The production of Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft has been accelerated as domestic and international orders pick up pace. The increase will see production capacity grow beyond the numbers already committed to under Boeing’s current US and Indian Navy contracts leading to speculation by many that the UK is looking at purchasing a number of the aircraft.
Jimmy Dodd, VP and general manager of Mobility, Surveillance and Engagement at Boeing Military Aircraft said:
“The whole idea is to make sure we create a little headroom for the international market as we build the Navy units out. Everything was stalled out waiting on the UK elections, and now that’s over we are hoping activity will increase and there will be a commitment.”
Further fuelling the speculation, in a report on Future Maritime Surveillance, the House of Commons Defence Committee noted that the UK has a strategic requirement for maritime surveillance on a world-wide basis, for both military and non-military purposes. It stated that it had serious concerns regarding the MPA capability gap and its impact on the UK’s ability to undertake the military tasks envisaged by SDSR 2010.
In his evidence to the same Committee in October of last year, the Secretary of State for Defence stated that SDSR 2015 would need to consider the MPA capability in detail, considering whether ‘based on our experience since 2010 of managing this risk – largely by working with allies – it is a capability that we need to regenerate and, if so, how we would most efficiently regenerate it.
Discussions with the Ministry of Defence are believed to be centred on an initial contract for six firm plus six options, Boeing’s involvement has so far been minimal as the US Navy will lead any negotiations.
“We’ve never actually given them (the US Navy) a proposal. They know what they are paying and they know what it costs to support. They also understand the differences in configurations, so they haven’t been asking us for a lot of detailed price and cost data at this point, I’m sure that will come. We will engage directly (with the UK MoD) at some point. It just hasn’t happened yet, and it will happen.”
Earlier this year Mark Francois confirmed that an initiative which maintains the training of staff formerly based at RAF Kinloss has been extended. Mark Francois is Minister of State at the UK Ministry of Defence, with responsibility for the armed forces, cyber activity, and force generation.
“A number of short-term post extensions, varying from three to fifteen months, were agreed in 2013 and 2014.”
The Seedcorn initiative exists to sustain the UK’s capability to operate fixed wing Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and maintain associated skills. The estimated cost of the initiative on average is £2.4 million per year.
UK aircrew are on exchange with a variety of allied forces, operating alongside our allies. There are currently 32 personnel deployed overseas in Maritime Patrol Aircraft roles under the Seedcorn initiative with a further seven on traditional exchange programmes. 115 personnel are currently operating in other flying roles in the UK.
For quite some time, we have been hearing from colleagues and friends in the forces and industry that they expect Seedcorn to be extended and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the regeneration of the capability lost when Nimrod was retired in 2010 is to happen at this years Strategic Defence and Security Review. While the ordering of new aircraft this year isn’t definite, we’re confident it’ll happen.