On the 13th July this year the RAF announced “The first of Britain’s new fleet of nine maritime patrol aircraft has taken to the skies. The flight of the Poseidon MRA Mk1 (P-8A) was completed successfully at the hands of Boeing test pilots.”
Since then, all the tests have gone well and the first P-8A has just been formally handed over to the RAF. This is one of a fleet of nine aircraft ordered and which will form 120 Squadron, a specialist sub-hunting unit.
The squadron will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, although the first plane will only be flown there once RAF conversion training is complete. (This is being carried out in Florida at a US Navy air station.)
The last time the UK had a dedicated anti-submarine aircraft was some nine years ago. At that time the last of the Nimrod MR2 aircraft were based at RAF Kinloss, which is not far from Lossiemouth. They were flown by 201 Squadron, based at Kinloss from 1970 to 2010, and which had previously converted over from flying Shackletons.
After 2010, the lack of a British maritime patrol aircraft with sub-hunting capabilities was most keenly felt in 2015 when a Russian submarine was spotted off the north coast of Scotland. To this nation’s shame, we had to rely upon French and Canadian aircraft to do our work.
There are reports that members of the government and MOD are lobbying to increase the number of P8s to 16 aircraft. This, it is argued, is necessary to counter the increased level of activity (and potential threat) from a resurgent Russia. Although this was apparently raised in the Defence Select Committee, no further information is available that might indicate the level of support for such a move.
(The author was once sitting near the end of the runway at Kinloss in the 1980s when on an Army exercise. What we believed was a Shackleton taxied to a spot just the other side of some trees from our Sultan command vehicles and revved its engines as the crew went through their pre-flight checks. The din was astonishing and we wondered how many nuts, bolts and rivets were left behind on the ground afterwards!)