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JUNE 2023

Maritime Patrol Aircraft And Their Role In Modern Warfare

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Maritime Patrol Aircraft And Their Role In Modern Warfare

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Written by Captain A. Nikolaev; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

An analysis of the use of base patrol aircraft (BPA) in leading countries over the past 20 years confirms their effectiveness not only in their main purpose – combating submarines, enemy surface ships and patrolling in oceanic zones, but also during operations in coastal areas. This involves equipping them with modern equipment (radar stations), radio and radio intelligence systems, opto-electronic systems (OES) for reconnaissance, guidance and targeting, as well as expanding the range of weapons used.

As of 2019, the following BPA are in service with leading foreign countries: P-3C Orion (USA, Germany and Japan), P-8A Poseidon (USA), Atlantic-2 (France), ATR-72MP (Italy, Turkey), P-1 (Japan) and Yun-8 MPA (China).

Serial production of the P-3C aircraft modification (replacing P-3A and P-3B) in the United States began in September 1968, It was created on the basis of the Lockheed L-188 Electra airliner, the passenger compartment of which does not have portholes.

The control stations and avionics are located in the upper sealed part of the fuselage, and the bottom – unpressurised – has a compartment of weapons and sonobuoys, as well as other equipment, including aircraft systems, with a total mass of 9 t.

Weapons are placed in the inner fuselage compartment (2 x 0,8 x 3,9 m) and on 10 external suspension units. It includes: AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface guided missiles, torpedoes, mines, and depth charges.

The main means of searching and detecting submarines are the sonobuoys and the AN/ASQ-81 magnetic anomaly detectors. The P-3C aircraft use active radio-hydroacoustic non-directional buoys AN/SSQ-47B, passive AN/SSQ-53B DIFAR systems and special buoys of the AN/SSQ-57 type, which determine the distribution spectrum of the noise level.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft And Their Role In Modern Warfare

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The P-3C BPA can carry up to 84 different types of buoys. Launchers for the discharge of the sonobuoys are tubular guides (each for one buoy) with a pyrotechnic ejection system. Located in the lower part of the fuselage, 48 such guides are equipped before flight. In the sealed compartment there are four more launchers, which can be equipped during the flight. The choice of buoy type by the crew depends on the task performed.

The AN/APS-137(V) with multi-mode radar with aperture synthesis mode and an AN/AAS-36 forward-viewing infrared station are used for detecting and identifying surface vessels.

A complex of BPA P-8A Poseidon was adopted by the U.S. Navy in 2013.

It was created as part of the MMA (Multi-mission Martine Aircraft) programme to replace the Orion P-3S (currently, 67 P-3S of various modifications remain in the US fleet out of 269 available), which has been in operation for about 40 years.

In order to reduce the time and cost of research and development (R&D), the Poseidon P-8A was created on the basis of a Boeing 737 civilian airliner that met the requirements for flight performance. The basis of on-board equipment and weapons was made up of systems improved as part of the BPA R-3C Orion modernisation programme.

The required flight duration is achieved by installing five additional fuel tanks in the fuselage. In addition, the machine is equipped with an air refueling system.

In the lower tail of the P-8A plane, there is an internal armament compartment with six beam holders for the suspension of aircraft destructors (AD) with a total weight of up to 5,670 kg, rotary (10-charges) and pneumatic (4-charges) devices for discharging sonobuoys.

External armament suspension units are placed on the wing consoles (two on each) and in the front lower part of the fuselage.

Armament of the P-8A aircraft may include: AGM-84D Harpoon anti-ship missiles, AGM-84H SLAM ER air-to surface missiles, MK 46, MK 50 and MK 54 torpedoes, depth charges and sea mines. In addition, the range of weapons used includes guided bombs of the JDAM family and guided aviation JSOW cassettes.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft And Their Role In Modern Warfare

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A special feature of the aircraft avionics complex is its construction on the principle of an open architecture with the integration of all elements by a multiplex data exchange bus. This allows the replacement of the main systems and its software with more advanced ones without performing additional work on tracing new communications and equipment of installation sites.

The P-8A aircraft is equipped with a new search radar with an AN/APS-154 APAA (Active Phased Array Antenna) developed by Raytheon under the AAS (Advanced Airborne Sensor) programme. Currently, equipment for working with multi-static sonobuoys is being upgraded under the MAC (Multi-Static Active Coherent) programme, as well as improving the weapons system for launching MK 54 torpedoes from high altitude under the HAAWC (High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability) and ALA (Air Launch Accessory) programmes.

By the beginning of 2019 the U.S. Navy received 81 P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Production for the rest is planned until 2025. A total of 117 BPAs should be built for the US Navy. The total cost of the development and procurement programme may be about $40 billion, and one unit from 250 to 275 million P-8A is planned to be removed from service with the US Navy no earlier than 2050.

In 2010, the Nimrod MRA.4 base patrol aircraft modernisation programme was cancelled in the U.K. and a decision was made to write them off. Currently, the British Navy does not have its own BPA aircraft and is forced to rely on the help of NATO allies in this matter.

To remedy this situation, in January 2018, the Royal Navy command and Boeing signed a contract for the supply of three BPA P-8A Poseidon aircraft in addition to the two previously ordered.

In total, it is planned to purchase nine units, the first of which were to enter service in 2018. They will have the same equipment and weapons that are used in the US Navy.

In the French Navy there are 22 aircraft base patrol aircraft Atlantic-2 taken into service in 1989. To extend their service life until 2030, the Ministry of Defence management signed a contract worth 400 million euros at the end of 2013 for the modernisation of 15 such aircraft.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft And Their Role In Modern Warfare

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Dassault became the lead contractor for the relevant works. The main subcontractors of the company are Thales and Disins. In addition, it was decided to upgrade 18 aircraft out of 22 available (the total cost of the programme was 700 million euros). The first such BPA was planned to be delivered to the troops at the end of 2019, and in the future, two or three units should be produced annually.

The goal of the programme is to modernise the system of sensors, radar, acoustic and opto-electronic devices, the aircraft weapons control system, data display equipment (installation of multifunctional tactical displays), as well as the on-board software system.

The advanced avionics complex of the Atlantic-2 aircraft will include a search radar with the Thales SearchMaster APAA, as well as a number of systems: the Vescam MX-20D opto-electronic system, the Arar 13A electronic surveillance, the Thales Sadang acoustic system, and the Thales magnetic anomaly detection system.

The acoustic tracking system will process signals coming from the old and new BPA, providing target detection in a wide frequency range.

The Atlantic-2 is capable of carrying a wide range of air-delivered ordnance, including MK 46 torpedoes, AM-39 Exocet and/or AGM-84D Harpoon, AGM-65 Maverick class air-surface, UR AIM-9 Sidewinder and/or R.500 Magic, and/or MICA class air-to-air, anti-radar missiles Armat, anti-submarine mines, depth charges and conventional bombs.

To combat enemy submarines and surface ships, the German Navy is armed with eight P-3C Orion BPA, which were purchased from the Netherlands in 2006.

In November 2017, the Ministry of Defence of the country signed a contract with Lockheed Martin worth 158.5 million dollars for the modernisation of all aircraft. They will replace onboard digital computers, acoustic processors, and improve crew situational awareness.

The work should be completed by 2022, which will allow to prolong the term of operation of these machines to 2035.

France and Germany, in addition to modernising the equipment in service, plan to create a base patrol aircraft. In April 2018, the defence ministries of these countries signed a Declaration of Intent to jointly develop a BPA under the MAWS (Maritime Airborne Warfare System) programme. Their experts are currently preparing requirements for the new machine.

To replace the existing Atlantic-1 aircraft, the Italian Ministry of Defence ordered four upgraded ATR-72MP aircraft from Alenia Aeronautica: one for the Air Force and three for the Navy. The first two machines entered service with the national fleet in 2017, and the rest are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2020.

The ATR-72MP was developed by the Italian company Leonardo based on the ATR-72-600 turboprop passenger aircraft. The new machine was designated P-72A. The basis of the avionics complex consists of a radar with APAA Seaspray 7300E opto-electronic system Star Sapphire. The aircraft’s equipment allows transmitting data to ground and ship command posts in real time. Weapons placed on four suspension points include MK 46 and MK 54 torpedoes.

Japan has completed the creation of a new generation of P-1 BPAs. The first two machines entered service in 2013.

The cost of R&D was 3 billion dollars (US), and one prototype was about 170 million. By the beginning of 2019, the Japanese Navy had 20 such aircraft. It is expected that by 2025-2030, all planned machines (70 units) will be built to replace the P-3C.

The airframe of the R-1 aircraft is made according to the scheme of an all-metal free-bearing monoplane with a low-lying wing. In the lower part of it, there are eight suspension units for various weapons: anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, depth charges and mines. The launchers for the BPA are located in the rear lower part of the fuselage. Compared to the R-3C, the new aircraft has a higher combat efficiency and has improved operational and technical characteristics. The avionics are composed of the following: search radar with APAA HPS-106 from Toshiba, opto-electronic station HAQ-2 (Fujitsu), magnetic anomaly detector HSQ-102 (Mitsubishi), high-precision navigation system, HF and VHF radio stations, space communications equipment, EW station HLR-109B (Mitsubishi), data exchange system with other aircraft, ships and coastal posts HAS-108 (Kawasaki), as well as the equipment of the HQA-7 hydro-acoustic post of the Nes company.

A special feature of the BPA R-1 is the use of fiber-optic cables for transmitting commands and exchanging information, which can significantly reduce its weight, power consumption and the impact of radio-electronic interference on the operation of on-board systems.

In China, base patrol aircraft Yun-8 MPA (five units), which entered service in 2017, are used to search for and destroy submarines and surface vessels, conduct reconnaissance and control the surface situation (in various sources they are designated KQ-200, Y-8Q, Y-8GX6 or GX-6).

The Yun-8 MPA are equipped with an inertial navigation system LTN-72 from Lytton, an infrared front-view station and a surface illumination radar AN/APS-504(V)3 (Lytton), located in the fairing under the nose of the fuselage. The equipment also includes a magnetic anomaly detector, radio-hydro-acoustic buoys and a processor for processing information received from them. Weapons include: anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, depth charges, and sea mines. The Yun-8 MPA BPA can perform long-distance long-range flights in day and night conditions. It is expected that such aircraft will be in service with the PLA Navy until 2035.

The aircraft discussed above will form the basis of the base patrol aircraft of the armed forces of leading foreign countries until 2035, which continue to increase its capabilities by commissioning new aircraft, as well as implementing programmes to modernise existing equipment. A large-scale upgrade of the BPA fleet will affect the US Navy (the P-8A Poseidon systems are being put into service to replace the outdated P-3S Orion) and Japan (the P-1 aircraft of its own production will replace the American P-3S Orion BPA).

In addition, new aircraft are being delivered to the Italian Armed Forces (the ATR-72MP BPA replaces the Atlantic-1) and the UK (the P-8A Poseidon BPA replaces the Nimrod MR.2 aircraft withdrawn from service in 2010). The French Armed Forces and Germany will soon receive upgraded aircraft Atlantic-2 and P-3C Orion, respectively. In addition, the leadership of these states is considering the possibility of jointly developing a new base patrol aircraft.

Five Yun-8 MPA BPAs entered service in China in 2017.

Given the length of its coastline and territorial disputes with its neighbours in the South China Sea, as well as the trend towards increasing the military and political presence of the PRC in the Asia-Pacific region, it can be assumed that the country will need a significantly larger number of machines of this type.


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