The United Kingdom has joined the United States and Norway in outlining the principles of close cooperation between the three nations in operating the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The statement of intent was signed on Thursday at a meeting between each country’s respective defence secretaries in Brussels – Sir Michael Fallon of the UK, James Mattis of the United States and Ine Eriksen Søreide of Norway.
The US Department of Defense issued a statement after the signing saying;
Today, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States signed a statement of intent to lay out guiding principles for a trilateral partnership with P-8A aircraft to address the changing security environment in the North Atlantic.
The agreement among the three NATO countries aims to establish a common framework in operating the advanced aircraft over the strategically significant regions of the North Atlantic and the North Sea. This will concentrate on areas such as maintaining a high of level of readiness and interoperability between them and to share operational experience of the aircraft to better understand how best to utilise the type in future operations.
The P-8 Poseidon is a derivative of the proven Boeing 737 commercial airliner and is developed from the 737-800 series. It is designed for a multitude of long-range maritime missions including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and reconnaissance missions.
The RAF currently has nine airframes on order to fill the gap left by the retirement of the Nimrod MR.2 and the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA.4 which left the RAF without its own independent fixed wing maritime patrol asset. In order to maintain crew skills, RAF personnel have been serving with their NATO allies aboard their own maritime patrol aircraft and these crewmembers will likely form a cadre of new instructors when the Poseidon arrives.
Manufacture of the aircraft will be carried out across three production lots over a ten-year period with deliveries commencing in 2019 at an estimated cost of £3bn. The British aircraft will initially operate with US weapons and systems until British alternatives become available.
Both Norway and the US are acquiring the aircraft to replace their fleets of ageing P-3 Orions that have served admirably since the 1960s. Norway has five aircraft on order and these are expected to become operational at the same time as the RAF aircraft.
Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s from the Royal Air Force’s No.3 (Fighter) Squadron based at RAF Coningsby have now deployed to Romania as part of the expansion of NATO’s air policing mission over Eastern Europe. Four aircraft and up to 150 personnel (air and ground crew) deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in south east Romania on Monday with the deployment expected to last up to four months. After a period of acclimation, the aircraft are reported to formally start operations by May 1st.
Images taken of the pilots taking off from Coningsby show that they are using the new £250,000 Striker II helmet which according to BAE Systems’ own website;
Striker II is a fully digital solution that provides today’s combat pilot with exceptional night vision and target tracking technology within a fully integrated visor-projected HMD system.
BAE Systems’ Striker helmet-mounted display system is based on the company’s unique two-part helmet design. It provides comfort, protection, and helmet stability for fixed- and rotary-wing platforms.
The RAF has had a long history patrolling NATO’s border with Russia having led four deployments of fighter aircraft as part of the alliance’s Baltic air policing mission since 2004. In those instances the aircraft have largely been the sole air defence asset for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, Romania has its own fighter force built around the MiG-21 LanceR – an upgraded version of the legendary but increasingly ageing MiG-21 “Fishbed”. The far more modern RAF aircraft will have to integrate in to Romania’s air defence network.
The deployment is part of NATO’s expanded effort to reassure its eastern members that it remains committed to their protection. It has also been reported in the Romanian press that the deployment of NATO fighters to their country is in direct response to a dramatic increase in the number of interceptions carried out by the Romanian Air Force of Russian aircraft over the Black Sea in recent months.
Romania will also host a large scale NATO exercise in July that U.S. Ambassador Hans Klemm said in March would include up to 30,000 NATO troops.
The United States Air Force is hosting a multi-national exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia dubbed Atlantic Trident 17. The exercise will begin on April 12th and will continue until the 28th. It will be hosted by the resident 1st Fighter Wing of the USAF equipped with the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter.
British and French combat aircraft will participate in the exercise in the form of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s and Dassault Rafales respectively. The RAF have committed 175 personnel to the exercise with the first contingent having already arrived. Among the US aircraft deployed will be a number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs which the RAF has on order in its Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) F-35B Lightning II guise along with the Royal Navy.
The exercise will be focused around combat experience the three air arms have gained over Syria and Iraq in recent years but will add an airborne threat element which the pilots will have to defeat in order to complete their strike missions.
USAF Colonel Peter Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander said in a press conference;
This exercise was designed to encourage the sharing and development of air combat TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) with our French and UK partners, against a range of potential threats leveraging US Air Force fifth-generation capabilities. This is not only an opportunity to share the capabilities of the aircraft, pilots and maintainers between our nations, but to build friendship, trust and confidence that will improve our interoperability as we go forward.
The RAF transporter and Gibraltar Police (via Daily Mail)
In what could only be described as a dramatic series of events, an RAF Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft found itself deliberately blocked by a Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) car on the runway at Gibraltar International Airport last Wednesday as the officers attempted to serve an arrest warrant for one of the passengers onboard. The RGP car was itself, reportedly pursued onto the runway by an MoD vehicle attempting to stop it from interfering in the aircraft’s take off but was unsuccessful and the RGP vehicle kept the A400 on the tarmac for two hours as the MoD and RGP negotiated over who had jurisdiction in the case.
The incident saw the closure of nearby Winston Churchill Avenue causing major disruptions to local transport and businesses. This also left huge numbers of travellers attempting to head to nearby Spain stranded at the runway barriers and caused vehicle tailbacks deep into the nearby town. Now, the local community want answers as to why the situation was allowed to escalate this far.
The situation arose when the Chief Justice of Gibraltar signed an arrest warrant authorising police officers to detain a serving member of the British armed forces and seize computer equipment belonging to them. When the RGP attempted to carry out the arrest however, the MoD refused to cooperate stating that as a serving member of the armed forces any investigation carried out was under their jurisdiction. When it was found that the person in question was aboard an RAF aircraft about to leave the island the RGP made the drastic decision to stop the aircraft. After two hours the person in question was handed over to the RGP and their laptop was seized.
In the last few days it has been reported in Gibraltar’s local press that the arrest concerned images on the laptop that were “paedophile” in nature but the name of the person in question or which branch of the armed forces they serve in has not been revealed. The MoD have only confirmed an incident had taken place stating;
As this incident has occurred as a result of an on-going police investigation we are unable to comment further at this time.
The British newspaper The Independent has reported that the Typhoon FGR.4s were scrambled as the two bombers came in to Britain’s area-of-interest over the North Sea. The aircraft had already been tracked by NATO radar stations before that responsibility was handed over to the RAF at around 1000hrs.
The Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers are reported to have flown between the Shetland and Faroe islands before transiting down the west coast of Ireland and over the Bay of Biscay. Continuing south, the responsibility for tracking the two Russian bombers then passed to the French and then the Spanish before they turned north back towards the UK as they headed for home.
An RAF Voyager tanker supported the Typhoons as they tracked the Russian planes. An RAF spokesperson was quoted as saying:
We can confirm that quick reaction alert Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby scrambled to monitor two Blackjack bombers while they were in the UK area of interest. At no point did the Russian aircraft enter UK territorial airspace.