Figures released by the Ministry of Defence show 17 maritime patrol aircraft belonging to NATO allies were deployed to Scotland last year.

Figures show that eight US aircraft and aircraft from Germany, France, Norway and Canada were deployed to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland last year outwith usual multinational exercise dates.

Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire said:

“These figures reaffirm how disastrous the decision to chop up – quite literally – the RAF’s Nimrod fleet in 2010 was. While we are always grateful for support from our allies, they must be acutely aware of the hollowing out of UK defence capability that this maritime patrol deficit highlights.

Coming in the same week that we hear the MoD is delaying the security review yet again, we have to ask if the Tories are taking the decisions to address the real threats we face. I would like to hear them restate their commitment to purchasing all nine of the promised Poseidon P-8 aircraft.”

An MoD spokesman said:

“We have robust, multi-layered maritime surveillance including both RAF and international allies’ aircraft, as well as sonar-fitted frigates and submarines. For the future we are committed to investing £3 billion into nine new P-8 Poseidon aircraft to patrol the seas from 2020.”

Recently, James Gray, Conservative Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire 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.

27 COMMENTS

  1. P8 is not fitted with MAD equipment in US service. I think I read somewhere that Indian P8s will be. That article may have also been erroneous, though. It would be interested to learn whether the RAF has specified this equipment. Has anyone seen a picture of a P8 with a MAD boom? The general approach has been to go with the standard US spec (including torpedoes) to keep costs down.

    • The P-8 is not equipped with MAD. This decision was based on two factors. MAD is 1950s technology and extremely limited in range. The P-8 has other systems which more than make up for its absence. In light of this and because of the need to save weight, the US Navy decided not to install a MAD boom on the P-8.

      The Indian Navy’s P-8Is do have a MAD boom.

    • Hi Geoffrey, I’m usually no great fan of the SNP, but I can’t argue with Martin’s comment ….
      “These figures reaffirm how disastrous the decision to chop up – quite literally – the RAF’s Nimrod fleet in 2010 was … “

      • The Nimrod upgrade was a disaster Alan – the wings didn’t even fit. Continuing with it would’ve just been throwing good money after bad.

        • The sensor and control suite, heavily based on Boeing technology could surely have been integrated on to a new platform.

          The mistake was in re-using the original Nimrods and not going for a new design or one based on proven commercial systems.

        • Hi Latch, It was a troubled programme, no doubt – but in typical Brit fashion, the aircraft was cancelled after the main issues had been fixed!
          See evidence given by Dr Sue Robertson to the Defence Select Committee during Feb 2011. (You will find it easily on-line).
          Anecdotally, I also had the opportunity to discuss with a retired RAF pilot, who had contacts in the flight-test team. That individual told me the MRA4 was performing well at the time of cancellation, and on-track to be introduced into service during 2011.
          But for one of the most incoherent decisions in UK defence procurement, we would have an MPA capability patrolling our coastline today.

          • As I’ve said before, engineers who worked on the programme told me, at the Avro museum in Woodford, that two Nimrods were in service and one was conducting engine trials, Standard slash and burn by the tories in the name of ideology.

          • It would have been a very bad decision had it been a one-off, but with a clutch of dangerous & reckless cuts of entire capabilities it certainly was “slash & burn”. Either it was incompetant Tory anti-state dogma taken to extreme at its most perverse or a deliberate decision to drastically damage & undermine our armed forces: MPA, carrier strike, Harrier fleet, our best, most capable frigates, the whole brand new deisel submarine fleet & without an outcry that stopped it, they would’ve removed anti ship missiles from our warships for the best part of a decade(OK so we’d have to use our gun to attack other warships, but the enemy would have ASMs to blow us out of the water before we ever got into range) thrown away etc. I’m sure I’ve not got every MOD blunder there scince 2010.
            Capability gaps are the sure sign of the nation being failed apallingly by the powers that be. If a foreign agent caused such extensive losses to our defences it’d be an act of war. If you or I did it, it would be sabotage & treason. But the thinking remains & the people at the top should be held accountable for what seems like treason to me.

    • I don’t read the London press. I am in Scotland and I can assure you that I am not mislead on the SNP issue, they are a toxic bunch with the worlds largest chip on their collective shoulder.

    • I expect an independent Scotland to have a defence force comparable to Luxemboug – the great euro-parasites. A great shame given the reputation and tradition of Scots warriors over the centuries

      • Hi Julian, the majority of Scots don’t want separation from the UK.
        But if we run with your independence hypothesis, last time I checked we had a long coastline – with extensive fishing grounds, and oil-fields.
        So unlike Luxembourg, I think we’ll need a navy!

      • I just want to point out that there are now two Julians on this site. I’m the one who has been around for ages and posts quite a lot. The above post is not from me.

          • I too have been round for quite a few years….point taken about the coastline…..and the (diminishing/uneconomic) oil. ok so there may be a few off-shore patrol vessels out of Aberdeen. as you say most want to stay..for now at least

  2. The point is that we are now getting new MPA in the shape of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. The bonus is that the Norwegians as well the US and Australians are also going to be operating these same aircraft so that fellow NATO and ‘Five-eyes’ countries can exchange data easily on what is going on underneath the seas.
    All political parties have made mistakes in the past over defence and so it is good that this is the right decision has been made to ‘fill-the-gap’ in UK capability.

    • Hi J Peter
      I think you’re perhaps letting our elected representatives off the hook rather too easily!
      One of the great themes of this forum is to have political leaders that take intelligent and informed decisions in defence matters.
      I still struggle to understand why a UK government believed that an island nation could afford to take a “capability holiday” in long-range, maritime patrol aircraft. If the Nimrod MRA4 really was a basket case, and evidence suggests it was not, then the MR2 should have been run on for several more years. Perhaps the premiership of Cameron, and SDSR 2010, marked the moment when the UK no longer took defence matters seriously.
      In Nimrod MRA4 we had developed a bespoke solution for our MPA needs. Instead, almost ten years after its cancellation, we’re now sinking additional billions into reconstituting the capability with an “off-the-shelf” Boeing aircraft that has inferior performance to the Nimrod.
      I’m glad we’re going to get the capability back. albeit with reduced efficiency – but the bungling of Cameron et al still takes one breath away.

  3. How do they detect sub’s under the ice? How much does each sonobuoy cost? How much are the fuel costs per hour and per year if 9 aircraft did a 24/7/365 operation (which they can’t)?

    Wouldn’t our £3bn buy 4 more Astutes which could do a 24/7/365 job?

    • Planes can cover a larger area than subs due to their greater speed Tim. An effective anti submarine force needs a mix of surface ships, helicopters, aircraft and subs. The fact that so many countries operate Maritime Patrol Aircraft indicates their importance.

  4. Just a point about numbers of P8,s eg 8, and the reference to the cancellation of Nimrod , 9 Nimrods as I recall were to be in service so if that was considered to be sufficient then whats the problem.
    I know its history but it makes you weep when Governments cancel such programmes as Nimrod and then wind up paying much more later on for a replacement ,scrapping the Harrier fleet anther disaster in terms of capability. You can go back to the cancellation of TSR2 in the sixties a world beater ,The sheer stupidity of Government take the breath away
    Its the British Government that lacks conviction and commitment , unlike the French. I dont doubt we would have pulled out of Concorde if it wasnt for the French.
    Donkeys

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