MORAY HAS EMERGED as the home of choice for the RAF’s new Maritime Patrol Aircraft with nine Boeing P8 Poseidon aircraft being based at Lossiemouth.
The Moray base is no stranger to the P8, which has been a regular visitor in twice-yearly NATO exercises involving a host of international MPA visitors.
Now it will be the home for a permanent UK squadron – replacing the former Kinloss-based Nimrod aircraft that filled the same role until they were disbanded and scrapped in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
Revealing the UK Government plans on Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron finally put an end to years of speculation over a new MPA force and where it would be based, with former RAF bases at Leuchars and Kinloss touted as possible homes and, only this week, RAF Waddington was tipped for the role.
However, it was Lossiemouth that became the clear first choice – with the nine aircraft now expected to be ‘phased in’ at the base over the next ten years with eventually around 400 additional personnel serving at the Moray base.
Reaction in Moray
There was a warm welcome over the news last night from community and political leaders in Moray.
The leader of Moray Council, Councillor Stewart Cree, said: “I’m delighted to hear that the military presence in Moray is to be strengthened. We argued and campaigned vociferously against the closure of RAF Kinloss, and were deeply disappointed when the decision to scrap the Nimrod fleet was announced.
“In the changing global situation the re-establishment of a maritime surveillance and patrol facility here on the Moray coast line makes perfect sense.”
Moray’s MP Angus Robertson has been one of the MoD’s fiercest critics since the scrapping of the Nimrod project. He said: “I have long argued that the removal of Maritime Patrol Capability was a ridiculous decision and the announcement in the Defence Review that nine P8 Poseidon aircraft are to be purchased and based in Moray is long overdue.
“Lossiemouth is one of the busiest airbases in the UK and has a wealth of expertise to welcome the new P8’s in the coming years.”
His SNP colleague Richard Lochhead MSP added: “This is welcome news for Lossiemouth and for Moray after the tragic and widely condemned scrapping of the Nimrod programme.
“With this U-turn by the UK Government it seems that hard lessons have been learned. While it is too late for the loss of RAF personnel from Kinloss it is good news that we are getting Maritime Patrol Capability back to a Moray base.
“Moray’s economy will get a boost, as will our communities who have long been welcoming and supportive of the many personnel who have been based here over the decades, many of whom have made it their home.”
A spokesman for the Lossiemouth Community Council said that every member was “simply delighted” that the future of their local air base appeared to be further strengthened by the arrival of the new aircraft.
He said: “It will mean more air and support staff at the base and that means another boost to the local economy – but above all it is good for Lossiemouth and Moray that the strength of our case as a perfect home for these aircraft has been recognised.
“We look forward to seeing many new faces to our town and we are sure that they will feel every bit at home as all those who have found Lossiemouth to be one of the most welcoming communities in Scotland.”
The P8 Poseidon
Former Nimrod crews still serving in the RAF are no strangers to the P8, with many having already experienced flying the aircraft as part of ‘Project Seedcorn’, which was created to allow RAF crews experience with allied MPA aircraft following the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 project.
RAF personnel have been serving on P8’s operated in the United States and other NATO allies, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
These experienced crews will form the basis of the new Squadron being formed at RAF Lossiemouth on board the MPA that is capable of flying at up to 41,000feet with a maximum speed of 490knots. The P8 – which is a modified version of Boeing’s 737-800 passenger jet – can also fly up to 4500 miles from its base without the need for refuelling.
The Ministry of Defence has invested millions of pounds in the Project Seedcorn which saw 33 personnel included in the first year of the programme alone at a cost of around £3.2million.