Alan Warnes looks at some of the highlights of this year’s Farnborough International Air Show (FIAS), focussing on the UK’s need for a maritime patrol aircraft.
IN THE days leading up to FIAS, which took place from July 14-20, the RAF held a conference to discuss the UK’s maritime patrol aircraft requirements for the future, with the Boeing P-8A their preferred option on a leasing basis. However, most aircraft manufacturers, undeterred by the reports, were still keen to show their solution, after the short-sighted scrapping of the Nimrod MRA4 in the October 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). So it is not too surprising there were plenty of special mission aircraft in evidence.
Portuguese CASA 295 with FITS
AIRBUS DEFENCE and Space (ADS) brought along a C295 of the Portuguese Air Force (FAP) fitted with a Fully Integrated Tactical Systems (FITS) it claims could meet the surveillance requirement for relatively small cost to UK taxpayers. To extract the maximum amount of marketing effort, the aircraft was at RIAT too the weekend before FIAS. The FAP has 12 C295s, seven are for tactical support and the other five have been modernised for the FITS, although there are only three of the palletised systems to g between them. A FLIR Star Safire HD EO/IR turret is also integrated into the FAP examples. According to ADS it takes two hours to convert an aircraft with FITS, which can be customised to fit in other platforms, including the C-130. The Spanish Maritime Safety Agency (Sasemar) is using it on their C235s, as is the Irish Air Corps and the Spanish Air Force, while the Mexican Navy has it in their C212s. FITS has also been integrated on Spanish Air Force P-3Ms, as well as Spanish Interior Ministry CN235s, Chilean Navy C295s and the upgraded Brazilian Air Force P-3AMs.
ADS claims it as a modern tactical system that integrates and controls mission sensors, which presents tactical and navigation information to operators in real time to improve operational effectiveness. “An affordable solution for the UK needs” one ADS spokesman told Tangent Link.
Boeing MSA makes first public appearance
TWO YEARS ago, Boeing was talking to journalists at FIAS about a newer smaller maritime surveillance aircraft. In Dubai 2013, along with the aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier and Field Aviation, which is carrying out the structural modifications, it announced the platform would be a Challenger 605. At FIAS 2014 the three companies were pleased to show off their new Challenger 605 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft. Boeing’s Bob Schoeffling was keen to provide an update when he told journalists at the MSA press conference that flight testing would begin towards the end of the year, early next year’. The Challenger has been fitted out with the P-8 mission systems that will work with the onboard sensors, including the Seaspray 7300 maritime radar, FLIR 380HD EO/IR turret and the Shine Micro AIS. Schoeffling added “the aircraft can provide the speed and persistence to provide surveillance over land and sea, along borders and harbours. But it doesn’t do Anti-Submarine Warfare because it is not armed – we leave that to the P-8.” On board there are three mission crew stations, with two 24in (60cm) screens and, while a little cramped, Boeing says the three operators can see the entire tactical picture with an integrated map. Each station is in one of three different configurations – tactical co-ordination, COMINT/ESM and EO/IR/AIS.
Apart from the most obvious modification, the radar housing underneath the fuselage, the MSA has two black COMINT blade aerials towards the back of aircraft, one for AIS and the other for the VHF/UHF radio system. There is also 360° electronic support measures (ESM) coverage and a tail cone taken from a Challenger 605.
P-8 on UK roadshow
THE BOEING roadshow also included a P-8A Poseidon, which attended RAF Waddington International Air Show (July 5-6), RIAT (July 12-13) and FIAS. Clearly intent on showing the British public what it is capable of, the P-8 sat in the static displays at all three events. At FIAS though, it was pulled out of the static, fitted with dummy AGM-84D Harpoon anti-shipping missiles, on a daily basis to participate in the flying display. During its ten minute slot it showed off its open bomb bay, where the Mark 54 torpedos would be housed and generally provided a good account of itself in the glorious weather conditions.
The US Navy has 109 P-8s on order, with 14 of them now delivered to three squadrons based at NAS Jacksonville, Florida – VP-5 Mad Foxes’, VP-16 War Eagles’ and the P-8 training squadron, VP-30 Pro’s Nest’ in addition to the NAS Patuxtent, Virginia-based VX-1 Pioneers’ test and evaluation squadron.
The current P-8As flying are from Increment 1 – the basic tactical system, but Increment 2 when it becomes operational in 2016 will have ASW improvements that provide a better performance at high altitude as well as AIS fitted. Increment 3 with its further improvements is scheduled to be fielded in 2021. While the P-8A is a capable high speed long range ASW/ASuW aircraft, the latest Lot 5 P-8A comes at a unit cost of $150 million per aircraft, which according to the US Navy’s P-8 Programme Manager, Capt Scott Dillion, is down from the $216 million it cost at the outset of the programme.
To date the Indian Navy has taken delivery of four of the P-8Is it has on order, with two more expected this year and the final pair next year. Australia which has been part of the P-8 development since 2009, formally announced the acquisition of eight P-8As on February 21, 2014, valued at approximately US$3.6 billion (AUS$4 billion). Deliveries are expected to commence during 2017, while current plans envisage that all eight aircraft will be fully operational by 2021.
Saab’s Maritime Surveillance Solution
SAAB IS offering a myriad of surveillance options these days – including the Erieye system and Saab 2000 MPA Air Tracer, but it was their new Saab 340 maritime surveillance aircraft which was present in the static display. Unlike its Air Tracer cousin, the Saab 340 MSA does not come armed, so can work with civilian agencies like the Coast Guard, Border Control or for civilian taskings such as search and Rrescue (SAR), in addition to fulfilling the military’s needs.
The demonstrator aircraft was exhibited with a Telephonics RDR1700B maritime surveillance radar, a FLIR Star Safire HD EO/IR turret, Satcom and Collins AIS/DF system, however Saab was keen to stress the payload is down to the customer’s requirements.
On board there was a console with two MFDs, one illustrating the sea charts integrated with AIS and the second for terrain mapping. The EO/IR operator works in tandem with the mission commander on board. As part of the Flexible Quick Change’ interior, stretchers can be installed, highlighting one of the aircraft’s multi role capabilities, which caters not just for maritime surveillance, but can act as a personnel transport and be optimised for SAR missions. In the cockpit the pilot can see on a multi-function display the areas the mission is focussing on and so become orientated with the work that the team is working on.
The aircraft has a range of 1,400nm (2,590km) and has a maximum endurance of 8.5 hours which can be increased to more than 2,000nm (3,700km) with auxiliary fuel tanks and 11.3 hours.
Sentinel Fleet extended
PRIME MINISTER David Cameron announced on the first day of the event that the RAF’s Sentinel R1 will see its service life extended until 2018 at the least. As a result, new features like the addition of a greater maritime capability are being explored. It would not be the first time of course. During the Libyan campaign in 2011 Sentinels were working along the Libyan coastline monitored the movement of vessels in the area. There will be no shortage of suitors like Raytheon to offer an upgrade to the ASTOR’s capabilities.
DA42 SIGINT platform
BOURNEMOUTH-BASED DO Systems are working with QinetiQ on a new Diamond DA42 as an airborne SIGINT platform. The capability comes from a lightweight AS-3 system that works with a Direction Finder to receive good general communications. This intercepts messages, works out the direction, then picks up the location and its position, according to QinetiQ.
“The project is in the middle of a trials programme that is a reiteration of previous work” a QinetiQ spokesman told Tangent Link. As well as the AS-3 electronic surveillance system, there is the AS-4 system available for larger platforms and the AS-5 for bigger jets, like the RC-135 Rivet Joint, although it is not known by that name in service.
Piaggio P180 MPA due to make first flight shortly?
PIAGGIO CLAIM there will be an announcement within the coming weeks’ on the first flight of their P180 Multirole Patrol Aircraft, which was expected to fly in mid-2014. The UAEAF is working with Piaggio, Mubadala and Saab on this new modernised platform which was launched at the Dubai Air Show in 2011.
Bombardier set to work with Marshall Aerospace
Bombardier revealed that it is working with Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace to extending the range of its Q400 turboprop as it focuses on developing a maritime patrol aircraft with L3 Systems. Marshall Aerospace, based at Cambridge, is building auxiliary fuel tanks for the P-8 Poseidon and is set to do likewise for the Q400, which when modified will see its flight endurance pushed up to around ten hours with a special mission fit.