With the 13th longest coastline of any country in the world, the lack of a maritime reconnaissance capability is a serious short-coming in the protection of the nation. Maritime Surveillance is defined by NATO Allied Joint Doctrine as “the systematic observation of surface and sub-surface sea areas by all available and practicable means primarily for the purpose of locating, identifying, and determining the movements of ships, submarines, and other vehicles, friendly and enemy, proceeding on or under the surface of the world’s seas and oceans”.
Maritime Surveillance therefore refers to surveillance of the sea and from the sea and extends overland (eg in the littoral), and encompasses a spectrum of capabilities, including ships, submarines, aircraft and space and sea-bed based capabilities. Required characteristics of surveillance include timeliness, accuracy, survivability, reliability, suitability, standardisation, discrimination, covertness and continued coverage over wide areas.
The need for a maritime patrol capability is recognised worldwide with many countries buying maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) or upgrading existing fleets. The requirement for surface search is not limited to the waters surrounding the UK. Counter-piracy has been dominant in the maritime surveillance activities of many nations in recent years. The actions of pirates in the Gulf of Aden pose an increasing threat to world trade and could potentially have a great impact on the UK in terms of denying passage of essential resources.
The P-8 Poseidon is being developed in the US to replace its fleet of Orion P-3s. Following an order for P-8 placed in July 2004 by the US Navy, the first flight of a P-8 took place in April 2009 with initial operational capability scheduled for 2013.
Prime Minister David Cameron anounced on 23 November 2015 plans to buy nine new Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The aircraft would share the Lossiemouth base with Typhoon fighter aircraft. The Review stated the UK would buy "Nine new Boeing P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft to increase further the protection of our nuclear deterrent and our new aircraft carriers. These aircraft will be based in Scotland and will also have an overland surveillance capability."
Speaking on the Good Morning Scotland programme, the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said: "There was a debate as to whether the new maritime patrol aircraft should be based in Lincolnshire, at RAF Waddington, where a lot of the surveillance aircraft the RAF has are based, or in Scotland - and the decision has been taken that they will be based in Lossiemouth."
Poseidon would fill the gap left by the retirement of the Royal Air Force's Hawker Sidley Nimrod fleet, and the cancellation of the UK's own follow-on aircraft. The UK's fleet of Nimrod surveillance aircraft were based at RAF Kinloss until they were scrapped in 2010 as part of the defence review. The cancellation of the Nimrod led to the closure of RAF Kinloss an aircraft base, but the site is now home to 39 Engineer Regiment. The Ministry of Defence then relied on French and Canadian aircraft during a search after a reported sighting of a Russian submarine off the Scottish coast.
Welcoming the news, Leader of Moray Council, Cllr Stewart Cree, said: “I’m delighted to hear that the military presence in Moray is to be strengthened. “We argued and campaigned vociferously against the closure of RAF Kinloss, and were deeply disappointed when the decision to scrap the Nimrod fleet was announced. “In the changing global situation the re-establishment of a maritime surveillance and patrol facility here on the Moray coast line makes perfect sense”.
In was reported on 22 December 2015 that the MOD has ordered nine spy planes that the RAF won’t be able to refuel in mid-air. This meant the P-8A Poseidons, could be forced to turn back during missions as they need a top-up every four hours. An MOD spokesperson said: “The P-8 was selected because it will provide the capability we need in the timescale we require. It has sufficient fuel capacity to conduct its primary missions without the need for air to air refuelling."
The US State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the United Kingdom for P-8A Aircraft and associated equipment, training, and support. The estimated cost is $3.2 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on March 24, 2016.
The proposed sale would allow the UK to reestablish its Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) capability that it divested when it cancelled the Nimrod MRA4 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) program. The United Kingdom has retained core skills in maritime patrol and reconnaissance following the retirement of the Nimrod aircraft through Personnel Exchange Programs (PEPs). The MSA has remained the United Kingdom’s highest priority unfunded requirement. The P-8A aircraft would fulfill this requirement. The UK would have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.
The first submarine-hunting Poseidon MRA1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) was delivered to the Royal Air Force in late October 2019. The MOD is investing £3 billion in nine state-of-the-art jets which would enhance the UK's tracking of hostile maritime targets, protect the British continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent and play a central role in NATO missions across the North Atlantic. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The arrival of the world-class Poseidon aircraft marks a step-change in the UK's maritime patrol capability."
"Using the world's most advanced sensors and operating for long periods, these aircraft will transform the quality of intelligence available to our armed forces and protect our vital nuclear deterrent." Following an unveiling ceremony in Seattle, the aircraft was flown to Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida where RAF personnel are being trained to operate the aircraft.
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