INP0006

 

Written evidence submitted by Air Vice-Marshal Andrew L Roberts CB CBE AFC FRAeS RAF (Rtd)

 

 

Executive Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

  1. This paper has, of course, been prepared without knowledge of the precise operating areas needed to covered when protecting deterrent and Indo-Pacific operations.

 

  1. However, capable though the P-8 may be, analysis suggests that the number of aircraft is unlikely to be enough to fulfil even the highest priority tasks likely to be assigned to the force in tension and hostilities.

 

 

MPA Tasks

 

  1. The ten primary tasks for which MPA are likely to be required in peacetime, tension and hostilities are:

 

    1. Protection of the UK’s national strategic deterrent.

 

    1. Protection of naval forces - in particular, the new aircraft carriers.

 

    1. Protection against threats to commercial and other shipping, including counter-piracy.

 

    1. Surveillance of, and action against, threats to trans-continental under-sea communications cables.

 

    1. Protection of the UK EEZ (including oil rigs and shore facilities) against potential threats, assistance in counter-terrorism operations and, possibly, illegal immigration surveillance as well as fishery protection post Brexit.

 

    1. Protection of overseas territories, especially the Falklands.

 

    1. Operations in such areas as the Caribbean in support of counter drug-running operations.

 

    1. Support to Special Forces.

 

    1. Gathering electronic, acoustic and photographic intelligence.

 

    1. Fulfilling the UK’s international obligations for Search and Rescue in aid of shipping and aircraft in distress in the Atlantic Ocean out to longitude 30 degrees west, in accordance with the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979.

 

The two highest priority tasks in tension and hostilities are likely to be a. and b. above.

 

 

Patrol Requirements

 

  1. It will be necessary to be able to maintain at least one MPA patrol continuously in tension and hostilities for protection of the strategic deterrent.

 

  1. While it is hoped that the number of escorts will not fall below 17 (6 destroyers and 11 frigates, hopefully rising to 24 escorts by the early 1930s, only 8 fully anti-submarine capable Type-26 Global Combat Ships are now planned for the Fleet.  Part of the balance will be made up of Type 31 frigates, which will have only a relatively limited anti-submarine capability.  In the absence of sufficient numbers of surface and sub-surface escorts, the Committee will appreciate that this makes the need for full MPA support that much more vital.  Even allowing for embarked helicopters, the geographical coverage of anti-submarine defence likely to be available to a UK aircraft carrier (CVA) group in the Indo-Pacific Region without MPA and probably without NATO support, will be less than adequate.  To provide adequate defence in the deep field against submarines equipped with long-range cruise missiles, continuous cover by at least two MPA per CVA group will be required. 

 

  1. Furthermore, additional important tasks, such as general surface and sub-surface surveillance, protection of the supply train for major naval deployments and operations, and other tasks specified in paragraph 3 above, are also likely to be required in both tension and hostilities.  These tasks will fully occupy resources equivalent to those required to support at least one additional MPA patrol.

 

  1. Thus, when the need to protect the UK’s strategic deterrent is included, the irreducible number of patrols by UK MPA needing to be maintained concurrently in tension and hostilities, even if only one CVA is deployed at a time, would be four.

 

 

 

 

 

MPA Force Capability

 

  1. The number of continuous patrols an MPA force is able to maintain concurrently depends on the distance from its operating bases[1] at which operations are taking place.  The table below shows the operational coverage possible with the current force of nine P-8 Poseidon MPA;  it also shows what established fleets of 12 or 15 P-8s could achieve.

 

Table 1Comparison of the Sustained ASW Patrol Capability Possible with Varying Numbers of P-8 Poseidon Aircraft in the Front Line

 

Radius from Base

(nm)

9 P-8

No of sustained

patrols possible

12 P-8

No of sustained

patrols possible

15 P-8

No of sustained

patrols possible

400

4

6

7

600

4

5

6

800

3

4

5

1,000

3

4

4

1,200

2

3

4

1,400

1

2

3

1,500

1*

2*

2*

1,600

1*

1*

2*

1,800

1*

1*

1*

2,000

0

0

0

 

Notes:

  1. The figures in this table are taken from the detailed, computer-based, study, The Sustained Patrol Potential of a Royal Air Force Fleet of Nine P8A Poseidon for Maritime Patrol, undertaken by Group Captain Derek Empson, an officer with many years of experience in planning and controlling MPA operations. However, the figures were derived from open source material and are likely to be optimistic.  Now that the RAF is gaining experience in operating the P-8, the Committee staff will need to check these figures with Strategic and Air Commands (whose figures will be classified and thus not available to the author).
  2. The table assumes that 85% of the established number of aircraft will be available daily. 
  3. The minimum number of hours on patrol for effective ASW cover is about three hours.  Asterisks are shown against the number of patrols possible at ranges where less than 3 hours on patrol would be achieved.
  4. For the purposes of this assessment, the Sustained Monthly Flying Rate assumed for periods of political tension and during hostilities for MPA crews is assumed to be 130 flight hours per mean calendar month. This is 30% higher than the generally accepted maximum peacetime rate of 100 flying hours.
  5. The table assumes that no air-to-air refuelling is available (see paragraphs 13-17 below).
  6. The table assumes that the aircraft would be operating from a main base.  A logistic supply chain to the Indo-Pacific region, combined with the likely absence of tailored main base facilities, is likely to reduce the assumed aircraft availability.  Of course, some engineering support would be available were RAF P-8s to deploy to the US Navy Support Facility on Diego Garcia or the US Navy Air Facility at Misawa, Japan.  To a lesser extent some support could be made available at the Indian naval air bases in Goa and Tamil Nadu, where Indian P-8i MPA are based.  However, it must be remembered that some specialist sensors used by RAF and Australian P-8s have not been released to the Indian Navy.

 

  1. Clearly, not all patrols would necessarily be taking place at the same distance from base.  Nor, of course, does the author know precisely where the UK strategic deterrent and CVAs would be operating.  However, it can be seen from this illustrative table that, to achieve four continuous patrols at anything greater than 600 nm from a main base, an additional three P-8s would need to be acquired.  To enable four patrols to be sustained out to more than 1,200 nm from a main base to provide sustained ASW cover for more distant deterrent and/or CVA operations, 15 aircraft would need to be established. 

 

 

 

In-Use Reserve Aircraft

 

  1. A feature of MPA operations is that, in monitoring potential enemy deployments and other activity as tension develops, flying rates and patrol coverage needs to be increased to wartime rates well in advance of hostilities actually breaking out.  This will be just as true in the Indo-Pacific region as it is of sea areas to the north of and around the UK, where it will be necessary to monitor the potential enemy submarine activity likely to be heading towards, or already in, our home waters or in the South-Western and Western Approaches.  Once a hostile submarine reaches its patrol area and is able to reduce speed, and therefore noise levels, it becomes more difficult to detect and track.

 

  1. Continuity of patrol cover is of crucial importance in ASW.  A break of only an hour can easily result in loss of contact with a target.  To cater for those occasions when aircraft need to be removed temporarily from the front line for scheduled maintenance, or for some particularly complex or difficult modification or technical problem to be dealt with, it is generally the practice to maintain availability by making use of ‘in-use reserves’ to augment the established front line, although even this does not provide a satisfactory cushion for attrition through accidents or enemy action.  One in-use reserve should be provided, even for a frontline establishment of only nine aircraft.

 

 

AAR Support

 

  1. AAR can be a useful force-multiplier for operations at long range.  As was shown in the late 1980s and early 90s, the AAR capability added to the Nimrod for the Falklands war in 1982 also proved to be extraordinarily useful in peacetime (eg, for intelligence-collecting in the Barents Sea) and was used extensively in Afghanistan. 

 

  1. Should additional P-8s not be acquired for operations in the Indo-Pacific region, the provision of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) would become a pivotal requirement to extend MPA range and endurance for such operations.

 

  1. The UK’s P-8s are fitted with the standard AAR system fitted as used by the United States Navy’s P-8s but capable of receiving fuel only from tankers fitted with ‘flying booms’.  Converting the P-8 to a probe-and-drogue system, as is used by both RAF and USN fast-jets, would involve significant expense and, because of much lower fuel transfer rates, AAR using this system could be a significant tactical disadvantage during anti-submarine operations.

 

  1. Unlike the French, Spanish and Australian A-330 tankers, the UK’s A-330 Voyager tankers are fitted only with drogues and will thus not be capable of refuelling our P-8s.  Like the P-8, both the RAF’s C-17 and Rivet Joint aircraft already have receptacles for AAR booms, as will the planned E7 Wedgetail AEW force.  Were the UK to purchase F35A’s once our CVA requirements have been met with the F35B (involving 48 out of a planned 138 buy), so would that aircraft. 

 

  1. Adding a flying boom (such as the automatic booms so successfully fitted to the Australian tankers) to the UK’s Voyagers might be very cost-effective.

 

 

Manning

 

  1. In the past, use of Auxiliary and Reserve personnel has been a very cost-effective component of the RAF’s MPA capability. To support any additional P-8s, whilst keeping within the RAF regular manpower ceiling, consideration should be given to making use of Reserve/Auxiliary aircrew and groundcrew

 

 

Conclusions

 

  1. The planned force of only nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft would be insufficient, in both tension and hostilities, to guarantee the concurrent continuous support of one aircraft for both the UK deterrent and other vital tasks, and for CVA protection, at ranges of more than 600 nm from the operating base.

 

  1. To remedy this situation by catering for patrols up to 1,200 nm from operating bases, six additional P-8s plus a further in-use reserve would need to be acquired, bringing the total fleet to 16 aircraft.

 

  1. Agreements with suitable countries in the Indo-Pacific region for MPA basing and appropriate supply chain arrangements should be made.

 

  1. Consideration should be given to fitting flying booms to the RAF’s A330 Voyager tankers.

 

  1. To support any additional P-8s, whilst keeping within the current RAF regular manpower ceiling, consideration should be given to making use of Reserve/Volunteer aircrew and groundcrew.

 

 

Recommendation

 

  1. In assessing the adequacy of UK forces to fulfil the Government’s policy in the Indo-Pacific area, it is recommended that the Committee bears in mind the limitations of the UK currently having an MPA force of only nine P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

 

 


Appendix A

 

AIR VICE-MARSHAL ANDREW LYLE ROBERTS CB CBE AFC FRAES RAF(Rtd)

 

Andrew Roberts entered the Royal Air Force through the RAF College, Cranwell, as a flight cadet in 1956.

 

Although, as a pilot, he has flown over 30 different types of aircraft, his operational experience has been largely in the maritime field, in which most of his flying has been on the Shackleton and Nimrod, although he has also flown the Buccaneer and the Sea King/Wessex helicopters.  Also relevant to this submission is the fact that over the years he has flown in, and exercised operational coordination of, maritime patrol aircraft of other NATO and Commonwealth nations.

 

His staff and command appointments in the maritime field included:

Appointments within the Ministry of Defence include:

He retired from the Royal Air Force in April 1994, to join the Lord Chancellor's Panel of Independent Inspectors.

 

3rd March 2022

6

 


[1] RAF Lossiemouth and/or deployed elsewhere