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Jag Patel

Allowing for acknowledging failings in the UK’s defence industrial base identified in this well-researched article, it as well to examine the reasons behind the Government’s decision to buy the Poseidon P-8A to plug the gap in its maritime patrol capability.

Whereas the Ministry of Defence will not come out and say so publicly, it is clear that MoD’s preference for looking at the off-the-shelf solution as its first option, when deciding on which military equipment to buy, has been the determining factor in its choice of the Poseidon P-8A.

After being misled by UK-based defence equipment manufacturers with false promises and lies for several decades, this generation of elite politicians, senior civil servants, military top brass and front-line procurement officials have been so badly scarred that, there remains little appetite to consider any alternatives that may be put forward by these same dishonest suppliers.

Of course, MoD would favour an off-the-shelf equipment because it corresponds to a fully engineered and supported technical solution which satisfies the totality of the technical specification requirement, at no additional cost or risk to MoD, that is to say, it does not require any UK-specific modifications or related development work laden with risk to be performed upon it.

Accordingly, it is entirely understandable that MoD has opted to spend nearly £4bn on this US-designed and manufactured product. It has done so for the following reasons:

(a) MoD will have had the benefit of evaluating the hardware configuration of the technical solution to assure itself that the standard Poseidon P-8A satisfies the technical specification requirement set by the military customer, in particular the key user requirements, before placing an order.

(b) Acknowledging the fact that the cost of acquiring and re-provisioning Support Assets associated with military equipment over the whole life cycle can be in the order of four to five times the prime equipment costs, MoD will have sought and obtained firm selling prices, not only for the Poseidon P-8A weapons platform itself, but also its Support Assets needed to sustain the fleet for the full period of its service life – enabling it to maintain a fixed, through-life budget without any risk of it being breached.

(c) MoD will have been able to verify that there exists a fully functioning production line for the Poseidon P-8A, before taking the main investment decision.

(d) Commonality and interoperability with US armed forces, on any likely future operations brings with it the certainty that replacement spare parts for this platform will be made available, via a common logistics supply chain – thereby reducing in-service support costs considerably.

If anyone has any doubt about the determination of this Government to look at the off-the-shelf solution as its first option, then they should consider this irrefutable fact – that settling on the choice of the Poseidon P-8A means that these aircraft cannot be refuelled in-flight, by RAF tanker planes to extend their range and endurance on-station, because the former is fitted with the flying-boom receptacle whereas the latter is equipped with the probe-and-drogue system, making them entirely incompatible. The MoD has taken a lot of flak from informed commentators and endured negative publicity in the press and media for this serious operational shortcoming – nevertheless, it has decided to go ahead with the purchase.

The decision to go for the off-the-shelf solution is entirely justified because the P-8A Poseidon is a mature and stable design standard devoid of any hidden financial, technical or schedule risks which have dogged the so-called, minimal development solutions proposed by UK-based defence equipment manufacturers.

Another beneficial side-effect to be derived from MoD shifting its attention onto the off-the-shelf buy is that those UK-based defence equipment manufacturers who are left high and dry by this subtle policy adjustment, most notably the Select Few, will have no choice but to increase their competitiveness substantially, by first selling their products in the international marketplace – on price, superior technical performance, timely delivery & without bribing public officials via intermediaries – and then re-entering the domestic market with renewed confidence and fully developed products rebranded as off-the-shelf offerings, just as the Americans have done!
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What happened to all the kit from the mr4?Just how hard can it be to fit a probe? I quite fancy the idea of a few multipurpose cheaper force multipliers for SAR, surveillance, etc.


I wouldn’t be surprised if any stripped out systems are all but gone now, sold on to anybody who uses the same subsystems in other platforms.

As for fitting a probe to the P8a frankly it makes more sense to get AirTanker to fit a boom to a couple of Voyager Tankers. It is a certified conversion already and the Australians have paid for the contact and refuelling trials with the A330 Tanker.

It might seem like a good idea at face value to fit any surplus subsystems to a smaller cheaper platform but the MOD and military hate that kind of thing. That means inducting another type with all the associated logistic costs. More importantly the UK armed forces doesn’t have enough of the bipedal meat bags needed to support and crew them! That is one of the reaasons why the Batch 1 River class and HMS Clyde will be replaced with the new Batch 2 River, they can’t crew 9 OPV in three distinct sub classes. For that matter don’t really want five but ToBA caught them out. Five new OPV in one single class is more manageable.

There will be no problem finding a buyer for the Batch 1 River and Clyde, a number of navies would eagerly snap them up. Thailand already operates a River 1 variant for example and might want more quick or Bangladesh who snapped up the Castle class when they were paid off.


9 is really the bare minimum required for the role when you consider how many Nimrod MRA4’s were being sought in the 90s and early 00’s. The threat and spread of operations has at the very least remained the same, and arguably increased over the last few years. 12 should be the figure to aim for, with any more being a welcome bonus, and certainly extra air-frames if Poseidon is eventually modified to take on the Sentinel’s ISTAR role as well.

Also the article mentions 3 batches of aircraft between 2019-2021 which i sadly fear is a typo as i thought i’d read it will take until the late 2020’s for all 9 to arrive….a truly glacial rate of delivery if true.


It will be interesting to see how a standard airline aircraft wing designed for high altitude cruising will perform in sustained low altitude flight in “bumpy” conditions.


Its worth pointing out that the Nimrod replacement was originally expected to be a joint UK/US project as a Nimrod/Orion replacement, but when we were due to start the USN deferred their back 15 yrs as they had plenty of spare Orion’s in storage due to the end of the Cold War, whilst we had wasted our best Nimrod airframes on the AEW3 farce. Thus we went with the poorly conceived low cost Nimrod MRA4 option from BAE which proved to be a disaster.
BTW Boeing were systems integrators on Nimrod MRA4 and used this to develop their P-9 proposal and some of the Nimrod MRA4A team have been fundamental in getting the P-8 developed and into service.

The 9 P-8’s are the minimum required to regenerate MPA capabilities, we may well see a 2nd batch in the next SDSR to increase capacity and proved those secondary Battlespace roles envisioned by the RAF for MRA4 and those currently performed by the Sentinel. (There is a story that the nail in the coffin of the MRA4 was that the RAF had assigned them for stand-off Strike with Storm Shadow, Battlespace management and training that of the 9 airframes none would have been available for the original intended MPA role and when they asked for more airframes at an eye watering price the programme was cancelled ! ).

Looking forward to the P-8 entering service, its what we should have had originally if the schedules hadn’t got mucked up and should do sterling work in the role it was intended for.


We are surrounded by Sea. Know that it’s a No-No but surely as we are only having 9 and these a slated for MPA role would it not be best these were a FAA asset? If we had 12-15 some could get dragged off to other roles and RAf could play with them. Its not only badges, its being sea minded a faculty we seem to have lost in some measure.

The Ginge

This is an interesting piece. But this argument is moot because the decision to use the P8 was always fraught with problems yet the MOD has gone ahead with it. It solved the only major problem that the MOD has, which is it’s own inability to manage anything other than an off the shelf purchase.
The problems with the P8 option are well known they are
1. Complete reliance on US Tankers to provide any meaningful range. In extremis we hope the USAF are given the political approval if the UK is involved in Falklands MkII where are interests do not overlap with that of the USA. There is no way you can safely build a probe around the heavily congested electronic lines that run from the Cabin (similar problems with Fuel Line runs that brought down the Nimrod over Afghanistan) and we have no money or plans to convert any MRRT’s to boom configuration. Thus our major anti Submarine and Shipping airborne platform has range limitations.
2. It is designed to use disposable drone kits for low level observation, for MAD deployment and the MQ4. All of which the UK hasn’t got and isn’t buying. So you are not taking your £300m aircraft developed as a high flying and cruising airliner down in a storm to identify anything. We don’t have the kit to replace that capability.
3. Launching offensive weapons. Since the UK has not ordered any Mk48 torpedoes or their glider kit delivery systems, since we are not integrating brimstone or any other missile and since we aren’t buying air launched Harpoons exactly what RAF P8’s are going to launch is beyond me. And this is the problem the P8 is designed for high level engagement of surface and sub surface targets. The whole operating model is the with the P8 acting as high level director of a number of subsystems such as the MQ4 and Glider delivered torpedoes. We have bought half the farm.
Now some will argue that low level identification of targets is a thing of the past (although the first time a UK P8 drops a missile on top of Fast Fishing vessel in a storm in the Gulf because they thought it was going to attack a UK ship we will see) that MAD has limited relevance in modern ASW work, but the point is you are intentionally blinding yourself by not buying the whole package. If you commit to an off the shelf option such as the P8 you need to take the whole system of weapons, other sensor platforms and delivery methods. It is the equivalent of buying a Gun and not the bullets or all the sights. You can see the target, you might have the general direction, but you have nothing to sight you weapon with and nothing to shoot with. I wait with batted breath to see if HMG will actually place an order for the other parts of the weapons system or not.


If we only have got an incomplete weapons system in the P8. Would the Japanese P1 been a better option ?
It was in the running but Lost out to P8.
Why did P8 win out against P1?


For those bemoaning the lack of a probe (for the time being) on the RAF’s future MPA; similar discussion was had on the RC-135 Airseekers, the point was made that we’d rather have the airframes fully capable rather than the (usual) MoD cutting corners to fund the development and testing of probe equipment that no one had begun (The Indians with their P8’s also seem to have taken this route too). Either we had fewer airframes due to cost of developing it (and thus less capability and airframes to release RN and RAF assets tied up to fill the gap) or make do until inevitably we get caught out… dammed if you do, dammed if not.

Lest we forget the lives cost by the hash job that was the probes fitted to the Nimrod MR2’s, which some evidence seems to point it was similar on the MRA4’s.

Tom Vart

MRA4s Fuel Systems were nothing at all alike to the MR2, The MRA4 Fuel System was a totally new system.

The Probe wasn’t actually commissioned (nor was it planned to be according to the updated contract).

We should be very careful about having too much faith in the MODs cancellation rationale, which was created to justify shit-canning the project whilst shifting the blame on BAE, much of this has been regurgitated by the press and much of it untrue (e.g. The Financial Times article in 2011 “It was unclear, for example, whether its bomb bay doors functioned properly, whether its landing gear worked and, most worryingly, whether its fuel pipe was safe.” None of which has a grain of truth! I have seen many hours of flight test footage – which clearly shows – all 3 systems working as designed.

Linking of the MRA4 fuel system to the tragic failures in the Fuel Systems of the MR2s was a real low blow by the MOD.

As for endurance – One of MRA4s long endurance test flights in 2007 gave an endurance of 13 hours – that was without IFR – so she the had long legs required for an MPA.

The Mission System integrated within the MRA4 (A BAE/Boeing joint produced system called TCS) was truly outstanding, once it was fully developed (by about 2005) – a derivative of this system is currently at the core of the P8.

MRA4 also had a MAD sensor (P8 cant use this as its operating altitude too high), it had a huge internal bomb bay that could carry up to 18 UK Torpedoes (Stingray), or Depth Charges, Smoke/SUSS, or ASR canisters, (it was initially designed to take Harpoon ASM, but could carry other ‘smart weapons’ due to its integrated MIL STD 1760 databus). it also had 4 under wing hard-points that could take smart weapons or Sidewinder AAM.

Despite the well documented issues of the air-frame/aerodynamics (was rectified in 2007/8 through the integration of SASS and SID) – MRA4 was an astounding aircraft and, once in service would have bettered the performance of the P8 (which is essentially a thin winged jetliner designed to operate at medium to high altitudes).

Whats more important is that MRA was a UK produced aircraft – not an import from the US.

Trevor J Troth

The RAF already basically has the answer….stick all the kit from the Nimrods on a few Hercs, because guess what? Lockheed are bringing out the…….SC-130J maritime patrol version!

The Ginge

This further enforces my point. The Lockheed option could have been a cheaper option with more airframes, it has a wing and control surfaces developed for low level extreme weather flying, and we had 12 of them that we have just chucked away. They were in need of a deep overhaul, but in Marshalls of Cambridge we had a UK centre of excellence, so instead of spending money in the US we could have spent it in the UK. Further the Lockheed proposal uses the same integration technology and sensors that are already on the Merlin. It can use UK weapons as well.
The problem was that
1. It meant the MOD would actually have to do it’s job and run a purchasing project, rather than buying off the shelf.
2. The RAF didn’t like it because it was not Gucci enough, by god it had propellers and not jet engines.

Hence without any form of competition or any published requirement document the MOD selected the P8. Is the P8 a bad solution, No, but it does come with limitations such as range extension which is critical in a Patrol aircraft, in sensors since the Americans use drones etal as above, and weapons integration. With the Boeing option the problem is we are a very small customer compared to the USA, to keep costs at a manageable limit that will mean we will only do upgrades and use weapons that the Americans have already paid to integrate.
The same problem existed with the P1 as it was designed using Japanese code and weapons, engine etc which would not have been easy to maintain or upgrade in the UK.

My own preference always was for the Sea Hercules with transferable equipment (as per the Merlin AEW kits developed by Lockheed in the UK very quickly) as stated we owned 12 ready to go aircraft, over time you could either upgrade the sensors or airframe separately, it had probe refuelling, we had ground crew and maintenance contracts in place for the Hercules (which we still have for the 12/10 models kept) in extremis the ASW kit could have been stripped out internally for extra Strategic Airlift capacity if needed urgently. Plus Lockheed where very keen to get a launch customer for the C130ASW so as to tap in to the huge renewal of P3’s in Europe over the next 20yrs. That would have given us a lead position to be the integration and servicing centre for that project across Europe.

Unfortunately due to it’s own failings and the fact BAe act like a business (Surprise, Surprise) the MOD ran scarred of a Golden Opportunity. Having just spent the weekend at RAF Cosford the RAF Museum, it would look like the MOD continues to perform how it always has since the Second World War in killing UK defence projects.
The fact is we will have 9 P8’s we have no money to buy more, forget the 18 that are needed, forget putting booms on the tankers even though the RAF now fly multiple platforms that need it, forget arming the P8’s, but it will pay for Boeing to open up a hanger in Scotland and look good on the CV.

R Phillips

It is clear scrapping nimrod was a big mistake costing billions to save as I understand it just 2 billions which as we had to buy a replacement we didn’t save anything The thing that baffles me is If I made such an expensive mistake I would be sacked! Why has no one fallen on their swords? The nimrod planes were brand new and nearly ready to go even if we couldn’t afford to finish them they could have been “Parked” and finished when we were better off !??


And once again were paying way over the odds for off the shelf yank kit. Isreal are getting it far cheaper.
Not only that nimrod could carry storm shadow and give a bomber ability back to GB. But nahhh.
Also a maritime a/c with 2 engines… splendid idea over middle of ocean.