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James Gray, Conservative Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire, has outlined his concerns at the proposed number of P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft the UK is to purchase.

We’re willing to believe he misspoke as the UK currently plans to purchase nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft, not eight. Gray said in response to a question regarding his level of concern at the cuts the Minsitry of Defence is facing:

“More than anything else, the thinking about the possibility of a cold-weather threat is something that we have had and have contributed to NATO for 40 years. This year, at least, we are downgrading it. I am told that the MOD are going to bring it back up again the following year, but I will believe that when I see it, quite frankly. I very much hope they will.

The same applies to maritime patrol aircraft, which are terribly important in all this. All right, we are getting them but only eight —the P-8s. Will they be enough really to monitor what is happening with Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic?

Our under-ice capability previously was largely to monitor Russian SSBN activity out of Murmansk and elsewhere along the Arctic coast. Without that capability and regular patrols under the ice in the north, do we really know what the Russians are doing with their submarines? Are we allowing the bastion concept, which stretches on the map at least theoretically as far as the Shetland Islands—are we really able to check what is happening there?

I think we risk reducing our capability in the High North. Generals always fight the last war. Everyone is very fussed at the moment about terrorism, counter-insurgency, Syria, Iraq and all that, and quite rightly should be. I’m not knocking that. I just wonder whether we should start to focus our attention back to where the next war will be, or the next area of tension might be, namely the North Atlantic.”

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 history of the aircraft dates back to June 2004, when the US Navy announced the selection of the Boeing multimission maritime aircraft, 737 MMA, and awarded a contract to Boeing for the system development and demonstration phase of the programme for the US Navy’s next-generation maritime surveillance aircraft. The aircraft was given the designation P-8A in March 2005.

It also has coastal surveillance capability. The P-8 is fitted with advanced magnetic anomaly detection system for submarine tracking. The Poseidon can be used for search and rescue operations.

According to the US Navy, the aircraft in US service carries lightweight Raytheon Mk54 anti-submarine torpedoes. It may also carry other torpedoes, missiles, free-fall bombs, depth charges, mines, or sonbuoys in its weapon bay. Air-to-surface and air-to air missiles, such as Harpoon anti-ship missiles, SLAM or AGM-65 Maverick land attack missiles, and AIM-9 Sidewinders or AIM-120 AMRAAMs will be carried on the underwing hardpoints.

P-8 Poseidon Quick Facts, courtesy of Boeing

  • For the P-8, Boeing uses a first-in-industry in-line production system that leverages the best of Boeing Commercial and Boeing Defense for development and production.
  • The P-8 can fly up to 41,000 feet and travel up to 490 knots.
  • P-8 offers higher reliability – the 737 has a 99.8 percent dispatch rate, with more than 4,000 aircraft flying, and 6,600+ orders.
  • The P-8 is engineered for 25 years/25,000 hours in the harshest maritime flight regimes, including extended operations in icing environments.
  • The P-8 can fly in all flight regimes, and can self-deploy up to 4,500 miles from base without refueling.
  • Dual CFM-56B commercial engines each provide 27,000 pounds of thrust, greatly enhancing climb and flight characteristics over turboprop equipped aircraft.
  • Each engine is equipped with a 180KVA engine driven generator.  Combined with the 90KVA commercial APU, this provides 450KVA of power. P-8 possesses significant growth capacity for equipment with excess onboard power and cooling capacity.
  • P-8 has twice the sonobuoy processing capability and can carry 30 percent more sonobuoys than any maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft currently flying.
  • P-8 has the ability to control unmanned air vehicles (level 2 control-receive) to extend sensor reach.
  • P-8 offers commonality with 737 fleet and other military platforms that use the 737 airframe.

The aircraft are to be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and be used to protect the UK’s nuclear deterrent and new aircraft carriers. The P-8s are also to perform search-and-rescue missions and conduct overland reconnaissance.

33 COMMENTS

  1. We could be going round in circles for ever over this concurring theme, on any asset.

    After 2010 we had no MPA at all.

    Now we are getting MPA capability back and people are still moaning.

    Ideally more yes. 9 too few, yes, as previously pointed out to me by a poster here.

    Not going to happen without a big uplift in funding or cutting something else.

    So, what do we choose for the chop?

    Scrap P8 and have converted Hercs?

    Buy old Orions or Atlantiques?

    We simply cannot have it both ways in terms of numbers and quality.

    I think the P8 or the Kawasaki are the only game in town for this level of capability and they don’t come cheap.

    And the deterrent and carriers need this capability.

    As far as GIUK gap goes we do it with NATO. The issue is 9 are too few for non NATO tasks or also being used for Sentinel JSTARS role.

    • The US Navy intend for this aircraft to work in concert with the large MQ-4C drone.

      Of the two, the drone is the more expensive.

  2. I’m certainly happy we are getting the 9 aircraft; they are excellent and very much needed. My issue is why it is taking 10yrs to get 9 aircraft. That’s the aspect no one is talking about – that’s simply far, far too long!

  3. Now that the RAF has got its expensive gold plated MPA,it is safe to order some multipurpose force multipliers. You can operate 4 c295 MPAs for the cost of 1 P8.Loads of choice, biz jets, hercs or C series.

  4. Great to have the 9 aircraft in the future… Will be operating for example with the Norwegians and USA.. Triangle shape area you could say from Norway to Lossiemouth across to Iceland. A long wait for them but will be a excellent capability to get back..

  5. It would be great to have a high/ low mix keeping the P8’s for the key high end missions, but given the penchant for everything to be gold plated I very much doubt common sense will prevail. That said I would love to see a few C295’s procured to ease the load on the p8 or even a squadron or two of Textron Scorpions ( already flown with the imaster radar) which could also pick up the CAS mission.

  6. Evening
    Minimum aircraft you need to sustain GIUK gap patrol and SAR is 5, hence the Norwegians bought 5. Minimum you need to sustain GIUK gap patrol, SAR and SSBN deterrence role is 9. The U.K. have bought 9, the minimum required to do the job. C295, Textron, Global Hawk etc. Whilst all good platforms do not satisfy the requirements laid down by the MoD. P-8 does. Should we have more, maybe – but for what? The roles that the MoD have specified have been met, admittedly with the carriage of some risk, by the RAF and it decision to purchase the P-8.
    You would hope that the RAF would have looked at a multitude of platforms to fulfil the role assigned to it by MoD and decided against scope, time, cost and quality that this was the right choice. As a personal preference I would have preferred the P-1 from Japan but that’s all it is, personal preference

  7. The aircraft are to be used to protect the UK’s new aircraft carriers? If we have to rely on 9 aircraft based in Scotland to do this then the carriers are next to useless. I seem to remember the RAF were going to cover HMS PoW and Repulse in 1941.

    Lots of sensible comments on here and in the article but we seem to have forgotten we are an island and are consequently vulnerable to any disruption to maritime trade. Whilst it is understood that budgets are under pressure the MOD and our politicians seemed to have lost sight of key British priorities, not American or European but ours. In this context we require more P8s and a stronger navy even if that sadly means cuts to the Army. Of course if Trident replacement costs were taken from the MOD budget as it should be then perhaps we could do a little more and avoid further damaging cuts.

    • Thing is Australia has 360 degree sea to cover, whereas the UK has more like 180 in effect. And there’s so-operation between the UK, Norway Canada and US on mritime protection – Norway has 5 P8 on order, so there’d be a total of 14. Plus whatever France has, and even Ireland has some though of a lower capability, still covers some of the tasks.

  8. Likely hood is one will be grounded for training, but even still 8 is plenty for MP. However, if the raf are forced to use them in other roles due to cuts in other aircraft such as sentinel, then we will begin to have an issue.

    • Agreed and one who perhaps recognises that fighting terrorism and is possibly being used to cut other forces that might be required closer to home.

  9. Harry what about unavailability for maintenance. upgrades, damage, attrition, covering the nuclear deterrent and overseas deployments to the Middle east, Med, Falklands etc and then one or two additional roles or missions. Sorry but 9 is not enough MPAs for the UK.

    • Overseas not covered, core roles only. For every new mission add 3 aircraft.
      Maintenance already factored in and training. MoD don’t do attrition any more, too expensive and doesn’t read well in news.
      9 to cover core roles, add 3 for every mission after that.

      • Yeah, 9 is enough, the perfect minimum, I saw the “calculations” a while back. There’s also a deterrent factor for them as well, if subterfuge and concealment is likely to be discovered, not worth wasting the effort and resources – except to provoke or test a reaction.

  10. Lee spot on and as we all know in MOD scenarios you don’t loose ships or planes anymore in a conflict. I just hope we let the opposition know these things before any future war because it wouldn’t be cricket if they did actually shoot one of our planes down or sink a ship.
    So definitely not enough for our needs because these aircraft are going to be used to do a lot of things besides ASW and MPA duties. Realistically 18no. or somewhere near the Nimrod MR4 numbers after the first cut was made as costs began to escalate.

  11. 9 aircraft cannot do 24/7/365 patrol work. The Typhoon QRAs are not airborne 24/7 but the ground radar is watching 24/7. So do we have a working SOSUS system any more?

  12. I was just thinking the same thing. Perhaps, a restoration and upgrade of the SOSUS system would mitigate the need for a large force of ASW aircraft.

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