UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced the numbers of the UK’s two new Maritime Patrol Aircraft squadrons and the first commanding officer. Nine new P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will be operated by number 120 Squadron and number 201 Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, said the Ministry of Defence. Wing Commander James Hanson will oversee the formation of 120 Squadron from April 2018; 201 Squadron will form in 2021.
The aircraft’s key role will be to help protect the UK’s submarine-deployed nuclear deterrent and its two new aircraft carriers. Capabilities cited by the Ministry include search and rescue, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, and intelligence gathering. The planes can carry torpedoes and anti-shipping missiles.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “Today is an important milestone in the P-8A Poseidon programme, which will bring to the Royal Air Force an unrivalled maritime patrol capability. The advanced state-of-the-art sensors aboard the P-8A will provide global protection to UK, NATO and our Allies’ submarines and warships, and enhance and complement the UK’s standing search and rescue responsibilities.” He added: “It is also a great pleasure to welcome back 120 and 201 Squadrons. Both have long and distinguished records serving in the maritime role and together they will help forge the next generation Royal Air Force.”
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon commented: “Our nine new Poseidon aircraft are part of our plan to monitor and deal with increased threats to our country. They can operate at long range without refuelling and have the endurance to carry out high and low-level airborne maritime and overland surveillance for extended periods, helping keep us safe. The P-8A aircraft will allow us to work more closely with our allies, improve our surveillance coverage and will provide value for taxpayers’ money.”
The Ministry highlighted that the UK government is investing £3 billion over the next decade in its maritime patrol aircraft capability. The Ministry has already signed agreements with the militaries of NATO partners US and Norway to co-operate closely on operating their P-8A aircraft across the North Atlantic. With the first aircraft due to arrive in the UK in 2020, the Royal Air Force has maintained its maritime patrol aircraft skills by embedding aircrew within Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and the US squadrons.
The Ministry noted that the move to base Poseidons at RAF Lossiemouth will see the base gain 400 extra service personnel, and £400 million is also being invested in new support infrastructure for the aircraft.