Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) are set to return to Moray in Scotland. Five years ago, under the last Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Nimrod MR2 was scrapped. RAF Kinloss was closed and the maritime patrol capability lost for the British Armed Forces. It was a decision much criticised at the time. But in today’s defence review the government announced it’s a capability they want back.
So why now? They say in the last 5 years the world has very much changed. In the wake of increased Russian aggression it’s becoming increasingly important to protect UK waters and our nuclear deterrent. Several submarines have been spotted off the coast of Scotland, and just last weekend, the RAF had to call in French and Canadian aircraft to help in their search for one of them.
Rather than taking years building a new British form of the aircraft, the government are going to buy off the shelf from the Americans – the Boeing Poseidon P-8. Resembling a modern jetliner, the airframe has a minimum range of 5,000 nautical miles and can spend up to 5 hours on task. RAF personnel have been embedded and trained on the P-8 so it could be brought into service relatively quickly. Each airframe costs over £100 million each, and with Britain likely to need at least nine of them, analysts estimate the total bill to be around £2 billion. It's been in service with the US Navy since 2012 (see cover image).
US Navy personnel on a P-8
Rumours have been circulating for weeks about whether the MPA would return and if it did, where it would be based. The old RAF Leuchars, now home to the Army, had been cited as a possibility. As had the home of the original Nimrod – RAF Kinloss in Moray.
Its loss hit Moray hard but its community look set to benefit from the capability’s return. The new home is still in the same district, but half an hour further East along the coast.
RAF Lossiemouth is the air force’s only remaining base in Scotland and home to three Typhoon squadrons, as well as XV (Reserve) Squadron who train Tornado pilots. Over the past few months it’s expanded to make space for the Typhoons, and will now expand again for the Boeing P-8.
But former Nimrod Captain Bob Helier told Forces TV he had doubts about Lossiemouth as a base for the maritime patrol capability. “I don’t honestly think that Lossiemouth has the infrastructure to support a full 9 maritime aircraft. Certainly supporting it from an engineering point of view, and a continuation of operations point of view."
"They don’t even to my knowledge have a room where the crew can go brief themselves. I mean they struggle even with the maritime airplanes they have in there at the moment.”
For their part Boeing say they're 'looking forward to continuing to support the UK's Armed Forces, as we have done for more than 75 years."
"Boeing has doubled its workforce in the UK since 2010 and plan to maintain this growth trend over the next five years."