The UK is re-establishing its long-range MPA capability with the purchase of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft from the United States.
The Defence Committee advises that it had received detailed written evidence from former RAF officers with extensive experience of ASW operations who argue that “the intended aircraft and crew provision for the MPA force is too low to fulfil the range of tasks under its responsibility.”
The report adds:
“Unrealistic assumptions have been made about the ability of NATO allies to contribute to MPA provision and that at least 16 aircraft and a higher crewing requirement is needed to attain the necessary coverage.”
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 Ministry of Defence’s Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) must address the challenges presented by the resurgence of state-based threats and be supported by a fully-funded and sustainable financial settlement, says a report published by the Defence Committee. The report, entitled Beyond 2 per cent, has been produced ahead of the anticipated release of ‘high-level findings’ by the MDP, towards the end of June. It examines how the process has proceeded and highlights areas, including capability, commercial practices, recruitment and international partnerships, which the Committee expects the review to consider.
Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said:
“We hope that our report will assist in sparking debate and focusing minds on priorities that should be considered by the Modernising Defence Programme. The Secretary of State was right to remove Defence from the National Security Capability Review which would otherwise have resulted in further disastrous cuts to the Armed Forces, and we endorse his efforts to obtain a better settlement for Defence.
The Government now needs to look beyond the two per cent minimum on Defence spending, and begin moving towards a figure of three per cent, to place our defence policy on a sustainable basis to meet new threats and fill existing financial ‘black holes’. Defence is constantly described as the first duty of government. The MDP is the government’s opportunity to show that it means what it says.”
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.