RUSI research fellow Justin Bronk has made the case for replacing the RAF’s Sentinel R.1 fleet with additional P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
Justin Bronk is a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at RUSI. He is also Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal.
The Sentinel R1 is an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft and is interoperable with other allied systems such as JSTARS and the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance system. In 2010 the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review announced its intention to “withdraw the Sentinel airborne ground surveillance aircraft once it is no longer required to support operations in Afghanistan”.
Sentinel has supported the British Army in Afghanistan and allied efforts in Libya and other locations. This was reversed in the last defence review, which stated:
“Sentinel will be extended in service into the next decade; Shadow until at least 2030; and Sentry and Rivet Joint until 2035.”
Bronk discusses the multiple retirement dates given for the type and why that’s an issue:
“Unfortunately, there have been several negative consequences of the multiple retirement date announcements and postponements for the Sentinel fleet. First and foremost, long-term investment requirements such as training simulator upgrades and base infrastructure components have been difficult to resource due to constantly looming official out-of-service dates.
The aircraft themselves have been upgraded and overhauled as mission tempo and changing real-world missions required, but without a standardised and sustainable structure in place for the Sentinel ecosystem as a whole.”
The P-8 Poseidon, developed by Boeing, is designed to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and shipping interdiction, along with an electronic signals intelligence (ELINT) role. This involves carrying torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and other weapons. The type is also capable of overground surveillance.
Bronk goes on to explain why expanding the P-8 fleet is a good idea within the context of replacing Sentinel.
“It is thus a fair assumption that the RAF’s P-8A Poseidon fleet will find itself heavily utilised, and with only nine aircraft there will be an inherent and inescapable trade-off between the capacity and crew proficiency for the core (and critical) ASW mission set, and other global surveillance and enabler missions. This brings us to the central point.
If the UK can buy its way into the highly capable AAS radar programme, which is not a certainty but there are multiple historical precedents for, then the RAF could replace the remaining Sentinel R.1s one for one with additional P-8As equipped with the AAS pod. This would ensure that the Sentinel’s valuable wide-area surveillance, SAR mapping and GMTI capabilities are not lost during the cuts which are likely as the global economy contracts post coronavirus, when small bespoke fleets of enabler aircraft will be the juiciest targets.”