How will the UK fill its MPA gap?

A few interesting snippets have emerged about the UK’s work to retain core skills in the operation of maritime patrol aircraft, while it doesn’t actually have any of its own.

I’ve been writing about Project “Seedcorn” – which has placed a little over 30 personnel with allied air forces operating types like the P-3 Orion – as and when details have emerged over the last couple of years. But the best breakdown of the initiative has just been given, showing that 20 of the 32 people currently involved are working with the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon (service-provided image below). The rest are in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.


The gap in the UK’s wider military capability caused by the retirement of the Nimrod MR2 four years ago and subsequent cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 is going to be one of the hottest topics in the next Strategic Defence and Security Review, which is due to happen next year. The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 must have underlined to some in Whitehall that an MPA really isn’t a luxury item for a maritime nation.

The availability of some kind of budget will be essential, but the Ministry of Defence and Royal Air Force are clearly leaning towards something perhaps 737-based. It’s interesting to note, for example, that there’s nobody seconded to the Irish Air Corps or Portuguese air force to check out the CN235/C295 as a potentially more affordable solution.

But of course, there’s always the prospect of just jumping straight to something without a crew onboard, or of using a mix of manned and unmanned assets. With that in mind, four of the UK’s Seedcorn personnel will from June be getting involved with the US Navy’s test activity with the MQ-4C Triton. Interesting indeed.


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11 Responses to How will the UK fill its MPA gap?

  1. DJ 7 April, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    Maritime nation?

    Anyone would think we were a landlocked country, judging from the attention that’s been given to patrolling UK seaspace.

    A mix of 737/A330 crewed aircraft, backed up with long-range unscrewed machines looks a possible solution – but when?

    • Craig Hoyle 7 April, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      I was thinking “maritime nation” purely in a geographical sense!

      This will have to be played out in the next SDSR in 2015 – could it be funded from the unassigned money in the budget out to 2020, perhaps? Clearly not coming from the last under-spend, which is being hoovered up by the Treasury!

      If it is to be P-8, then they should be Increment 2 aircraft, like Australia will get: one should never buy a Mk 1 anything, after all.

  2. Jonesy 8 April, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    As has been detailed on this topic every time it has arisen the first issue is to define a requirement. Is ASW a key requirement for the next 15yrs or so. Will the GWoT still dictate an ongoing requirement for high-res wide area surface surveillance. Will the surface naval threat develop to the point an MPA has to be a weapons platform in cold-war stylie. Is the long-range strike requirement going to be high enough to warrant CASOM inclusion in an MPA requirement?.

    Until the answers for these sort of questions are arrived at the appropriate solution is, by definition, unclear. The answers even have ramifications for the wider defence budget. If we believe the ASW threat will increase is that littoral or blue-water?. If thats blue-water do we need to invest in a cueing platform to localise the threat for the MPA to prosecute. MPA’s being only one link in the whole kill-chain.

    Picking a platform in absence of the above is more a game of Top Trumps than anything meaningful to UK defence. The interesting part will be seeing the questions answered.

  3. Michael Powell 9 April, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    I still cannot believe that the MRA4s were chopped up. Could they have not been mothballed and brought back into service after the recession? Why destroy them? At least try and sell them. What was the government thinking. I guess the P-8A is better than what we have now……nothing!

    • C 16 April, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      This is WHY we chopped them up. The deal to buy the P-8 has been “done” for years…

  4. Jim Ramsey 10 April, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Like you. I cannot believe that the MRA4s were chopped up so quickly. After all, a lot of the development money had already been spent.
    It must have been a ridiculous political decision to accentuate the financial position left by the previous government, with no thought given to the consequences of not having a dedicated maritime capability.
    An ex Tory..

  5. Thorvic 16 April, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Yeap it is interesting that the most numerous Seedcorn staff, those assigned to the US are on Poseidon with a few soon to go on to Triton yet none of them are with USN Orion units !.
    Given that Australia has selected the Poseidon/Triton combination to replace its Orions as per the US it does give the impression that the UK forces are looking at a similar solution.
    Not sure if it will be the preferred solution going forward from the next SDSR in 2015, but I get the impression that’s what they want if we can justify the cost.
    On a side note I notice its recently emerged that the Poseidon has been testing a long radar system on its belly so perhaps the Poseidon is also being earmarked as potential R1 Sentinel replacement as its future also hangs in the balance on the 2015 SDSR after being earmarked for the chop in the 2010 SDSR once the Afghanistan operation comes to an end

  6. Andypease 22 April, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    Some fool will be will be tempted to use the new carriers in a show of force.The enemy will simply sink them and laugh at us,much the same as the last prince of Wales.This task will be made much easier by the absence of mpa. Poseidon range inadequate, although anything is better than nothing.

  7. Kojo Addo 25 April, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    The RAF should purchase the Japanese designed and built Kawasaki P1. It is a purpose built MPA for an Island nation such as the UK. Re-engine with Rolls Royce engines and fill it with the equipment intended for the Nimrod MRA4 and add a refueling probe.

    • Craig Hoyle 25 April, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

      I can’t see this one happening, Kojo – is Japan even actually allowing its companies to export equipment like this yet? Add to that the small number in use and low annual production rate, and the price is I’d guess fairly high. And the UK’s experience with re-engining platforms has not always been a happy one!

    • Mike 3 May, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      Hmm.. Japan has recently changed its laws to allow export of military material, and the First Sea Lord has recently bee to Japan for a big visit.

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