A decision has finally been made on a new maritime patrol aircraft for the UK – Prime Minister David Cameron announced on November 23 that nine new Boeing P-8 Poseidons will be purchased to finally plug the gap left by the controversial scrapping of the Nimrod MRA4 programme in 2010.
Selection of the Poseidon to meet the requirement was revealed as part of the UK’s five-year National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), unveiled in the House of Commons on the same day. Several manufacturers had been lobbying for some time to promote their solutions for the UK requirement and selection of a sole-source purchase without competition has left them somewhat disappointed.
The P-8s will be used for maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare, increasing further the protection of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and its two new aircraft carriers. The Prime Minister’s office said these roles require an aircraft that can carry torpedoes, as well as being fitted with a broad range of sensors, including radar and sonobuoys. They will also provide maritime search and rescue and surveillance capabilities over land. They will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, Moray.
The SDSR revealed that the RAF’s multirole Typhoon will remain in service until 2040, a decade longer than previously planned. A further two squadrons will also be formed to operate the type, making a total of seven frontline Typhoon units. The two additional units will fly early Tranche 1 aircraft, which had been planned for retirement within the next two-three years.
It was also confirmed that the UK will buy an eventual total of 138 F-35 Lightning IIs, scotching rumours that the overall purchase may be drastically cut back. In addition, early deliveries will be accelerated, so that 24 of the type will be operating from the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers by 2023. A second F-35 squadron will also be formed.
There will be major investment in Special Forces, including investment in high-altitude surveillance aircraft, plus upgrades to helicopters and transport aircraft so that they can deploy Special Force faster and over longer distances. There will also be upgrades to the Army’s Apache attack helicopters and RAF Chinooks, but further details were not revealed.
The RAF will retains three Tornado GR4 squadrons until 2018, when two will disband, followed by the third in 2019. The type is being replaced by the Typhoon. Additional investment in the Typhoon’s capabilities will include ground attack and a new airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
The RAF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet, much of which had been under threat, is now to remain in service much longer. The Sentinel aircraft will continue into the next decade, while the Shadow will remain operational until at least 2030 and Sentry and Rivet Joint until 2035. By 2025 there will be eight RAF Shadow R1s, implying that additional aircraft will be acquired, as the RAF currently only has five Shadows, plus one aircraft used purely as a crew trainer.
Fourteen of the RAF’s C-130J Hercules will be upgraded and go through a life extension programme, in order to remain in service until 2030. The other ten will be retired by 2022. The RAF’s BAe146 CC2 and C3 transport aircraft will be replaced as they reach the end of their life, although no type was specified. One of the new Voyager tanker-transport aircraft will be adapted as a VIP transport for secure transport of senior ministers. It will also be available for use by the Royal Family.
Overall, after years of cutbacks, the SDSR provided a lot of positive elements, with investment where it is needed. It is to be hoped there are no U-turns on any of these promising investments in the future of the UK military. Alan Warnes