The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is being urged to hold an open competition to fill any requirement for maritime patrol or multimission aircraft that may emerge from its Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) later this year, rather than pursue a sole-source procurement with Boeing.

Speaking in the run-up to the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, Gary Soul, account lead for air ISTAR at Airbus Defence & Space, cautioned against the MoD acquiring the Boeing 737-based P-8 to close a capability gap created following the UK’s last SDSR, in 2010.

Concerned about the potential for a non-competitive selection, Airbus made an unsolicited offer to the MoD in June 2014, based on the use of its C295 platform, which has already been adapted for a range of special mission tasks. The company proposes equipping the UK with 12 of the type, which Soul says would be sufficient to sustain three operational “task lines”, plus training activities. The aircraft would be equipped with weapons and sonobuoys, which are already in the UK military inventory.

The C295’s ability to perform multiple tasks is another element of the Airbus proposal, with Soul suggesting that other applications could include long-range search and rescue, exclusive economic zone protection, deploying paratroops and supporting counter-terrorism and special forces operations. The aircraft has a palletised mission system which, he notes, can be removed via a cargo ramp if required for duties such as flying humanitarian relief supplies, with extended-range missions supported by air-to-air refuelling.

Three different maritime search radars have already been integrated with the type for existing customers, and Soul says Airbus is now in discussion with a UK supplier which he believes would give it “a significant edge” in any future contest. Further details will be announced later this year.

Portuguese C295 MPA RIAT - Craig Hoyle

Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

Airbus claims that its C295 could be acquired for one-third of the cost of a P-8.

“With a small handful of shiny jets, you can’t do everything,” Soul says. “We believe we have a very capable set of mission systems that would give turbofan offerings a good run for their money. We need a competition to prove that.”