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Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS)

France would take the initiative to quit the MAWS (maritime patrol aircraft) program in July 2021 after Germany's decision to acquire five P-8A Poseidons from Boeing. Very annoyed by Berlin, Paris would consider a plan B from Dassault Aviation's Falcon 10X. In France, nobody really believed in the purchase of five P-8A Poseidon planes was a "temporary solution"replacing the old P-3C Orions of the German Air Force. Clearly, Paris believed it has been cheated by Berlin.

The Franco-German Council of Ministers decided in 2017 to procure a joint successor for the P-3C of the German Navy and Breguet Atlantique 2 of the French Navy. This project is under the working term Maritime Airborne Warfare System ( MAWS), embedded in the context of the European Future Combat Air System. The manned MAWS is to take over the tasks of an MPA in the Navy from the P-3C by 2035 at the latest.

Western nations only operate a handful of full-fledged MPA types. In addition to the widespread American P-3C, there is the new, also American P-8A Poseidon, the Japanese Kawasaki P-1 and the French Breguet Atlantique 2, a modernized version of the old Breguet Atlantic. MPA with a broad portfolio of weapons can work independently even over great distances, usually over 200 kilometers, and even under threat. This is of particular importance, since air warfare for the Bundeswehr currently has a long-term gap: the navy abandoned its fighter-bomber component in 2005, the air force phased out the anti-ship missile Kormoran in 2012. A conversion of the German maritime patrol aircraft P-3C Orion to be able to use comparable agents is still not planned.

Even today, MPA have the necessary speed, range and endurance or standing time to be able to reach an application area quickly and stay there for a long time. With their sensors, which are specialized in submarine hunting, they can track down both conventional and nuclear-powered submarines and, if necessary, fight them with their own resources. This still happens today as it started in the 1940s: with torpedoes or depth charges.

It may seem anachronistic, but depth charges still have their raison d'être, unlike a torpedo, because they can be scaled up: That is, they cannot be dropped directly onto a submarine or only serve as a warning in its vicinity. They can also be used in shallow water, where it is not possible to drop a torpedo.

A lot has changed since the original deployment concept. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Cold War also meant the disappearance of a perceived danger of attacks by submarines equipped with ballistic nuclear missiles. In the 1990s, the Russian Navy decommissioned dozens of former Soviet missile boats and hardly any new ones were built.

Many nations have therefore saved the MPA skills that they had needed for the reconnaissance of such submarines, or opted for smaller, cheaper aircraft types with significant losses in range, standing time, sensors and armament. In the North Sea region, for example, Great Britain and the Netherlands decommissioned their powerful MPA fleets.

Now, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, MPA are a rare but highly sought-after resource in the North Atlantic Alliance - they are a so-called NATO shortfall. Because the number of conventional submarines is increasing worldwide, and nations are modernizing their fleets. Even a few, relatively cheap, conventional submarines are a valuable strategic tool. The presence of a single submarine in a large area of operations is a risk that no nation would accept for high-value units in its navy or civil shipping. Ships such as aircraft carriers or military transporters, freighters or tankers have become ever larger and rarer since the 1940s and also since the 1980s - and thus increasingly valuable as a single destination.

Tactics have also evolved. In war films the destroyer approaches the submarine's position. It actually used to be done that way. Today no ship commander wants to come within range of a submarine torpedo. Even helicopters, especially in sonar hover, have no longer been invulnerable since the invention of anti-aircraft missiles that can be launched from submarines. On the other hand, MPAs with high altitudes and speeds largely do. Consequently, Great Britain is rebuilding its MPA fleet with the American P-8A Poseidon and Norway is modernizing its navy with the same type.

NATO has set itself the task of building up a comprehensive maritime picture of the situation in the North Atlantic and maintaining it over the long term. This is a challenge, especially underwater, as modern technology has made submarines dramatically quieter. The alliance wants to achieve this permanent picture of the situation through newer technology and even more cooperation: with long-term sensors, networking, data exchange. But also with new tactical procedures: bi- and multistatic.

The principle of the bistatic is relatively simple: a submarine hunter, usually a frigate, sends active sonar pulses in search of submarines. A second receives these impulses when they hit an underwater target and then combats that target. Multistatic increases the number of receivers and transmitters of such active sonar signals. New communication technology makes it possible to network more and more transmitters and receivers above and below water.

But it is precisely the multistatics that require the rapid deployment of active and passive sonar buoys in a reconnaissance area that is significantly larger than was the case with earlier procedures. Tests in recent years have shown that neither ships nor helicopters are able to set up these buoy fields in a reasonable time and number of buoys, let alone monitor them in view of a limited range of vision. In addition, the increased distances make it difficult not only for ships but also for helicopters to combat underwater contact at an early stage. Here, too, the MPA scores with its comparatively high speed and large payload for sensors and weapons.

Nowadays a Maritime Patrol Aircraft is capable of much more than just submarine hunting. With its sensors, it can also excellently build, hold and share an overwater situation image. It continuously condenses the picture of the situation by superimposing radar data with electromagnetic emissions and recordings from its video and infrared sensor. The data obtained can be passed on to its own forces or to the alliance partner, also for combating.

An MPA can make a contribution both as a carrier of such a weapon and as a transmitter of target data for aircraft of the Air Force or other alliance partners. By using the P-3C Orion, which other nations also use to launch anti-ship missiles, German naval aviators are still involved in developments in this area. Constant practice in national and international maneuvers guarantees the compatibility of operational principles and procedures.

With its sensors, above all a powerful video and infrared camera system, an MPA can supply forces on the ground with the latest information and live images from the air. The crew in the aircraft thus receives a complete overview of the operational area on board, can deal with particularities and the upcoming procedure and supplies the troops on the ground with the data in the live feed via a tactical data network.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2021 18:28:11 ZULU