Following UK Prime Minster David Cameron’s pledge to continue the in-service life of the Royal Air Force’s Raytheon-developed Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft until 2018, the squadron that operates the aircraft is making plans to extend the type's operational capability.

Speaking at the Farnborough air show, RAF 5 Sqn commanding officer Wg Cdr David Kane welcomed the government’s 14 July commitment to the aircraft’s continued operation as part of a £1.1 billion ($1.9 billion) funding boost.

“As a squadron we have been waiting on this for a long time and are obviously happy to have it,” Kane says. “We now have another three to four years in the game and this gives us the opportunity to do more.There is definite scope for growth.”

The aircraft flew 2,230h during 204 missions in support of the UK’s Operation Ellamy effort in Libya in 2011. The capability of the aircraft meant that it was utilised in a land-based application throughout the campaign, although a large proportion of the broader operation was based over the ocean.

The RAF is now looking to now add maritime capability to Sentinel, driven by Raytheon's experience in the development of naval systems.

This will include a specific maritime radar mode, options for long range optics, signals intelligence and an enhanced airborne mission system.

Five of the aircraft are presently in service with the RAF. Kane says it is unclear how the logistics of the maritime upgrade will be carried out, as it is yet to be decided if one aircraft will temporarily withdraw from operations in order to undergo the upgrade testing.

Kane emphasises that the upgrade will not mean that the aircraft becomes a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) – something which the UK is expected to procure in the near future – but will instead be akin to “an embryonic MPA”.

Sentinel has flown in support of Operation Herrick in Afghanistan since 2009, and will continue to do so until a decision is taken on a date for withdrawal.

It has also flown in Operation Newcom, during which the UK supported France in its anti-insurgency campaign in Mali, as well as during a period of heavy flooding in the UK when Sentinel surveyed inundated areas for analysis using the synthetic aperture radar capability of the aircraft.

Codenamed Operation Pitchpole, RAF personnel on training flights incorporated the flood data collection into its routine flights.

Operation Turus, meanwhile, saw the aircraft deployed to Nigeria in the search for missing schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram, when “the aircraft just got out there an got on with the job”.

Source: Flight Daily News