September 12, 2013
Credit: Airbus Military
The head of the U.K. Royal Air Force says a requirement for a new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) could re-emerge.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, who took over the post as Chief of the Air Staff in July, told delegates at the Defense Services Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition on Sept. 11 that the air force had to “tidy up one or two loose ends that we left out of the last SDSR [Strategic Defense and Security Review] in terms of where we wish to go as a nation, with the likes of our maritime patrol capability.”
It has been three years since the U.K. scrapped its maritime patrol capability, which was provided by the BAe Nimrod MR2. Its replacement, the Nimrod MRA4, also was canceled and elements of the capability have been plugged through the use of helicopters as well as the C-130J Hercules and the Boeing E-3D Sentry.
A House of Commons’ Defense Committee inquiry into maritime surveillance openly criticized the decision in a report published at the end of 2012. Members of Parliament who feel that the U.K. — as an island nation — still needs a maritime patrol capability, said that the defense ministry was sending “mixed messages” about the need for an MPA.
An RAF study, called the Air Istar Optimization Study (AIOS), is currently looking at the U.K.’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and recfonnaissance fleet and the need for wide-area maritime surface and sub-surface surveillance.
“The U.K. isn’t looking for a silver bullet,” said one industry official, referring to aircraft such as the Boeing P-8 Poseidon or the Nimrod. “The aircraft has to be able to take on a wide variety of missions, be versatile, adaptable, interoperable and easily upgradable.”
The emphasis, according to officials, now is on a fleet of multi-mission aircraft (MMA) that could be configured for the land or sea surveillance mission. According to a letter to the Defense Committee publically released in July, analysis of the potential capabilities of an MMA will inform the next stage of the AIOS study, looking at priorities, potential requirements, and options to mitigate “capability gaps and shortfalls.” This section of the study will be complete in April 2014.
EADS is offering the Airbus Military C295 twin-turboprop transport in a maritime patrol configuration, similar to that operated by Chile. As part of its push, the company paid for the Portuguese air force to send one of its maritime surveillance C295s to the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in July. Alenia Aermacchi is likely to offer its ATR-72MPA variant of the successful regional airliner while Saab may offer its Swordfish MPA variant of its Saab 2000 regional airliner. The company has displayed the aircraft several times at shows in the U.K. over recent years. Lockheed Martin and Marshall Aerospace also are offering the potential to convert RAF C-130Js into MPAs.
The defense ministry has attempted to retain at least some level of maritime patrol skills by sending a small cadre of 32 RAF personnel to other countries with established maritime patrol capabilities, including New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. The initiative is funded through to 2019, but the project could be halted in 2016 if the 2015 SDSR maintains a maritime patrol gap, documents state.