The UK has made do without a dedicated maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) capability for 18 months now, with its Royal Air Force’s final Nimrod MR2s having been retired in late March 2010. Already having accepted what some in the Ministry of Defence refer to as a “capability holiday” before the long-delayed introduction of replacement equipment, the situation got worse when, just six months later, BAE Systems’ Nimrod MRA4 programme was axed.
How, some asked, could a maritime nation do away with the sovereign ability to monitor its coastal waters? And how would it manage in a world with no “Mighty Hunter” (Nimrod MR2 image below taken by me at RAF Kinloss, shortly before the type’s appointment with scrap merchants and assorted aviation museums)?
The topic is back in the news this week, following the publication of a House of Commons Defence Committee report, entitled Future Maritime Surveillance, which asks serious questions of the government and Ministry of Defence’s fingers-crossed approach to the task.
You can read my in-depth article about the report on Flightglobal’s defence channel, but here’s a quick summary for The DEW Line: the committee doesn’t believe this is a capability that can be rapidly switched on again if the threat environment changes; and industry says a replacement deal should happen soon, to prevent hard-earned UK ”corporate knowledge” from being lost for good.
An MoD study conducted last year concluded that another manned type is the only realistic option for covering the maritime surveillance beat at present. Two candidates stand out, and from opposite ends of the pricing spectrum: the high-end Boeing 737-based P-8A in production for the US Navy; and Airbus Military’s MPA-roled C295.
Either could be acquired “off-the-shelf” if the need arises, but with the MoD having allocated no money for such a deal inside the next decade, there’s a real chance that this is a game that the UK has now effectively ruled itself out of.