The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has received the first of nine P-8A Poseidon MRA Mk.1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Boeing.
The UK government is procuring nine submarine-hunting P-8A Poseidon MPA at a cost of £3bn to improve maritime security.
Equipped with sensors and weapons systems, the aircraft will support anti-submarine warfare, surveillance, and search and rescue operations.
The MPA will also be used to protect the country’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, the UK Ministry of Defence said.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The arrival of the world-class Poseidon aircraft marks a step-change in the UK’s maritime patrol capability.
“Using the world’s most advanced sensors and operating for long periods, these aircraft will transform the quality of intelligence available to our armed forces and protect our vital nuclear deterrent.”
The Poseidon MRA Mk.1, which will be operated initially by 120 Squadron, was flown to Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida following its formal unveiling in Seattle. It is expected to arrive in Scotland in early 2020 and will be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
Before the delivery, RAF personnel had been deployed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, US, where they were trained to operate the aircraft, which is already in service with the US military. Pilots have also embedded with their counterparts in Australia and Canada to train with the aircraft.
The aircraft was ordered by the UK to fill in the capability gap lost when the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod fleet was retired from service in 2010. In total the UK will spend £3bn on the nine aircraft.
UK RAF chief of the air staff air chief marshal Mike Wigston said: “Poseidon is a game-changing maritime patrol aircraft, able to detect, track and if necessary destroy the most advanced submarines in the world today.
“With Poseidon MRA1, I am delighted and very proud that the Royal Air Force will once again have a maritime patrol force working alongside the Royal Navy, securing our seas to protect our nation.”
The Poseidon MRA1 aircraft can conduct surveillance missions at both high and low altitudes.
The P-8A Poseidon can carry 129 sonobuoys used to detect enemy submarines and surface vessels and can relay the information they detect backed to the aircraft. Once a vessel is detected the aircraft can then transmit its position to the Royal Navy or engage itself using Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Mk 45 air-to-sea torpedoes.
UK First Sea Lord admiral Tony Radakin said: “Poseidon marks a superb upgrade in the UK’s ability to conduct anti-submarine operations. This will give the UK the ability to conduct long range patrols and integrate seamlessly with our Nato allies to provide a world-leading capability.
“This will maintain operational freedom for our own submarines, and apply pressure to those of our potential foes.”
Although operated by the RAF the aircraft will form a central role in the Royal Navy’s capability in the North Atlantic, helping the navy to keep tabs on adversary’s ships and submarines in the region that could form a threat to NATO operations.
The UK expects to receive all nine P-8A Poseidon aircraft by November 2021.
Additional reporting by Harry Lye