Nimrod Was Actually a Fine Hunter: The End of RAF Aerial Maritime Patrol


Cut up
(click to view video)

Tough going for Britain without Maritime Patrol planes.

May 21/14: See Hercules. Britain is sending a C-130J to help in a fading search for the Cheeki Rafiki yacht. The 40 foot yacht’s British crew reported taking on water on May 16/14, while returning from a regatta in Antigua. They haven’t been heard from since, and the US Coast Guard is resuming its search after pressure from the British government. The problem is that the RAF’s C-130J has no sensors for this task, just a crew with binoculars.

“The admission comes weeks after RAF chiefs warned the Government that the lack of maritme [sic] patrol aircraft meant if an airliner disappeared near the UK in similar circumstances to the Malaysian MH370 jet, Britain would not have the planes to find it…. Sir Gerald Howarth MP, a former defence minister…. “Let’s say these had been American sailors in waters for which we had responsibility. We wouldn’t have been able to deliver.”… The MoD has postponed a decision on replacing the planes until at least next year.”

Sources: The Telegraph, “RAF forced to use binoculars to search for British sailors after patrol planes scrapped”.

Jan 4/14: Missed. A Russian cruiser with a full load of missiles is detected by RAF aircraft as it nears north-east Scotland. It was a calculated move. The ship came within 30 km of the Scottish coast before anchoring in the Moray Forth, which is best known for the body it leads to inland – Loch Ness.

The incident is also a testament to the weakness of the Royal Navy, which had just 1 ship it could dispatch: the air defense destroyer HMS Defender, docked 600 miles away in Portsmouth. It took 24 hours to dispatch the ship, which carries no anti-ship weapons beyond its short range gun, to the Russian cruiser’s location. A standoff ensued, before the Russian cruiser headed back to the Baltic Sea.

Just to add to the fun, the Scottish SNP is using the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet, and failure to base ships in Scotland, as an argument for a “Yes” vote in the coming independence referendum. Sources: The Daily Mail, “Battle stations! Navy scrambles destroyer to challenge Russian warship off British coast (but it takes 24 hours to make 600-mile journey from Portsmouth base – was Putin testing our response time?)” | SNP, “Report : Devastating reality check for MoD”.

Sept 5/12: The UK Parliamentary Defence Committee issues its report on Future Maritime Surveillance, outlining the gaps and discussing options to restore this capability. The bottom line is that the MoD is moving slowly and not treating it as a priority, which means 2020 or later before effective measures are put in place. Release | Full Report.

Aug 28/12: Sea Hercules? Defense News reports that Lockheed Martin is working on an SC-130J Sea Hercules modification. It’s designed as a $150 million alternative, to be developed in 3 stages. Stage 1 will involve roll-on/ bolt-on radar, electro-optical sensors, and accompanying processing workstations. Stage 2 would add wing-mounted surface attack weapons, along with upgraded workstations and weapon control systems. Stage 3 would be a full anti-submarine conversion, including sonobuoys, a magnetic anomaly detector boom, extra fuel pods, and 2 added bays for 6 Harpoon missiles.

Lockheed Martin reportedly says they expect to sign at least one contract “in North Africa”. Tunisia, who already has a contract for 2 C-130J-30s that was signed shortly before their revolution, could certainly use that capability. So could Britain, which has its own fleet of C-130s, but no maritime patrol planes since they retired the Nimrod fleets.

Lockheed Martin will have no shortage of competitors around the world. Established competitors include EADS’ CN-235 Persuader, C-295 MPA, ATR-42 MP, and ATR-72 ASW turboprops; and Embraer’s P-99 MP jet. On the development front, Boeing is starting to look at options beyond its P-8A Poseidon, because their customers are saying that they don’t need its full versatility, and find its $200 million price tag prohibitive. Bombardier’s Challenger 600 seems to be the target platform. There’s also some talk in Britain of adding maritime patrol capabilities to its Sentinel R1 ground surveillance jets, based on Bombardier’s Challenger. Saab has options are in development based on the Saab 2000 regional turboprop and Piaggio P-180 executive turboprop, and Russia has a unique offering in development based on its Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft. Sources: Defense News, “Smaller Maritime Patrol Aircraft Built for Tight Budgets”.

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Nimrod MR2 at work(click to view full) British naval theorist Sir Julian Corbett saw the navy’s proper role as “directly or indirectly either to secure the command of the sea or to prevent the enemy from securing it.” Airpower plays a prominent role in both of those missions. In 1996, Britain began a program to […]

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