Our aviation correspondent Mike Crutch comments on the news that the RAF has wanted to hear for a very long time.
IT WAS ANNOUNCED formally at 3.38pm yesterday afternoon by Prime Minister David Cameron – the Royal Air Force will receive nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft – all of which will be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
It brings to an end the five year ‘capability gap’ endured by the UK since the cancellation of the BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 programme in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
During that time, politicians, commentators, serving and former service chiefs and others have all found time to continually highlight the dire need for such an aircraft. Not least on the four known occasions when Russian submarine activity off the west coast of Scotland became apparent, requiring extended deployments of NATO Maritime Patrol Aircraft to go on the hunt.
One such operation is still under way at Lossiemouth, involving French Navy Atlantique aircraft as reported by insideMoray yesterday.
The exact details and timescales to procure, fit and bring into service the new P-8 Poseidon, which are based on the Boeing 737 airliner, are yet to be revealed. It is likely, however, that the Boeing military production line in Seattle, Washington could easily supply 2-3 aircraft from US Navy-earmarked airframes.
Couple that to the fact that a number of ex-Nimrod personnel, last based at Kinloss, have been maintaining their skill sets as part of crews flying with the US Navy’s training unit for the P-8 under the RAF’s Project Seedcorn.
That prudent approach by the MoD means they are ideally placed to form the initial cadre of crews for a new RAF Poseidon training unit – and indeed would be ready to fly operational missions from the start.
In RAF service, the P-8s are likely to be designated Poseidon MRA1 (Maritime Reconnaissance and Attack Mark 1) – although the United States will refer to them as P-8K models, the K suffix having been used for other US-built British aircraft in the past.
It is also expected that two squadrons will form, one to cover operational conversion training along with operational evaluation and testing, whilst the other will be solely for operational missions.
Moray is still lucky to have a large number of ex-Nimrod fleet personnel in the area, albeit on ‘civvy street’ – but with the selection of Lossiemouth as the sole base, the supporting infrastructure needed for the Poseidon fleet could mean job opportunities for many.
It is now almost five years since the people of Moray fought so hard to keep RAF Lossiemouth open in the face of fierce competition.
This news comes as a magnificent bonus for the area that has given so much of itself to the RAF – few in the UK would grudge us that.