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FARNBOROUGH: UK firms up two big military buys

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The UK Ministry of Defence has firmed up two expected orders at the Farnborough air show, committing to the purchase of both the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and AH-64E Apache attack helicopter.

As the show opened, it was announced that an order for nine P-8s that were selected through the UK’s November 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has been placed, along with a deal for 50 new-build Apaches: both through foreign military sales with the US government.

To be flown from the Royal Air Force's Lossiemouth base in Scotland, the 737-derived P-8 will help protect the UK’s nuclear deterrent, and also the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers that are due to enter service in coming years. The acquisition is worth £3 billion ($3.9 billion) over the next 10 years.

A US Navy example is at the show, which was flown over from NAS Jacksonville in Florida by RAF personnel based there under the Project Seedcorn effort that has aimed to retain the UK’s maritime patrol capabilities by incorporating personnel with allied forces during training. Eleven RAF personnel are based at Jacksonville, and seven of them flew the aircraft over to the UK.

The primary role of the P-8 will be anti-submarine warfare (ASW), but the UK is looking at additional roles for the aircraft, Phillip Dunne, defence procurement minister, told media at the show. These include surface and overland search.

“We’ve had great cooperation with the DoD [US Department of Defense],” Dunne says. “This is one of the most keenly priced P-8 deals, as we understand it, that has been undertaken.”

He also emphasises that as an off-the-shelf capability, UK content will be limited to the existing arrangements on fuel tanks, seats and weapons hardpoints.

Rear Adm Dean Peters, programme executive officer for air ASW, assault and special mission programmes, told FlightGlobal that the UK buy will easily fit into Boeing's US production line, and will be purchased over three years.

The first buy in 2017 will cover two aircraft to be delivered in 2019, followed by a three-aircraft buy in 2018 to be delivered in 2020. The remaining four will be ordered in 2019 and delivered in 2021.

The first aircraft delivery will be in April 2019, Peters says, followed by the second in December that year.

“From a global security standpoint, we are joined at the hip with the UK, particularly in the European arena,” he says.

Although the AH-64E selection for the Army Air Corps was expected, it was unclear until today whether or not the aircraft would be refurbished Boeing-Westland Apache AH1s that are currently in service, or new aircraft off the US production line.

The contract is worth $2.3 billion, and the MoD says that 5% of the work has been contracted to British suppliers. These arrangements will be finalised in the next 12 months.

Leonardo Helicopters will continue to support the Apache AH1 fleet until 2023/2024, and a strategic partnering agreement was signed between the company and MoD on 11 July that will see them work together to support rotorcraft in the UK.

Additional reporting by Stephen Trimble and Ellis Taylor

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