The UK is looking to improve the overland surveillance capability of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft it intends to purchase.
In November 2015, the UK announced its intention to order nine P-8 aircraft as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.
The aircraft are to be based at RAF Lossiemouth, 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.
The information comes to light via a written response to a parliamentary question asked by Mr Kevan Jones (MP for North Durham):
“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what future ground surveillance capabilities his Department plans to develop for the P-8 Poseidon programme.”
The reply stated:
“The Ministry of Defence expects the P-8 Poseidon to be principally used in the Maritime Patrol Aircraft role, although it does have a limited overland surveillance capability.
We will be examining options to improve its overland capability but no plans are yet in place and no decisions have yet been taken.”
In 2010, Boeing proposed to replace the US Air Force’s Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint STARS fleet with a modified P-8 at the same cost Northrop Grumman proposed for re-engining and upgrading the E-8s. The proposed P-8 Airborne Ground Surveillance would integrate an AESA radar, and have ground moving target indicator and synthetic aperture radar capabilities.
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.
Poseidon contains up to 7 crew computer consoles in its cabin, has an electro-optical and infrared sensor turret, a maritime surveillance radar and signal intelligence system. Its radar is capable of detection, classification and identification of ships, small vessels and surfaced submarines.
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.
It is unclear whether the UK will have access to future ground-surveillance capabilities being developed for the P-8 but many expect it will.