In 1996, BAE Systems was awarded a £2 billion contract to remanufacturing 21 Nimrod MR2 aircraft into Nimrod MRA4 specification. After serious issues with the programme, the MRA4 was ultimately cancelled in 2010 as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, five years later in 2015 the UK announced its intention to order nine P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

The issues with Nimrod MRA4 aren’t going to be looked at in this article, instead we’re going to take a look at something many are unaware of.

Most don’t know that there were plans to fit bombs and Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Nimrod MRA4, giving the UK a very long range airborne strike capability.

According to a research paper by C. Harrington in 2006, you can request a copy here, the aircraft was wired up for Storm Shadow missiles as well as guided bombs.

“UK Ministry of Defence has selected BAE Systems to manufacture 12 Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Nimrod MR.2 that will cost less than GBP3.8 billion. Three Nimrod MRA.4 development aircraft based at BAE System’s Warton site have already conducted more than 125 trial flights including live link-ups with the Royal Navy destroyers at sea and a deployment at Sicily for hot weather trials.

The first production Nimrod MRA.4 aircraft will be delivered to the RAF in 2009 and all the 12 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by 2012 with three prototype aircraft being converted to production standard towards the end of production run at BAE Systems Woodford plant in Cheshire.

Necessary wiring and other hardware changes have also been incorporated in the Nimrod MRA.4 to carry a range of ordnance that can include the Storm Shadow long range cruise missiles and satellite guided bombs such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition.”

Are there any plans to do this with Poseidon?

In short, no.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, asked the following Parliamentary question in 2016:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether the P-8 Poseidon will be capable of carrying UK Storm Shadow and other manufactured munitions.”

Philip Dunne, then Minister for Defence Procurement, responded:

“The Department intends to bring the P-8A into service without significant modification to ensure the delivery of operational capability as soon as is practicable. There are no current plans to integrate Stormshadow or other UK manufactured weapons onto the aircraft.”

The P-8 is capable of conducting anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and shipping interdiction along with an electronic signals intelligence role. This involves carrying torpedoes, depth charges and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The aircraft is able to drop and monitor sonobuoys, not guided bombs.

British P-8 Poseidon aircraft are armed with American weapons, which makes sense given the relatively small fleet the UK will be operating.

British P-8 Poseidon aircraft to be armed with American weapons

Why add costs for a bespoke capability for just 9 aircraft?


3.8 6 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


I can remember seeing them under the chop at Woodfood (let alone a Lanc fuselage under restoration that had a hangar roof collapse on it!).

I just think we are missing a bit of an opportunity now with so many low-hour airliners going for the chop. Surely the UK could grab say 12 and either stick a bomb bay in them for conventional iron bomb stuff, or equip as long-range stand-off missile warehouse? …and don’t get me going on Concorde in that sort of role.


Good point. A very large stand off platform could deliver a whole sqns worth of cruise missiles and doesn’t need to be of particularly high military spec. I don’t think Concorde would be any better though. So you would get into a commercial air traffic lane near the target then shoot and scoot. No need to be supersonic really.


We could certainly use a long range strike platform but anything based on an airliner would be hopelessly vulnerable to missiles. Even use against naval targets would be extremely hazardous.

scott parker

Why not buy some B52s off the yanks. They’re going to be in service another 50 years


You must be joking. To fit a bomb bay you would need to redesign the pressure cabin, which nowadays includes the freight bays. And that is just for starters.


Hasnt that been done for the P-8 already ?
We just need to stop messing about, increase the P-8 order to 15+, and add the long-range strike capability.

Robert Blay

And the money for that comes from were??

Adrian Cockerill

Even if we did that with an airliner, it would fall in the same category as the mra4..
We wouldn’t have enough cash to buy the ordinance to fill the bomb bay

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken

Haven’t you heard ? HM gov are awash with new spangled “Currency” (it’s not money as it’s backed by nothing otherwise known as Hee Haw) they can’t keep up with all the extra zeros they are adding to the balance sheets. Billions upon billions Nobody cares about the national debt in Westminster anymore ,it’s never getting paid back anyways. Fiscal responsibility is for the birds .There’s a new financial system coming FIAT is on the way out , the US dollar is on the way out but until then it’s spend spend spend 👍🏻😜 wey hey man we could get… Read more »

I will believe it when i see it. There is lots of talk of expenditure, but nothing has actually happened, outside the forced covid stuff (and handing out some really bad contracts with no return). When covid is brought under control and the dust has settled, i suspect countries all over the world are going to have to deal with their debt. Simply because debt comes with interest, which needs to be paid and that means there is a smaller and smaller amount of the national income available to spend on anything. Greece etc learnt to their cost that you… Read more »

Last edited 22 days ago by Steve
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken

You are prob right on the MOD spending front but we can live in hope. The debt however is another matter it’s never getting paid back the financial system as we know it is in its final act. It’s an open secret in the financial world economists worldwide agree on that front . Might I suggest you have a wee ganders at Neil McCoy Ward he’s a former British army Sgt now involved in finance world provides a really interesting insight into what’s happening (and he ain’t no conspiracy lover as the folks in here love to howl) anyhoos any… Read more »


only need to defend a small section of the world with our neighbours, UK has little interest in defending France again… E-7 Fleet will help and both platforms only need 1 group of pilots

Darren hall

Why bomb bays?
The VC-10 ,was considered as a missile carrier too, rather than using the Vulcan or Victor. Underwing hardpoints for 2 missiles.

And don’t forget, the RAF was told it was inpossible to chop and stretch the Herc and impossible to put a cargo door into the Tristar. KC-1 operated for many years with said impossible door…


I often wondered why we didn’t even consider a bombing role for a Concorde variant. I guess the cost would have been prohibitive, although with a lot of the costs written off, and a potential international market for a Mach 2 (supercruise) bomber I still mull it over


I highly doubt you could turn the Concorde design into an effective bomber, or to have a UK that was in an economic position to fund and sustain such a capability.


TSR2 !


…Boys and Girls. Aa I understand it, one of the big probs with the Nimrod/Comet design was de Havilland’s use of a magnesium alloy that just corroded to dust. My main thrust though was the concept of a LOW-COST opportunity to grab some airliners NOW whilst they are going cheep, and for a relatively small amount of conversion money and without re-inventing the wheel, come up with a fleet of aircraft for the RAF that can in an emergency: 1) Drop some iron bombs in quantity on something if needed, including say a bunker-buster Grand Slam or something and do… Read more »

George Royce

We should have made a replacement. I think time has told us, that depleting your own talent at home to buy cheaper stuff from abroad, is all good in the short-term but devasting in the long-term.

P8 is good plane but we increasingly need a thriving UK military aviation industry


How exactly do you think that would be economically viable?


The problem was the original airframe selection. We could have been going up against the p8 if we’d selected an airbus airframe. To make something viable we need be think product not bespoke.

Paul C

It would have been an expensive and protracted exercise. Unless the money was found from Treasury reserve (unlikely) what would have been cut to pay for it? Better to use the same plane as our allies and get the thing into service asap at modest cost. We need another Nimrod fiasco like we need a hole in the head.


The days of Britain producing their own aircraft specifically for their own needs has long since passed.

Sean Crowley

Remember a RAF pilot back from an Australian posting flying Hornets . When talking to an USN Pilot posted to ETPS Boscombe Down who was raised in Australia and had flown A-7s and Hornets this guy tersely stated that the UK could have had a thousand FA-18’s for the price of what it payed for the Tornado . It was said with vehement disgust of the industry that forced the product on them , was also the first time i heard of Blue Circle radar that still makes me laugh today , English whit is the best .

Robert Blay

And if we didn’t build Tornado, then Typhoon wouldn’t have happened, and if Typhoon didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be building 15% of 3000 F35’s. And Tempest definitely wouldn’t be happening. And another 100,000 plus skilled workers would be working for Tesco. And we’d be ever reliant on foreign nations for our defense equipment.

George Royce

Hear hear.




Guess the Minister’s statement means no Stingray for now? A word of caution in regards to the P8. Compared to the mighty Nimrod, its bomb bay is tiny. Mk54s torpedoes with the wing kit are a tight fit, so fitting a longer Storm Shadow is never going to happen, unless they go under the wings. There was that occasion though when a Nimrod did become an inadvertent bomber. As part of their search and rescue gear, they carried 10 man dingies. On a practice exercise off Scotland. The parachute failed to fully deploy and the dingy travelling at nearly 300mph… Read more »


I assume the P-8 has all the rescue kit available if needed? The A400m down in the Falklands has SAR kit they can deploy if needed, Great capability.

Daniele Mandelli

Yes, I was aware of this.
And under the FOAS programme even transport aircraft were being looked at to drop stand off weapons.
FOAS yet another programme to bite the dust.


Hi Daniele
The MOAB was dropped from a Hercules in Afghanistan ……it can be seen on YouTube
thanks Ian

Lee H

“British P-8 Poseidon aircraft are armed with American weapons, which makes sense given the relatively small fleet the UK will be operating”. What a disappointing statement to make.  You can only have true sovereignty of a capability of a platform if you can provide the information exchange security (crypto) and the weapon systems that it utilises.  You can only develop and sustain a UK sovereign weapons manufacturing capability if you invest in that capability. To invest in the capability you need a customer – cryptography is protected and the market is sustained through the work done by NCSC, the MoD… Read more »


I take it you want to ignore the already present hole in the defence budget and demand more spending then?

John Hartley

Weds, 9 November 1997, riffraff like me were invited to MOD Whitehall as part of the SDR. I met George Robertson (Sec Defence) briefly. I pitched the idea of fitting Storm Shadow to Nimrod MRA4. If the idea was around before that, fair enough, but if not, then I was the first to push it.
Re P-8. Is not the SLAM-ER available for P-8? I have seen photos of P-8 carrying SLAM-ER test rounds. Also, the USN is contracting the fitting of LRASM & perhaps JDAMs to P-8 in a few years. We could adopt that too.


UK does need a long range standoff strike aircraft in the near future. I suggest a semi stealth Supercruise capable tailess delta winged aircraft tailored (without vertical tail) Vulcan bomber design with internal payload capacity of the Victor. Engines are 4 updated Eurojets found on the Typhoons, buried in the wing like the B2 bomber, avionics and flight control again taken from the Typhoons (essentially recycle as much Typhoon parts as possible). BAE and it partners should look to a delivery price point of about £150 million per copy with 50 units delivered to the RAF over a 10 year… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

F me. Where do we sign! 😃

Captain P Wash

I’m in…… where should i send my 2 cents ?


I understand it would have been cheaper to build new Nimrods from scratch than to buy Boeing’s much less capable aircraft.

Last edited 23 days ago by Flydlbee

Which is why I can’t understand why we did not team up with airbus to design a joint Maritime patrol aircraft. Voyager would have been too large an airframe but shows how successful it could have been if we partnered with them on a smaller airframe. France I’m sure would have joined as their own airframes are aging. Poseiden I’m sure will do fine but we wasted billions on Nimrod with nothing to show for it.


Yep. Could have been competing in the international market against the p8 instead of buying it.


I think BAE did propose to build a new Nimrods from scratch instead of re-building the old ones. it was turned down on cost grounds!!!


Building brand new Nimrod was a complete non starter. BAE knew this. If they werent prepared to partner with airbus who they owned a significant portion of at the time and use a commercial airframe the UK government should have immediately selected poseiden or gone directly to airbus and sidestepped BAE altogether. When they where the only game it town the complete ripped the government off and delivered very little. Then wonder why they missed out on warrior lep and ajax.


Gibberish. Poseidon didnt exist in the mid 90s. UK had long planned on jumping on the next US program but P-7 had been cancelled and Nimrod was ageing. Converting an Airbus A320 was the right answer (and far better than the ancient B737 platform) but MoD wanted it cheap and MoD wanted BAe to do an upgrade and relife of Nimrod because the people making the decisions knew Nimrod and MoD thinks anything new is excessivrely expensive but endless relifes and upgrades “must be” cheaper. That is stupid but the mindset persists. BAe is an outstanding aerospace and defence company… Read more »


Also at that time, the RAF was insisting on a 4 engined aircraft for over water operations so it was either a BAE146/Avto RJ or an A340 as the only airframe choices available if they didn’t upgrade Nimrod


Errr A320???? I assume you mean that.

4 engines was simply a ploy to avoid being forced into some European Atlantique idea.


I’m sure it would have been, if all the tooling was still available

Paul C

New airframes were needed from the get go but the government wanted to do things on the cheap. As soon as the scale of the issues with the MR4A became clear the project should have been scrapped. Instead it went round in ever decreasing circles year after year soaking up money like a sponge.


I worked next to the Nimrod team, the most dispirited bunch of people you could imagine. No amount of money thrown at it would make it fly properly, even by pre 2010 standards. Literally I heard many “happiest day of my life” from them when it was binned. We should have developed a maritime A320 from the 90s and put BAE at the centre of militarised Airbuses. A P8 a decade earlier basically and not some ancient B737 platform but a modern FBW Airbus. The Nimrod mission system is basically the P8s as that lifted what had been done. I… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

Quite I’ve been ‘to the pub’ with a few of the team and there are two opposing camps on MRA4; your ‘disaster area canning it was a godsend’ and ‘canning it was crazy, brilliant project’ I’d tend to side with you. The mission system was fine but the airframe was a nightmare of a bodge on a mashup. Best thing was to draw a line under it. Which is why I find it odd that there is so much ‘not invented here’ about the P8 – the critical bit was, as you say, invented here. We just chose the wrong… Read more »

Paul C

Interesting to hear the story ‘from the horse’s mouth’. I read a comprehensive article on the MR4A a few years back and the catalogue of issues was frightening. It concluded that the plane was basically a liability and nothing could be done to turn it into an airworthy and servicable asset.


I’m glad you mentioned that because the reason I am reading this is to confirm that the Boeing mission system on Nimrod that UK paid for us basically been taken for P8.


How exactly have you come to that thought? There’s no way trying to recreate a dead design like Nimrod would be cheaper than buying a current gen production airframe.


And yet MoD is convinced, program after program after program, that a life extension / upgrade is far cheaper than new.

I’d be interested to know if any program actually proved that correct…

John Hartley

BAE first pitched Nimrod2000 that would have kept refurbished airframes & Spey engines, but fitted a flatscreen cockpit instead of the old dials & new systems. That was rejected, so BAE proposed new build MRA4 with BR710 engines. HMG chose a bastard mix, that ended up costing way more than new build, that could have worked had another shed load of money been thrown at it.

John Hartley

Flight International, 26 Jan 1994, had a half page article on BAE Ist Nimrod pitch for Air 420. The revamped Nimrod would have a cockpit with 6x LCD displays, new acoustic sensor suite, an infra red optronics system, a defensive aids sub system & a stores management system. It would have kept the RR Spey engines. They only proposed minor modifications to the airframe. People talk of other options, but at the time, the only competition came from Lockheed with P-3C Orion update 3 & Dassault Atlantique ATL.2


Having spent £4billion, I always wondered why they didn’t spend just a bit more and get it into service. May have spent a lot more to buy the P8’s but I think the government had had enough. Someone I knew at BAE Woodford said well we’ve been given more than enough time (10 years or so?) to fix it and it’s still not ready so that’s probably why it’s been cancelled.


It just couldn’t be made to fly right. That hadn’t stopped programs in the past, but post Haddon-Cave report (which was due to a Nimrod crash and exposed failures in every aspect of its design, certification and in service managment of airworthiness) – safety was now being taken seriously and so there was no way forward.

Cancelletion was a kindness.


Large volumes of stand-off cruise missiles delivered from something like the A400m or C17 makes perfect sense and would be a real force multiplier.

9 is too few P8 to spare for that sort of thing though.

James Rankin

I agree, with challenger. It would be cheaper to develop a mechanised system, that delivers weapons in the same way a C17 or A400M releases freight by parachute. As many weapons are sophisticated they could be controlled after being launched or jettisoned . Then when not in use the mechanism can be removed and stored in a hanger. Perhaps even fitted in a shipping container for mobility.


It makes no sense as we dont have the money to buy that many missiles and the A400 and C17 fleets are already fully occupied.

Supportive Bloke

We have a big stockpile of Storm Shadows


You might think we do. Reality differs. Reality has also, despite at least 2 significant conflicts over 2 decades, failed to provide a reason for the UK to lob dozens and dozens of them in one go. Targeting capacity may also be something you should consider. We are 1/7th of the US in population and about 1/10th in wealth. Allowing for their economies of scale we should expect to be doing something like 1/12th the effort. Launching pallet after pallet of ALCMs just is not a UK requirement. Hence why nobody is even considering doing that, especially from a transport… Read more »


This is a good article on The WarZone website from February 2020 regarding the weapons upgrade path the USN is performing on the P-8A:

Of particular interest is LRASM, the Oz Government recently announced that it will also be fitting LRASM to the RAAF P-8A fleet.

If the UK Government wants a long range strike weapon (LRASM is capable of maritime and land strike), all it has to do is procure stock, and possibly share in some of the integration cost with the USN and RAAF.



Just a thought, but I was assuming that’s what the carriers and F35s are for if your serious about sustained operations or just want to look all geopolitical in another nations direction. If it’s just a quick teach them a lesson, we have nuclear submarines to deliver tomahawks. long range bomber fleets are for those nations with more nuclear weapons than accountants and or just can’t be arsed to argue which strategic deterrent is best and have way to much money or are run by a slightly xenophobic totalitarian executive ( and I’m sticking the that argument as the main… Read more »

Last edited 23 days ago by Jonathan
Steve R

Is it just me or is £2 billion to upgrade a mere 12 aircraft completely insane?

Seems to me it would have been cheaper and more effective to have built new Nimrod MR4s, or similar platform, from scratch rather than upgrading the old airframes.

We would probably have them in service still, had we done that instead.


It was £3.8bn for nine aircraft by the time of cancellation. With an unknown additional amount of money needed to get it to fly properly and be certified.


I think at the final point that “fly properly and be certified” was something that money could not buy. A Nimrod with a typhoon style fly by wire system replacing the mechanical one, as BAE wanted to do in the 90s but MoD in its infinite wisdom said was just “british waste of space ripping us off” (quite possibly the same procurement geniuses that spent a fortune on Chinook Mk3s) – would have been fixable and done so years earlier. The true tragedy of Nimrod’s failure is that it was baked in when the engineers were ignored at the outset… Read more »


Nobody was ever going to build “new” Nimrods, and unless the UK had signed up for some joint development I don’t see how it would have been able to get an economically viable project going?


But by then end 90% of it was new anyway. They only retained the fuselages which BAE found out were all slightly different dimensions and would have been quicker and cheaper to make new ones.

Paul C

I cannot see building new Nimrods being a viable option even 20+ years ago. Surely buying new currently available airframes would have been the way to go rather than digging an expensive hole trying to recreate an obsolete design.

Steve R

I did say “or similar design.”

But yeah, we could have built 20 clean sheet aircraft for the price of the failed Nimrod upgrades.

John Clark

You do like opening cans of worms George!

The MR4 would have been a fantastic multi roll aircraft, a wonderful asset, but one that should never have been built.

The issues became apparent very early on…

Though I would love to see strike capability added to the P8 with British weapons, I am just happy to see aircraft in RAF roundels sat on the pan.

Thank god for uncle Sam!


And that is one of the reasons MR4 failed, the original spec was for a MPA. As the project slowly moved forward the MoD/RAF added and added extra capability in an attempt to make it some all singing all dancing super jet. It was never intended to have an overland role and the RAF should have resisted the temptation to add such capabilities. I guess at the time everything was about Afghanistan and Iraq and if your very expensive project wasn’t going to contribute to those conflicts then people where going to question its viability. MR4 started badly with the… Read more »

Steve R

Give it time.

When Perseus is finished and brought into service it will be integrated onto P8 for sure.


We could just buy the cruise missles the US already asthe P8 fitted for such as the AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, if we need them. The question is could we achieve air superiority v Russia or PRC which would allow the use of vulnerable MPA as stand-off missile carriers?

John Hartley

Last I heard, the SLAM-ER line was reopened for a big Saudi Arabia order. The UK should buy a few before the line shuts again.


Arming what could be regarded as a passenger jet would seem at best reckless, P8 carry munitions as part of the entire project cost. and keeping BAEs away from anything that Flies should be a priority. i know the MRA-4 was hidden in the defence review but what it doesn’t say it was due to a pissing contest that got out of hand and cost the UK its Harrier fleet. govs don’t ground airframes


??? You know P8 is a Boeing 737 passenger jet… BAES is a world class aerospace company – it is the reason Typhoon is so good and its r&d is the basis of Tempest. The US has been so imoressed that BAE won far more F35 workshare than the UK commitment justified. MRA4 had nothing to do with Harrier other than MRA4 was vastly expensive and couldnt deliver an output, and Harrier was a knackered small fleet that didnt have the strategic capabilities of Tornado (Storm Shadow / Raptor) so in conparison when there wasnt money for two, sadly had… Read more »


I am still flabbergasted that we are now flying a modern sub hunter in the P8 which will be armed with a torpedo that has a modern (ish) electronics front end but a propulsion system that dates back to the 196Os and is still used in the old MK46 At least the Nimrod which was a 1950s airframe had Sting Ray a modern torpedo capable of defeating any submarine target then and now. Its worth remembering that the UK developed Sting Ray because the MK46 and Mk44 which we used where not capable of killing the then modern Soviet era… Read more »

David Flandry

The Cameron government canceled the program lock, stock, and barrel, eliminating a major capability for the Armed Forces.


Multiple governments and service decision makers before had failed to take the necessary decisions to ensure the project was viable.

Cameron just swung the axe, but it should have been a different project and swung earlier on Nimrod.

Cancellation was baked in from 2003 at least, probably 1996.

It should have been a powerful lesson to MoD to not initiate and sustain programs like this. Has that been learnt?

Captain P Wash

Should have just upgraded the Shack’s ……….

peter wait

Only a buffon would have thought it a good idea to build a Nimrod out of corroded ex saudi comets. These hand built planes had varying dimensions and were therefore unsuitable for fitting modern composite wings. People working on it knew it was a white elephant long before it was cancelled, seems nobody high up ever has the honour to resign over this kind of crime against the tax payer!

Meirion X

I totally agree!


I’ll throw a cat amongst the pigeons…. AEW was the biggest joke. Marconi struggled like hell and had a catalogue of silly issues and mistakes (such as the radomes catching fire as made from the wrong material). Yet as BAe employees we were told never to speak to them, help them or visit their building on the airfield. Pathetic.

G Hanson

You would have thought the MoD would have learnt their lesson with the AEW version of the Nimrod in the mid 80s. Perhaps an AVRO 146 maritime version from new back in the late 80s would have been a better solution.


Hi guys look at the comments,in 2010 we had David Cameron who was Prime minister and a George Osborne as chancellor millions were spent on the nimrod MRA,4 which from what I read had a better range than P 8 and weapon load .But these guys decided cut defence to the bone which left us with no maritime patrol ,so other NATO members had to step in to keep USSR subs away from UK waters.MR Putin could not believe is luck,on top of this thousands of troops, sailors airmen were made redundant .How these gentleman sleep at night is a… Read more »