it’s crew between the aircraft and ground stations. If you want full functionality you need to be in line of sight or use high satellite bandwidth. You can’t hop in the plane and operate anywhere within refuelled range, there is a more complex (not necessarily complicated) baggage train involved.

One benefit the split has given the UK is experience in working with an aircraft from a ground station with bandwidth and communication considerations. Will undoubtedly teach us about more sophisticated RPAS operation.

Correction to the P-8A range: 2,200km includes a 4 hour on station figure whereas the Global Express 9,000km number is a ferry figure.

Only IAI have offered pylons on a business jet (Global 5000) so far. Promising for a Sentinel upgrade. Torpedo monopropellant still needs a heated environment at the altitudes they’re discussing though.

Lockheed’s switch to the Merlin system for SC-130J changes my opinion on the capability of the Sea Herc immensely. I agree with APATS that it is still not an aircraft that exists as a whole (LM should really have built a prototype in the last five years) but I disagree with APATS in that I think enough components exist in reality to make assembling a prototype a comparatively low risk proposition.

Similarly, Textron’s decision to rearchitect the Scorpion mission system is a great move. There’s enough SWAP in the mission bay to house the MX-15, Searchwater (based on Searchmaster plans) as well as all the gubbins (not the workstation pallet itself) from the Merlin mission system. Textron claim Scorpion can accept direct feed to it’s single seat multifunction workstation from the mission bay. Think of all the MSA, ground search/control as well as Crowsnest functionality that it could loft. This is before we get into talking future podded sonobuoy dispensers and munitions, altitude isn’t as much of an issue. Food for thought in a cheap and cheerful platform beyond a less expensive Trainer.

I think it’s important to remember that we don’t have to radically change everything at once. We are in a position where elements can be built up and then functionality expanded upon.

Bring in an MPA.

Retain Sentinel.

Replace the Hawks with Scorpions.

Sprinkle in RPAS’s to taste.

Then work on it all from there without overthinking it right now.

The Other Chris
July 12, 2015 1:43 pm

Complete aside, the title of this piece “JSTARS and the P8 Poseidon” should be the new of the new Think Defence House Band…

Rocket Banana
July 12, 2015 2:01 pm


Can the Scorpion go supersonic in a dive?

All politicians are the Same
All politicians are the Same
July 12, 2015 2:02 pm


I was meaning to say that a prototype could not be made but simply that if LM want to sell us a sea Herc then build one at their expense and show us what it can do. A lot easier to sell something that exists.

The Other Chris
July 12, 2015 2:15 pm

Apologies for the misunderstanding.

Completely in agreement there! :)

The Other Chris
July 12, 2015 2:55 pm
July 12, 2015 6:42 pm

Re the Scorpion
Does it really have any chance replacing UK Hawks?
Telling foreign buyers that we prefer it to the only combat aircraft still built here would be a ‘brave’ political decision.

The Other Chris
July 12, 2015 7:22 pm

£7,000 per hour vs £2,000 per hour.

On that basis alone it’s well worth at least the look the RAF and RN are taking at it.

July 12, 2015 7:37 pm

I’ve always thought the Scorpion is an interesting concept and a Brave idea. It’s good that the RAF RN have had a look at it. It makes good sense financially why put miles on the F35 when for a lot of roles it would suffice.
I would start with an order of 9 and paint them red!

July 12, 2015 9:16 pm

I’d be surprised if Sentinel expires after 2018. Since up to 50% of the total GMTI collect in Syria and Iraq is provided by the single UK Sentinel, it is proving its worth in buckets and is buying significant engagement with the US. I suspect it will survive for as long as we keep the RJ arrangement. Plus, every P8 tasked for over land GMTI tasking is one less doing the job it should be doing at sea.

Am I right in saying that apart from the EuroHawk (which will be looking at Russian movements and isn’t in service yet) no other European power has a GMTI capability? Such niche capabilities buy influence, for relatively little outlay.

July 12, 2015 9:38 pm


Not sure if anyone outside the U.S. Has a capability like ASTOR.

Anyway stand by for some announcements
Britain’s Special Forces will be increased and the Government will buy more spy planes and drones, David Cameron will announce on Monday, as he sets out plans to use the increased defence budget to fund a fresh assault on Isil.

July 12, 2015 10:35 pm

As part of the deal to keep sentinel out to 2018 I believe the number of crews were to be reduced so in effect it would be a 3 aircraft fleet likewise after afghan the reaper fleet saw some stored. Could I be gloomy and suggest if this was done that it could be announced as an increase to bring them, back up to full compliment.

July 12, 2015 10:49 pm

Whether the Hawk is built in Britain or not if our active fast jet fleet is heading to say just 107 Typhoons and 48 F35s, isn’t it about time the training fleet was revisited, and the way we do training? How many Hawks do we really need? Should we have a dedicated training fleet at all? Should all our trainers be truly multipurpose? Should the Scorpion be considered, should the two seater Grippen be considered (all thinking about secondary capabilities)?

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
July 12, 2015 10:59 pm


As you say – it is unlikely that the Scorpion will be brought in to replace the Hawk, for political reasons.

Though it would probably make a good primary jet trainer (replacing the Hawk T1), I think that the fact it lacks both a UK-standard glass cockpit and the performance necessary for an advanced fast jet trainer would also not be factors in it’s favour. It is also not a fly-by-wire aircraft, so it can’t be programmed to emulate the control responses of other types of aircraft. Though it is undoubtedly possible to fix these faults it is likely to involve large sums of money.

I think that it is far more likely that, if the UK were to purchase them, they would be used in the ISR/Strike role for which they have been designed. Though the Typhoon is being modified to replace the Tornado when it leaves service, we will still have something of a gap in our ground-attack abilities (in numbers, if not in capability), so I would not be surprised to also see it used in conjunction with UAV/UCAVs, along the lines of the Australian Wedgetail/ScanEagle demonstration of some years ago.

The fact that we could buy and fly 3 squadrons of these (at least) for the price of a single Tornado squadron might not go unnoticed. Just think – a cost per flying hour of £2000 vs. £28000 for a Tornado GR4 and £90000 for a Tornado

Per hour costs from this Parliamentary answer: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090721/text/90721w0017.htm

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
July 12, 2015 11:37 pm

@mickp – though I feel that politics is likely to get in the way of rational decision-making when it comes to replacing the Hawk, I agree with the principle – if all your training aircraft also have an active duty role, you not only have considerably more hardware at your disposal, but every qualified pilot in the RAF will have experience on at least one of them.

July 13, 2015 2:14 am

I think Cameron’s announcement about more drones and spy planes means that Sentinal will be safe for some time. The further comments about Russia also likely mean that MPA is highly likely to be added in SDSR.

The Other Chris
July 13, 2015 6:40 am
Reply to  Think Defence


Lynx is good. Approximately twice the range (and weight) of I-MASTER and half the range (and a little lighter) than Seaspray 7000E.

It’s selection for Reaper was more based on its existing use in Predator A / Gray Eagle than being the best available. Good carry through from an existing system without too much expense or technology loss risk for a semi-disposable platform. GA-ASI/Sandia are up to Block 20A now.

SAR, GMTI and POL are more functions of processing than the hardware. You do not necessarily need a very large or powerful antenna and transmitter for good resolution and quality. SAR spot and strip modes are soda-straws built up over time by the back-end with GMTI and POL calculated from the imagery. Back-end processing, in this way, is the more important part of the system.

As you imagine though, a large AESA array like ASTOR with more power and onboard processing (shunting a lot of processing to the ground stations as well) allows you build up more soda-straws at any one time and even aim simultaneous straws with an appropriate separation angle at the same time from different parts of the array.

More a difference in resolution at range and volume capacity than image quality between the various systems.

The Other Chris
July 13, 2015 7:01 am

Some possibilities for Scorpion includes optionally-manned and unmanned. Textron say that requires an upgrade to fly-by-wire which they are already working on. Traditional linkage just keeps cost down.

They’re also serious about the T-X program, which is going to need some hefty performance work by the looks of it, as well as fly-by-wire. Reckon we’ll see variants.

Manufacturing options are a possibility. Textron have been vocal that other component suppliers and assemblers can be sourced depending on the customer.

Incidentally, Cobham designed the manned cockpit.

July 13, 2015 7:18 am
Reply to  AndrewB

The principal aim of the Red Arrows is as a flag waver for UK plc. Using foreign aircraft doesn’t work, somehow.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 13, 2015 9:34 am

Why is the Sentinel due to go out of service, as far as I can see the only hurdle seems to be the running cost, they are less than 10 years old and are currently in high demand. So why on earth would we get rid of them, there are better arguments for scrapping QRA than there are for scrapping our surveillance capabilities. The average running costs for the fleet are quoted as just over 50m which is 1/30 of this new fund the PM has announced so we should easily be able to afford to keep them, and then when the actually need to go out of service look at what aircraft is best to replace them, rather than scrap them now and try and combine it with the MPA capability.

Rocket Banana
July 13, 2015 9:53 am

Perhaps we could use Scorpion as intermediate trainers and Gripen for advanced trainers?

How much more is Gripen than Hawk to operate?… especially if we ripped out the weapons and sensor systems and replaced them with an in-aircraft simulator. The idea of the in-aircraft simulator is that we’d still have the screens but they would subscribe to a server (broadcast from E3 perhaps) which means we can simulate any combat/failure situation from the perspective of the system.

You’re then left with an agile, supersonic fighter trainer (Gripen) and Scorpion, which can be used for many light-weight taskings.

July 13, 2015 10:22 am

If you want to see what sentinel offers look at TAS’s post and also have a look at the new report TD linked to on analysis of the Libya campaign. It was to be scrapped for no other reason than to save money it’s heavily tasked I think at one point all 5 aircraft were airborne over the Mid East and Med.

The textron scorpion is a bigger aircraft than hawk and is twin engined and has a number of mounting points for equipment and weapons. This may make it of particular interest to the aggressor sqn in the RAF and the navy unit that plays with ships not to mention an number of other constabulary roles if the money is there. The 28 hawk t2 provide UK fast jet training the hawk t1 will leave service in 2017 most of which are currently in storage.

July 13, 2015 11:12 am

Does it not smack of utter desperation if we are proposing sending a fast-jet training fleet to an active war zone with weapons? I dislike and disagree with any suggestion that our training fleet should have a secondary role. This is not a game of Top Trumps.

Reviewing how we train given the much reduced fast-jet fleet makes much more sense. Is this not why the contract has been outsourced, to reduce cost (and yes, I’m aware of the self contradiction)? We should also ensure that anyone who receives expensive and bespoke training doesn’t then jack it in and go fly for BA just becuase the hours are a bit long or the hotels not up to scratch – a proper return on investment.

July 13, 2015 11:17 am


Surely a smaller antenna cannot achieve the resolution that a larger antenna can? The Sentinel sensor has a much longer baseline which allows for much better beamforming and far greater resolution. Just like a camera – no matter how much processing power you put behind it, the camera on an iPhone will never take a picture as well as a bottom-of-the-range SLR.

The Other Chris
July 13, 2015 11:30 am

Aperture size for resolution ranges is counter intuitive for the more common SAR strip and spot modes (there are always exceptions), but otherwise you’re correct.

AESA’s usually perform SAR by considering their elements in terms of dividing into smaller subsets of the array, so where the larger array of ASTOR from a SAR point of view becomes incredibly handy is you don’t have to move the aircraft between point A or B between compressed pulses, you can emit two pulses from either end of the array at the same time and combine the results as though you had moved. Lots of additional tricks available too from additional interference construction/destruction to taking into account actual aircraft movement too.

AESA also allows you to do this for multiple areas simultaneously with it’s multi-frequency, multi-beam abilities, so again the larger array helps immensely. Multiply out for larger AESA arrays with more elements.

SAR is just one mode of ASTOR of course, you still have the likes of volume ground search functions available that you may use before synthetic imaging where the larger array is always a clear advantage.

Hope that helps. I’ve worked on back-end sensor software (commercial, not military) so happy to answer questions within my NDA.

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 13, 2015 11:54 am

It’s surely more likely that Sentinel will be kept to supplement a small fleet of MPA, than a larger MPA fleet will be purchased so as to replace sentinel.

And I see that the Textron Scorpion has become the new “Falklands”. Folks now competing to elbow a mention into every thread.

I believe in the principle that once you have enough of something, you should stop buying more; but I don’t think that we have so large a fast jet fleet that we should now switch new investment to the little Scorpion.

Money can be saved by dropping the capability and performance requirement that we see in Typhoon and Tornado, but we don’t have a surfeit of those.

Large savings can also be made by dropping vertical lift requirements. I think the only way we could practically introduce a new light strike aircraft would be to drop Apache in favour of a fixed wing light attack aircraft, though I don’t think the Scorpion would reasonably be considered as an appropriate replacement.

Brian Black
Brian Black
July 13, 2015 12:13 pm

TAS, if a light aircraft type was in service as both a trainer and with combat units, then it might make it easier for underused fast jet crews to deploy on secondment to a light strike unit if they already had familiarity with that type.

I agree that it’s wrong to think of training aircraft being mobilised for operational service though.

The RAF, France too, did cut fast jet training hours in recent years for all but those crews preparing for operational deployment. If they did have other (cheaper) units they could attach to between major conflicts, crews on lower readiness could be kept more active and be usefully employed – which should keep them happier, and help to get the most out of the considerable investment that is put into aircrews.

July 13, 2015 12:23 pm

I don’t think it’s a case of sending training aircraft to war zones. More if we’re going to have a generational struggles against groups such as Isis that require primarily intelligence and light strike assets deployed to support friendly governments who don’t have particularly advanced air or ground forces then it maybe rather expensive and somewhat akin to sending a sledge hammer to crack a nut if we deploy f35 or typhoon to such roles.

Now reaper may fit the bill but it is manpower intensive and not without limitations. Is there a cheaper manned option out there that’s potentially a step up from the Beechcraft with similar costs worth having a look.

Certainly there seems to be a theme taking shape of two force structures that will sit side by side one to deal with a high end conventional threat in a renewed Russian assertiveness and a more barbaric but less sophisticated (from an equipment standpoint) terror threat that it more real a danger to public at large which requires capabilities only the military can bring but that is more asset intensive to counter.

July 13, 2015 1:04 pm

“Certainly there seems to be a theme taking shape of two force structures that will sit side by side one to deal with a high end conventional threat in a renewed Russian assertiveness and a more barbaric but less sophisticated (from an equipment standpoint) terror threat that it more real a danger to public at large which requires capabilities only the military can bring but that is more asset intensive to counter.”

Agreed. Back really to the old imperial policing force and BEF model but on much smaller scale for the Army with the RAF and RN expected to do everything in one force structure (which they very well can do).

July 13, 2015 1:48 pm

“I don’t think it’s a case of sending training aircraft to war zones. More if we’re going to have a generational struggles against groups such as Isis that require primarily intelligence and light strike assets deployed to support friendly governments who don’t have particularly advanced air or ground forces then it maybe rather expensive and somewhat akin to sending a sledge hammer to crack a nut if we deploy f35 or typhoon to such roles.”

More or less expensive than buying the aircraft for them? And what do our fast jets do in the meantime? Why are we fighting other people’s wars for them? Most of the GCC nations to which we profess such dedication and support have quite advanced air forces of their own – but lack the will (or the need) to fight. Is instilling a will to fight a UK military expeditionary task?

July 13, 2015 2:35 pm


Very much agree with regards to the Mid East we should be stepping back they have a significant number of very capable aircraft. We should be confining our involvement to specialist support aircraft such as rivet joint, sentinel, reaper and a330mrtt or the like. However we appear to be taking the exact opposite direction.

More thinking of the north and west African countries were we have been undertaking some work in recent years. Where extremism is starting to take hold the French have been very active and we should probably be doing more as these areas provides the UK with significantly more energy resources for example than the Mid East.

The fastjet fleet is now quite small and should be concentrating not only on the NATO Balkans task with an eye on Russia as well as the national qra tasking but increasing training to deal with the higher end tasks there required to preform but due to demands of Afghan and Iraq have been reduced in the past years.

Buying aircraft for regimes is always a difficult one what level of weapon and sensor capability do you give them and how stable is the regime your giving them too is there likely to be a coup are they like to use them in ways you did not intend that could have political consequences back home.

July 13, 2015 3:40 pm

Scraping is easy, keeping two different airframes isn’t.

But you know the Tories.

July 13, 2015 7:48 pm

Tranche 1 Typhoons being retired ! paint them RED…………..now that would be a truly awesome sound

July 14, 2015 10:41 am

All this talk about seconding P8 for the JSTARS role, it’s surely telling that Boeing are NOT offering a P-8 derivative but are proposing a completely seperate BBJ-based offering as opposed to the 737-800-based P8. In any event, P8 is a Navy asset, the JSTARS is USAF, so the two will never converge.


July 14, 2015 10:45 am

Seems to me people are liking the Scorpion and looking for things for it to do, rather than asking whether we need any more types.
IMO if a military task is deliverable by systems much less capable than ours then we should be getting someone else to do it. Why import planes to do someone else’s job? We outsource ground warfare to The likes of Uganda and ECOWAS, support them in buying and using Scorpions.
But then I would have UN approved PMCs doing UN tasks. Imagine the effect a PMC run Scorpion force could have in these bush wars….

Ps I rather think HMG might be looking at Scorpion to light a fire under BAe for when HMG want a good deal on replacing the Hawks for the Red Arrows, 100 squadron and FRADU

The Other Chris
July 14, 2015 10:58 am

If the USAF believe Boeing aren’t going to reuse equipment and system development from their P-8 production line and their MSA prototype they clearly haven’t been reading closely enough ;)

I have a nice Apple monitor to sell you. Same engine as a Samsung? Where did you hear that?…

One other pickup for JSTARS, and it’s a similar story with the UK’s MPA options if you break down the suppliers involved, is that the majority of options involve all the same companies just to differing degrees.

El Sid
El Sid
July 14, 2015 12:24 pm

737-800 is just a stretched version of the -700, so makes sense if you want to lug around a lot of extra cargo like sonobuoys. USAF already operates 737-700’s as the C-40 Clipper, and the 737-700ER/IGW is the longest-range member of the family so it makes sense as a “vanilla” 737 compared to the extensive modifications of the P-8.

stephen duckworth
July 14, 2015 12:58 pm

Perhaps Boeing will hold back from using Bombardier products due to the difficulties they are going through funding the development and launch of their 737 competitor the new C series. Shares are at a twenty year low strangely influenced by a Chinese airline switching to buying 50 737’s instead of being the Bombardier C series launch customer :-( As quite a lot of the C series was programmed to be manufactured here not such good news for the UK.

The Other Chris
July 14, 2015 1:08 pm

One direct question not really covered yet:

Have the MOD approached the USAF for evolving Sentinel proper, in a Joint venture rather than just sit back while industry pitches Sentinel-a-likes?
shark bait
shark bait
July 14, 2015 10:34 pm

@Mark, I very much agree with your comments.

I dont think a role is being created for the scorpion at all. Very soon we will be operating 2 of the most expensive jets in the world. We will be able to dominate air space and have a world class carrier strike. However because of the cost it is unlikely we will have them in large enough quantities, so I think it is important they are doing there primary role. If they do that only then the low numbers we will have should suffice. I also think that both those platforms are massively overqualified for blowing up pick-up trucks in the desert.

The above makes me think it would be reasonable to acquire a cheap platform to keep our expensive ones doing what they should be doing, deterring wealthy states, and a cheap platform to combat poor but volatile organisations, much in the way mark described.

I also disagree that it isn’t our place to be intervening in the middle east in the manor that we are. The current threat does pose a credible and very public threat to the UK so we need to be seen to be doing something about it. We are also still very powerful, so we need to prove we can actually do things and practice is very important. But most importantly I think is that we are responsible for destabilising these areas and created the conditions that allow such an organisation to spread. I think we are partly to blame for creating the problem so we should be involved in fixing it.

@ChrisM, I hope you are right in your last paragraph but that would show and unusual amount of competence from military procurement.

@dreaming, Best suggestion I have seen all week!

July 15, 2015 4:47 am


Interesting point made in this article

“The British came close to agreeing to a sole-source deal to acquire P-8s last year, but the move was quashed as Fallon became defence secretary and his predecessor, Philip Hammond, was promoted to foreign secretary.”

Makes a lot of sense in the context of what we were hearing with lack of MPA being a constant noise form the media.

Fingers crossed for SDSR. Also interesting to note that the P1 will be at the UK international air tattoo as its first foreign visit.

July 15, 2015 4:48 am
July 15, 2015 5:47 am

@shark bait

The “cheap” COIN platform you’re describing is Reaper. Not Scorpion or an armed Hawk.

This is where the long endurance of UAS like Reaper comes into its own. If we want continuous 24/7 coverage of an area then you start needing tens of fast jets or 2-3 Reaper to achieve the same effect. Reaper is a far cheaper option. Sometimes you might want more weapons in the air than a Reaper can carry, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen that situation in Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq. Providing ISF is the main role. Strike is secondary.

The Other Chris
July 15, 2015 9:46 am

When we talk Reaper, we also need to talk Shadow (in UK context) or the armed King Airs (in US context).

A key role is to provide supplementary/complementary cover for the RPAS fleets where terrain, bandwidth, GCS or trained RPA crews are limiting or unavailable, for example. They are not glamorous, but they are important.

The US were also looking at fitting limited RPAS control functions into their King Airs as well, in addition to the on-board full “GCS” features being added to both their E-2D’s and P-8A’s. USN RPAS and Hawkeyes now in same squadron IIRC.

July 15, 2015 10:53 am

PMs words
“In the last five years, I have seen just how vital these assets are in keeping us safe.”
Part of me wants his job so I can see exactly what they have been up to….and part of me thinks that knowing all the threats that require such action must be pretty stressful – ignorance can be bliss!
How much work is needed to fly Reaper off a carrier? Quick detach wings?
The quoted use of the carriers to deploy SF would need Osprey wouldn’t it? Otherwise the carrier would be a bit close to be subtle??

July 15, 2015 11:08 am

ChrisM – ref Reaper deck space – the standard aircraft comes in a Gucci crate with wings tail etc detached.comment image
Doesn’t look like there would be configuration change required, although you’d imagine a good deal of work would happen to make the machine durable in salt-mist environments.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 15, 2015 11:58 am

@ ChrisM

We probably won’t be targeting anyone who has the capability to see a Carrier group out of visual range, and most of the time the country involved will have given us permission for the operations so the carrier group won’t even be trying to hide.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 2:44 pm

“Doesn’t look like there would be configuration change required, although you’d imagine a good deal of work would happen to make the machine durable in salt-mist environments”

When will you people get it into your heads that salt-water corrosion is but one of the nasties in a naval environment? The presence of many high power RF emitters in very close proximity is likely to do wonders for any electrical and electronic systems in the aircraft that haven’t been designed to work in that environment from the off. Then you’re into talking about the magical DM Brimstone, which the last time I looked was not cleared for carriage in any naval EM environment I’m familiar with, not least because it might just launch itself if the wrong EM field is active at the time…….

And that’s before you get to hazards like the golden rivet.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 15, 2015 3:13 pm


Weren’t the Apache’s in Libya using Brimstone and they were based on the carriers, but even if it isn’t cleared I think it is something MBDA would be looking to sort out so that they can try and get the MOD to look into integrating them on F35.

The big issues are going to be launch and recovery, among this is the RF issue, as well as the physical ones. Salt-water corrosion is one of the smaller issues, could well involve changing materials etc. but should be fairly logical to solve.

July 15, 2015 3:19 pm

NaB – ref nasties – I’m pretty sure there are unpleasant EM environments in places other than ships. Although 909 took some beating when it came to cooking at distance.

An aside on this subject – a few Saturdays back I visited Redhill Aerodrome to meet with friends. When I parked (the car park among offices and hangars, the airfield not visible) I noted the remote locking fob took a few goes to lock the car – must be the battery running down I thought. After lunch when time to go, the fob had no effect on the car at all despite its indicator LED burning bright. I walked around the car resting the fob against the windows to get as strong a signal as possible through to the receiver but no reaction. Eventually the key went in the door and it unlocked (triggering the alarm, naturally). Once inside the car with the door shut it took a dozen more attempts to – eventually – disable the immobiliser and kill the alarm. I drove away. Since then, the remote lock has worked as normal at ranges it has always achieved. Deduction then was that Redhill Aerodrome car park has extremely high levels of RF chatter over a broad band (or exactly on car locking frequency which would seem to be dumb) that completely swamp a working plip right next to the receiving antenna. Airfield radar? Markers for civil air lanes? Bristows playing with repaired transmitters? Ham radio? I have no idea, but it is the only time in 13 years of owning this car that it has suffered any noticeable jamming let alone such a comprehensive effect.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 3:32 pm

AFAIK Apache only cleared for Hellfire……..

Solving the issues is indeed logical. But it is usually far from cheap. So far from cheap that MBDA are highly unlikely to respecify and re-engineer Brimstone at their own expense to achieve this.

Imagine being in a place where the absolute furthest you are away from a high-power emitter can be about 100m.

stephen duckworth
July 15, 2015 3:43 pm

MBDA are testing Brimstone 2 at present for maritime use for LCS and small missile boats ( a big market) and helicopter launch. Called Sea Spear it will pick up from Sea Venom at the shorter range end or so the marketing goes.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 15, 2015 3:54 pm

Whilst onboard RF shouldn’t be a huge issue except maybe on the flightdeck, because they have defined transmission arcs etc, SHIPHAZ rules are an absolute bitch these days, for very good reasons, though how this works on carriers I am unsure on.

Also reading the wiki on Brimstone it says they are upgrading it to insensitive munitions etc and also had been working on harrier integration before they were scrapped, as well as look at a ship launched version (got as far as testing), so depending how true that is and how far they got they might have a fair bit of the work done already.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 15, 2015 3:56 pm

Also I had just assumed they had integrated Brimstone onto Apache, would have seemed sensible to me as it is always being talked up as being better and a UK product.

El Sid
El Sid
July 15, 2015 4:34 pm

I once got stranded at a service station by my keyfob being disabled by the local EM environment. Apparently it was notorious for it, it was only a fairly narrow age-range of fobs that were affected, from one manufacturer. Never had problems with my next car from them though – but I never again left home without the magic code for disabling the immobiliser in the event that it won’t “plip”!!

A topical reminder of Brimstone safety – a couple fell off at Akrotiri, not good :

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 4:52 pm

Insensitive munition is not the same as EMI/EMC compliant munition.

The “maritime” Brimstone tests that are all over Youtube were from a dumb barge with no combat system equipment, other than an angle-iron launcher. The actual purpose of the test was to prove that the weapon could be targeted, home on and hit a fast-moving maritime target – which it did, three times if memory serves. That’s not the same as proving that a weapon is able to be stored long-term on and used from a real naval platform in operational service.

Given that when onboard a carrier, the weapons are not built-up (ie fully assembled) until they reach the prep area and subsequently the flightdeck, the flightdeck is probably the most stressing environment, particularly when you consider you have to park armed aircraft, carrying forward-firing weapons in a very limited area.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 6:46 pm

They’re not. But it’s the latter.

Also worth saying that it’s a fantastic weapon that I wish was qualified. But a bunch of fanboys hoping (or pretending) it was will not make it so – or more pertinently pay the bill.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 7:08 pm

AIUI wasn’t even worth running the physical trials. Failed first stages.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 7:19 pm

You’d think so wouldn’t you?

Still – until all acquisition is done to naval standards under naval control for an all maritime force, with absolutely no interference from anyone else – don’t hold your breath…….(!!)

The Other Chris
July 15, 2015 7:56 pm

Back to the argument that gets shouted down so often that the UK should develop for its harshest operating environment as the baseline and variant from there.

July 15, 2015 7:56 pm

Just a small point, did the navy ask to get involved, pay the extra or show any interest in clearing it for naval use?

stephen duckworth
July 15, 2015 8:01 pm

By far and away Naval service for kit is the arduous but time and again manufacturers/mod exclude meeting these requirements which if costed in from the outset would add limited costs to , army only , RAF only etc purchases and allow free criss service use. A marinised aircraft must last longer and need less inspection etc . And as a island nation , Tiffies at Lossiemouth and there systems don’t get saturated with salt from the adjacent sea? Kit operating in the brackishish littoral land environment or even much of the worlds deserts which have a higher salts content than your Skegness beach . The mind boggles! Keel haul them , fresh water only though as the ropes would corrode and snap after a few ;-)

July 15, 2015 8:32 pm

The navy included a requirement for the merlin and Lynx to be able to operate hot and high when it started the design didn’t it….

The Other Chris
July 15, 2015 8:46 pm


Probably not. AST.1238 heritage weapon (Marconi days), so AST.410 for carriage. Navy not involved in platform formally until NST.6464. 1982/83 ish. Deep in silo-mentality at that point.

July 15, 2015 9:11 pm

@ TD

Not meant to be cutting, I just asked the question because if you don’t ask*, you don’t get.

*Either the original or upgraded B2.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 15, 2015 9:38 pm

Hook, line, sinker, copy of Angling Times and Green Wellies Monthly………

The Other Chris
July 15, 2015 9:44 pm

You still looking for that rivet?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 16, 2015 7:03 am

The specific phraseology and extraneous exclamation marks ought to have given it away…….

Mind – while we’re on the subject, our “requirements” in general could do with a bit of forethought. Take Marks suggestion that the Navy didn’t think hot n’high for Lynx / Merlin. Aside from the slight issue that sub-hunting helicopters (which is what the RN bought) don’t tend to find their targets above sea level, I’d bet reasonable money that no helicopter staff requirement / URD from any of the services included a hot n high requirement until post-Herrick. It’s not like Puma could do it either and the Wokka only works h n’ h because of it’s vast rotor area, high relative power and lack of GB limitation.

Point being (as we’ve all said many times before) – where a piece of kit has obvious potential use across the joint arena, the lead organisation ought to be beholden to consider the potential for joint use and unless completely prohibitive, include such features as a matter of course, rather than by exception.

Rocket Banana
July 16, 2015 8:07 am

The question is that IF brimstone had been spec-ed to work in a naval EM environment then just how much more would it have cost.

There is a fine line between making everything work for every environment and designing something to do the job it is supposed to do most of the time in a single clearly defined environment.

Your “copter” chat proves that somewhat.

“We need a light battlefield copter”… “oh, also make it navalised, able to carry torpedoes and AShM, err, also need a surface surveillance radar, plus of course, some OLEO dampers for deck slam”. “Yes sir, certainly sir, that will be 300% of the original price”.

“But, but, we only want a battlefield utility copter with a couple of .50 cal !”

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 16, 2015 10:22 am
Reply to  Rocket Banana

I suspect (but happy to be corrected otherwise) that Brimstone componentry, once specified as EM compliant etc, should not necessarily be massively more expensive. It’s changing the design once built and certified that costs money.

Where things are massively more expensive, that’s covered by the word “prohibitive”.

Unfortunately your argument re Lynx/Wildcat is @rse about face, in that there was always an original requirement for a naval helicopter, rather than your suggestion that an “army” cab was subsequently navalised.

The actual choice there was probably between a Lynx/Wildcat for the Navy and “something else” for the AAC. That “something else” could have been a straight Gazelle remanufacture, or an AW109 at one end. At the other end it’s an S-70 Blackhawk a-like, which would also mean you might not need to do the Puma upgrade and you can have a straight sh1t-fight between AAC and RAF as to who owns the cabs. It may also cover the naval element – although S-70 is a bigger heavier beast that does not necessarily fit everywhere the navy wants. And you probably remove the remaining UK capability in R/W vehicle design.

Both those option have issues – either more fleets and cost or organisational/political/industrial factors. Not quite the same as an initial decision to make a system capable of widespread potential use………

July 16, 2015 10:45 am

Yes my comment on merlin and Lynx were somewhat tongue and cheek as almost no UK military equipment was spec’d to operate anywhere other than the North altantic and Germany. Didn’t the type 23 also have issues sailing in the gulf due to heat. In fact probably the last UK aircraft that had hot and high requirements was the vc-10 which was required to service the many empire outposts in such areas hence why it was a tad expensive compared to its American equivalents.

Wokkas other advantage is engine power is not diverted from generating lift to provide a tail rotor counter torque force. However if the UK is to see itself as expeditionary then global requirements maybe more a feature going fwd.

Rocket Banana
July 16, 2015 10:53 am


I was careful not to say Lynx/Wildcat… it was just an example, and as you say, an @r$e about face example in terms of Lynx/Wildcat.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 16, 2015 11:34 am

Who’s suggesting Julius has delivered a non-deck-capable cab???!!

As for T23s in the Gulf – water-soaked pussers sleeping bags on the plummer bearings to keep them in temp is not big or clever. Thankfully now modified and overcome….

The Other Chris
July 16, 2015 11:50 am

Thought the new rotor brake resolved the safety issue?

Lifts and Hangar deck designed for handling Chinook with blades unfolded to get them inside where the blades can be removed manually for tight storage if needed?

Rocket Banana
July 16, 2015 3:25 pm

Why tolerate the cost and weight penalties of a naval solution for non-naval applications?

I sort of understand the cost because the R&D is written off over more units which ultimately costs less, but not if the performance of the unit is compromised.

Can there not be more of a “needs must” approach in certain circumstances – like Chinook with Brimstone and Army bods working from QEC?

The Other Chris
July 16, 2015 3:50 pm

Missing the point.

Not necessarily any compromise, cost or weight penalties at all. NH90 and S-70 (their own issues aside) have benefited from Day 1 design inclusions. Where there are compromises for a specific application, cheaper and lighter components than “maritime spec” are usually easier to insert in their place rather than vice versa.


An Apache (acceptable land-based performance) converted for maritime operation is heavier.

A Cobra (acceptable maritime performance) modified for a land based operator (e.g. Turkish army who do not need the filters or galvanised rivets) is lighter.

Buccaneer… I rest my case your Honour.

Caveat: Broad strokes.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
July 16, 2015 4:46 pm
Reply to  Think Defence

Possibly because someone (having seen a bit of kit – let’s call it an aircraft, potentially with Brimstone hanging off it) thought it might be a good idea to assess compatibility for potential shipboard use.

Trouble is, design, specification & manufacture of said combo too far along to change.

Rocket Banana
July 16, 2015 10:00 pm

Ahem, Your Honour?

To be honest it’s not a dig a “naval”. The same could be said for Arctic or desert operation. It’s simply scoping where something will be used… for the majority of the time. The rest of the time is the “needs must” exception where corrosion, cold, dust, mud, slime, heat, etc simply have to be endured by both man and machine.

The Other Chris
July 16, 2015 10:03 pm

Nowt wrong with the B. ASTOVL through to JAST was always maritime capable STOVL. Blame Congress and the USAF :)

If you look at almost everything the UK has been doing lately, we’ve sent almost everything we’ve got everywhere we’ve been.

Rocket Banana
July 17, 2015 7:19 am
If you look at almost everything the UK has been doing lately, we’ve sent almost everything we’ve got everywhere we’ve been.

But we’ve “been” in the desert for the last 25 years!
Besides, I’m not sure what point you’re making. We used the “needs must” approach with Apache on Ocean for Libya didn’t we? It wasn’t fully navalised at the time. I’m not sure it was at all marinised other than some windscreen wipers.
I’m looking forward to seeing Mastiff operate in the arctic tundra. Although as a UOR procurement I guess we wouldn’t expect it to be part of the same design process that considers everywhere.
Dedicated equipment for dedicated roles and environments.

July 17, 2015 7:43 am

The Arctic tundra seems to have gone down in priorities since the number given here
for such vehicles had actually shrunk by half (from that indicated) by the time they were returned to service.
– it is possible that they are done in batches, but there was no such mention in the more recent news piece

The Other Chris
July 17, 2015 8:41 am

Everyone thinks of Afghanistan as a dry desert, most are surprised to see snow:


“In some locations in Southwest Asia, the air is saltier than the sea,” Carr said. “The desert’s sand abrasion, extreme temperature variations, corrosive sand salts, and moisture condensation accelerate corrosion on Army aircraft. Dust permeates everything and the corrosiveness levels are as much as seven times higher than in the continental U.S.”


UK Chinooks and Merlins have faired far better than helicopters of our allies after drawdown with a lower forced retirement rate as in general our maritime modification requirements (including cleaning processes) have fortuitously resulted in more theatre-survivable airframes. Compare Apache and Merlin fleets.

Which rotary fleet has suddenly lost a dozen or so aircraft when crews and engineers *were* available?

Apache from Ocean was borderline criminal. Asking pilots to fly for a protracted length of time when their own aircraft was as dangerous as the enemy is a very heavy burden to place of our service personnel. It’s not right. They need appropriate kit. We should have had GR.9a’s available, or Cobras. Where were our own equivalent of Pave Hawk’s to operate more organically alongside the Apaches? We had good friends. We were lucky. We got away with it.

Having seen how suddenly an Apache needs to settle down, consider the issues raised after ELLAMY:


By following this silo’d design approach over the years and trying to replicate the US Armed Forces in miniature also results in this happening:


Very stoic, very innovative, very “get the job done”, very British…

Where the bloody hell was our own CSAR?

Why aren’t our recovery crews inside an armed cab? Why do we need a separate AH shaped cab these days when a cab that can carry medics and a supporting fire team inside it can also loft Brimstone-shapes from 30nm plus away?


The UK can’t sustain separate fleets of specialised aircraft any more. Arguably since the 70’s. We really need a combined medium utility/attack platform so that we have AH, PAX/Cargo and CSAR available to us. We are becoming developed experts in stand off, fire and forget precision. The US are following us in this regard. Apache is a legacy.

AW want the UK and Italy to use them for replacing Apache, Mangusta and Puma.

Fine. Find a common platform (AW or not) and develop that, think a modern version the S-70 family, clean-skies tiltrotors or Defiant coaxials, whatever, but make sure it can operate from a maritime environment without rotting, killing its crew or accidentally triggering stores because you can damn well be sure that a future premier of ours will be forced to place very heavy burdens on our people again and these burdens shouldn’t be heavier than they could be.

We’re going in the right direction already. I’m just concerned with the project planning stability a known level of funding for a known number of years provides that there would be temptation or just a natural return toward silo’d service requirements again after a few years of the services finally starting to get together out of necessity.

EDIT: I’m naturally drawn to kit involving turbines, rockets and sensors by virtue of background. Extrapolate out for other kit from ground vehicles to small arms to mess stoves in these conditions too. Hats off to our service engineers and mechanics.

The Other Chris
July 20, 2015 9:02 am

Another new pod seen fitted to just one of the P-8A’s centreline pylons*, this time possibly a SIGINT/ELINT or Communications Node (e.g. BACN) suite:



* The AAS test flight required both centreline pylons and a plug adapter using the retractable EO turret bay for the very long (and surprisingly wide!) pod. Been wondering of late, given the Boeing 737 pitch for JSTARS, if what we’ve been seeing has been a longer array version of the what’s a common sensor for both the JSTARS pitch and the LSRS replacement? On the JSTARS pitch an approximate length sensor is pictured in a conformal canoe set further back on the airframe (no stretched fuselage or environment controlled bay to offset).