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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.
Britain’s fleet of six Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW.1 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft have effectively been grounded due to ongoing electrical problems that has affected the whole fleet. This has led to them being withdrawn from many operations supporting coalition aircraft on operations against Daesh-ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
An RAF spokesperson quoted in DefenseNews said;
As a result of routine technical inspection on RAF E-3D aircraft, an issue has been identified related to the integrity of the electrical wiring and cabin conditioning system. Safety remains our paramount concern; therefore, the Sentry fleet will only fly again once the ongoing rectification work is complete.
It is understood that the work is being carried out on the aircraft at the fleet’s temporary home base at RAF Coningsby. The Sentry force has relocated there while improvements are made on the runway at RAF Waddington where they are normally based.
The RAF acquired seven Sentry AEW.1s in the late 1980s to replace the cancelled Nimrod AEW.3 but one has since been relegated to a ground training role. In the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review it was announced that the aircraft will serve on an additional ten years beyond its original planned out of service date of 2025.
Representatives of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command based at Patuxent River Naval Air Station announced last week that a $68.4 million order has been placed with Boeing for the initial parts needed to start construction of the first four P-8A Poseidon aircraft destined for the RAF. The RAF has nine Poseidons on order which will restore the service’s independent maritime patrol and anti-submarine capability which it has lacked since the retirement of the Nimrod MR.2 and the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA.4 in 2010.
The P-8 is a militarised version of the Boeing 737 airliner and is optimised for the maritime patrol role featuring a stronger structure and the ability to carry weapons. At the heart of the mission system is the APS-137D(V)5 radar which provides Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capabilities for imaging stationary vessels as well as conducting coastal and overland surveillance. It also has high-resolution Imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) for imaging surfaced submarines and fast surface vessels operating in coastal waters where surface clutter is high.
The withdrawal of the Nimrod has forced the RAF to rely on the Royal Navy’s vessels and their helicopters for the maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine roles. However this was proven to be woefully inefficient and left the UK’s coastlines extremely vulnerable causing the MoD to embarrassingly have to ask for help from NATO allies on a number of occasions.
17 squadrons of the Northern Ireland Wing of the Air Training Corps are undertaking an extraordinary project – to build a Sting S4 light aircraft in time for the 2018 Farnborough Air Show. 2018 will also mark 100 years of the Royal Air Force which was formed on April 1st 1918. The project is being supported by Boeing which itself is celebrating 100 years of being in the aviation business. Sir Michael Arthur, the president of Boeing Europe and managing director of Boeing UK told the Telegraph;
It is fitting that on the day of Boeing’s centenary when we are looking ahead to the next 100 years of aerospace innovation, we announced this new educational programme to benefit ATC cadets in Northern Ireland. These young men and women are the future of our industry and I could not be more proud that we can support this engaging, hands-on STEM initiative.
The aircraft the cadets are building, the Sting S4, is a single-engine, two-seat ultralight aircraft designed in the Czech Republic which first flew in 2010 and has been delivered to the cadets in kit form. The cadet’s assembly of the aircraft will be mentored by volunteers from Boeing and the Ulster Aviation Society.
Boeing has delivered the last of 14 Chinook HC.6 heavy-lift helicopters to the RAF. The delivery coincides quite ceremoniously with the 35th anniversary of the introduction of the original Chinook HC.1 in to British service. The deal, worth £1bn, was awarded to Boeing in 2011 and includes fleet support for five years.
Broadly equivelent to the US Army’s CH-47F Chinook, the RAF’s Chinook HC.6 features a number of UK-specific upgrades designed to bring them up to a common standard with the HC.2/2A (to be redesignated HC.4 once all the upgrades have been completed) and HC.3 (HC.5) helicopters already in RAF service. These upgrades comprise the Project Julius enhancement to the cockpit and engines, the Project Baker enhancement to the defensive aids suite, and the Project Benic enhancement to the communications systems.
This news article is now out of date. The Boeing P-8 Poseidon acquisition has been given the go-ahead in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. CLICK HERE TO VIEW
US Navy P-8 Poseidon
According to an article in The Sunday Times the Ministry of Defence may have ditched a £2bn plan to buy a fleet Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for the RAF to plug the gap left by the retirement of the Nimrod. The purchase of a Nimrod replacement was expected to be announced in the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) but the newspaper claims the plan to buy the Poseidon, seen as the preferred option, has been shelved after ministers declared that the aircraft were “fiendishly expensive”.
If true then this will raises fears that Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear missile submarines and Britain’s maritime interests at large could be inadequately protected especially in the wake of increased Russian submarine activity. The RAF has already had to rely on its allies at least once when UK waters appeared threatened by an unseen, underwater intruder. There are a number of alternatives to Poseidon with Lockheed Martin offering a heavily modified version of the RAF’s Hercules transport aircraft to fulfil the role earlier this year. It remains to be seen if the scrapping of a Poseidon deal has been made in preference to one of the more affordable options.