An USN P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from to the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 over the Mediterranean Sea in November 2014 (Image © Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman / US Navy)

American Orion is the new “Nimrod”, are there any alternatives?

British aviation enthousiasts already mentioned it earlier this week through the social media channels, and now it has been officially confirmed by a UK MoD official. The United States Navy currently flies operational missions with at least one of its Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) out of RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

Thereby the American plane is now more or less the new “Nimrod”, with the British armed forces lacking sufficient anti-submarine capabilities since the retirement of the last of the 35 Hawker Siddeley / BAe Systems Nimrod MR2s at nearby RAF Kinloss on 31 March 2010. The planned introduction of the Nimrod MR4 was scrapped due to budgetary reasons.

In November the lack of underwater detection capabilities came into an alarming light, when London had to ask three fellow NATO nations to help search for a suspected submarine off the coast of western Scotland – a month after Sweden was searching for its “Red October”. Already then the US Navy dispatched a pair of its P-3Cs, supplemented by their Canadian cousin – a RCAF CP-140 Aurora – and a French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2.

The painful situation of the proud sea-going nation of Britain has no easy ick solution. With the MoD using a lot of its financial resources on the new Typhoon and Lightning II fighter jets. An incredible sum of money goes to the new flagship of the navy, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for which London also seems to seek American assistance.

The BAe Systems Nimrod MRA4 prototype during the 2007 RIAT at RAF Fairford. The project was later scrapped (Image © Marcel Burger)
The BAe Systems Nimrod MRA4 prototype during the 2007 RIAT at RAF Fairford. The project was later scrapped (Image © Marcel Burger)

A best quick fix for the British lack of MPAs might actually be for the Royal Navy to buy second-hand American P-3Cs from the same type that is now operating out of RAF Lossiemouth. The US Navy is slowly converting to the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon MPA, meaning many P-3 will soon be obsolete. Japan reportedly has offered its new but somewhat troubled and likely more expensive Kawasaki P-1, but insiders think there is no chance that London will go for that option.

The possible alternative is the use of a smaller airplane like the RAF’s R1 Sentinel, a Bombardier Global Express business jet stuffed with battlefield surveillance and intelligence gathering hard- and software. A likely candidate would then be Boeing’s Maritime Surveillance Platform, a light version of the P-8 cramped into a Bombardier Challenger 605 but adaptable to other aircraft.

For now it is the US Navy that provides the United Kingdom with a limited submarine detection and hunting force. For how long that will be is still undetermined.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Related: ↑ Special Report: Big plans for military Saab turboprops

The Bombardier (Canadair) Challenger 605 will be the platform of a light version of the Boeing P-8 MPA (Image © Boeing)
An affordable quick fix? The Bombardier (Canadair) Challenger 605 transformed by Boeing into a the Maritime Surveillance Platform dubbed by Airheadsfly.com as the P-8 Lite (Image © Boeing)
An USN P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from to the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 over the Mediterranean Sea in November 2014 (Image © Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman / US Navy)
An USN P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from to the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron (VP) 4 over the Mediterranean Sea in November 2014 (Image © Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman / US Navy)