Evidence submitted to the Defence Select Committee argues that seven additional P-8 Poseidon aircraft should be acquired, bringing the total fleet to 16 aircraft.
Written evidence submitted by Air Vice-Marshal Andrew L Roberts (Retd) states that:
“SDSR 15 proposed that nine P-8 Poseidon MPA be acquired. At the time, the P-8 was the only MPA on the market capable of meeting the UK’s needs in a reasonable timescale. Given the urgency of filling this acknowledged gap in the Defence Programme, the Government was undoubtedly justified in selecting that aircraft without going out to competition.
However, capable though the P-8 may be, the number of aircraft planned is undoubtedly inadequate to fulfil even the highest priority tasks likely to be assigned to the force in tension and hostilities.”
The ten primary tasks for which MPA are likely to be required in peacetime, tension and hostilities are, according to the submission:
- Protection of the UK’s national strategic deterrent.
- Protection of naval forces – in particular, the new aircraft carriers.
- Protection against threats to commercial and other shipping, including counter-piracy.
- Surveillance of, and action against, threats to trans-continental under-sea communications cables.
- Protection of the UK EEZ (including oil rigs and shore facilities) against potential threats, assistance in counter-terrorism operations and, possibly, fishery protection post BREXIT.
- Protection of overseas territories, including the Falklands.
- Operations in such areas as the Caribbean in support of counter drug-running operations.
- Support to Special Forces.
- Gathering electronic, acoustic and photographic intelligence.
- Fulfilling the UK’s international obligations for Search and Rescue in aid of shipping and aircraft in distress out to longitude 30 degrees west, in accordance with the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979.
Table 1 below shows the operational coverage which was possible with the original Nimrod MR2 force of 21 aircraft and compares this with that possible with nine P-8 Poseidon MPA. The table also shows what established fleets of 12 or 15 P-8s could achieve.
No of sustained
No of sustained
No of sustained ASW patrols
No of sustained
|400||8||4 ||6 ||7 |
|600||7||4 ||5 ||6 |
|800||6||3 ||4 ||5 |
|900||5||3 ||4 ||5 |
|1,000||4||3 ||4 ||4 |
|1,100||4||2 ||3 ||4 |
|1,200||3*||2 ||3 ||4 |
|1,300||2*||2 ||3 ||3 |
|1,400||2*||1 ||2 ||3 |
The submission also argues that in terms of sensors and weapons, the overall capability of the P-8, as an MPA, is not dissimilar to that of the Nimrod MRA4, both representing a very considerable increase in ASW capability over the Nimrod MR2.
However, the maximum flight time of the P-8 is only about 10 hours, allowing it to remain on station for slightly less than five hours at 1,000 nm from base. Although the P-8 is fitted with an air-to-air refuelling system, this is incompatible with the probe-and-drogue system used in the UK’s A330 Voyager tankers.
The conclusions made are;
- The planned force of only nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft would be insufficient to guarantee concurrent continuous cover for both the UK deterrent and other vital tasks, including CVA protection, in tension and hostilities.
- To remedy this situation, seven additional P-8s should be acquired, bringing the total fleet to 16 aircraft, noting that any additional aircraft would need to be ordered before Q2, 2019.
- Flying booms should be fitted to the RAF’s A330 Voyager tankers.
- Consideration should be given to establishing aircrew above the planned 2:1 crew-to-aircraft ratio, if necessary by making use of Reserve/Auxiliary aircrew.
- Were the P-8 force’s responsibilities to be extended to include responsibility for overland surveillance, additional P-8s should be acquired as necessary.