The UK Royal Air Force has declared initial operating capability (IOC) for its first P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime multi-mission aircraft on 3 April, marking a turning point in the joint capability of the key Five Eyes partners, the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
The first two of the nine on order have arrived at their base in Scotland and are ready to begin patrolling the seas around the UK. The Royal Air Force announced that it is "now patrolling the seas, hunting hostile submarines, keeping the UK safe".
"We've just declared an initial operating capability for our Poseidon aircraft, on time on 1 April. We've still got a long way to go with introducing this next-generation capability into service, but Poseidon is a game-changer, not just for hunting submarines but for a range of other roles from anti-ship warfare, maritime reconnaissance, and long-range search and rescue tasks," Air Commodore Richard Barrow, Poseidon Senior Responsible Owner, was quoted by the Ministry of Defence as saying.
The two aircraft, Pride of Moray and City of Elgin, arrived on 4 February and 13 March, respectively. All nine of the Poseidons ordered will be operating out of RAF Lossiemouth a short distance from Kinloss Barracks were the planes arrived. Construction of RAF Lossiemouth is expected to finish later this year.
The long-awaited arrival of the first RAF Poseidon does not just mark a major milestone for the UK, but also for NATO. In particular, the alliance is looking to use its latest MMA to more effectively monitor the GIUK Gap that runs between Greenland, Iceland, and the UK, following a dramatic increase in Russian submarine activity in the north Atlantic over recent years.
P-8As will be equipped with sensors and weapons systems designed for anti-submarine warfare, and will also carry out surveillance and search and rescue missions, according to the RAF.
Based on the Boeing 737-800 airliner, the contract to develop the P-8A for the US military was granted in 2004, and the first Poseidon flew in 2009.
The US Navy began operating the P-8A in 2013 and variations of the aircraft are in service with the Indian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.
The aircraft being delivered to the RAF will be equipped with a range of search and tracking systems, including:
- An APY-10 radar providing high-resolution mapping;
- An acoustic sensor system; and
- An IR turret and electronic support measures (ESM).
The aircraft will also carry torpedoes.