In its report ‘On thin Ice: UK Defence in the Arctic’, the Defence Select Committee identified the Arctic and the High North as an area of concern.

They say this is largely due to the increasingly clear evidence of Russian military expansion. The Committee also resolved to undertake a closer examination of the region in a dedicated inquiry.

One of the reports conclusions follows:

“The historical importance of the maritime space stretching from the Arctic to the North Atlantic is well established, but we can see that many of the strategic considerations which were present in the recent past are now re-emerging. The marked increase in Russian naval activity in the waters around the British Isles and the entrances to the Atlantic is clearly a matter of concern to the Government. We are equally concerned about the United Kingdom’s ability to match this threat adequately.

The reduction of the UK’s anti-submarine warfare capability, which has been a core task of the Royal Navy for decades, has been noted in recent Committee reports and we repeat those concerns here. While the capability of the surface and sub-surface vessels the Royal Navy operates is world class, there are not enough platforms available for the task in hand, and vessels that are in service are often committed to standing tasks elsewhere.

We have received substantial evidence that nine Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft are not enough for the UK to provide sufficient anti-submarine warfare coverage in the North Atlantic. The extent of the current threat is openly acknowledged by Ministers and airborne anti-submarine warfare capability is a crucial part of the response. 

The Department should provide the Committee with a detailed justification of the planned maritime patrol aircraft establishment.”

Earlier in the year, 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:

    1. Protection of the UK’s national strategic deterrent.
    1. Protection of naval forces – in particular, the new aircraft carriers.
    1. Protection against threats to commercial and other shipping, including counter-piracy.
    1. Surveillance of, and action against, threats to trans-continental under-sea communications cables.
    1. 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.
    1. Protection of overseas territories, including the Falklands.
    1. Operations in such areas as the Caribbean in support of counter drug-running operations.
    1. Support to Special Forces.
    1. Gathering electronic, acoustic and photographic intelligence.
    1. 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.

21 Nimrod MR2

No of sustained ASW patrols

9 P-8

No of sustained ASW patrols

12 P-8

No of sustained ASW patrols

15 P-8

No of sustained ASW patrols

40084 [2]6 [3]7 [4]
60074 [2]5 [2]6 [3]
80063 [1]4 [2]5 [3]
90053 [1]4 [2]5 [3]
1,00043 [1]4 [2]4 [2]
1,10042 [1]3 [1]4 [2]
1,2003*2 [1]3 [1]4 [2]
1,3002*2 [1]3 [1]3 [2]
1,4002*1 [1]2 [0]3 [2]
1,5001*1*2*[0]2*[1]
1,60001*1*[0]2*[1]
1,80001*1*[0]1*[0]
2,0000000

 

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.

 

19 COMMENTS

  1. The government has provided development funding for Hybrid Air Vehicles’ airship. They may have one eye on this as a suitable asset to provide enduring observation at long range.

  2. No surprise here. We lack numbers in all areas, from frigates, submarines, aircraft. We need to either decide to do less and be more like other countries with limited military resources, or expand our defense budget.
    Any other approach we are just involved in massive self delusion.

  3. Spot on. At the height of the Cold War the UK had 30+ Nimrods.
    Makes sense but, of course, the starting point formula for our Government is: How much can we afford?/How much they cost? = How Many We Can Buy…..

  4. This has been covered many times, including here.

    That Nimrod total of 21 is not the “original” total as stated for me. The RAF had over 40 at one time at the height of the Cold War.

    Also remember in a purely NATO context, that is anti Russia, the Norwegians are on board and have just signed up with the MoD on MPA operations.

    An extra 7 P8 means a cut where? What do we choose?

    In a world of extra funding I would always choose no cuts. With the MDP on the horizon which is yet another cuts exercise with a fancy name I choose Infantry Battalions, as under current plans only 11 out of 31 are in a deployable Brigade. That is ridiculous and the force structure of the army is mucked up. I do not see what else is left to cut with any mass or reserve not eaten away already.

    RN and RAF the priority. Where the money comes from remains to be seen.

    • It makes sense for them as they have such as huge area to cover.

      How about Aerostats tethered to North Sea rigs?! A huge version of the Base ISTAR blimps used to protect bases in Helmand.

  5. The figures produced by AVM Roberts are a realistic approach to the problem created by the increased incursion of Russian Units into the North Atlantic over the past months and which are likely to increase over the next decade. The P8 and its capabilities over the Nimrod MR2 are indeed a force multiplier but range and endurance are still the overriding factors. The task and the area of cover for the MPA in the North Atlantic has not changed from the calculations which were made when the MR2 entered service in the 1980s. Taking in account the updates in detection and surveillance capabilities of the P8 it is logical to conclude that 75% of numbers of aircraft would be able to replicate the tasks undertaken by the Nimrod MR2 over the past quarter century and therefore the MOD should seriously consider the purchase of at least 21 P8s to achieve MPA parity to undertake today’s ASW and Surveillance role. Robert L Crutchlow Wg Cdr (RAF Retd) Formerly MOD Air (MP Ops) 1976-79 HQSTC MP Ops1 1981-84 COMiberlant MP Air Ops Director 1984-87

  6. Considering just how useful these cabs are in peace time, crisis, heightened tension and hot conflict we really should be getting far more.

    If we are really talking about armed forces with global reach the Falklands is crying out for a pair of these. We have a good chunk of the exploitable areas south Atlantic we do need to keep an obvious and useful presence to remind the world.

  7. Why not Boeing MSA on a Challenger airframe to to use for some taskings, SAR Falklands and fishery protection. A P8 way to high end and valuable for a number of roles.

  8. If you look at the table, then at 1000 nm (I guess) we aren’t too far behind the level of coverage we got with 21 Nimrods. Also russian sub levels are at about a 1/3 of what they were in the cold war. Seems like the obvious solution is to get something cheaper to fill in for the close-in patrols, like retaining the other Merlins for aew so we can use the rest of the fleet for asw from ships (which is where any extra money should be spent.

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