The RAF’s premiere anti-submarine squadron has taken delivery of the first of nine P-8 Poseidon MRA.1s. The maritime patrol aircraft, ZP801 ‘Pride of Moray’, was flown from the Boeing plant in Seattle to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida on October 30, where it was formally transferred to 120 (CXX) Squadron, RAF.
RAF personnel are currently based at Jacksonville to train on the new aircraft, while British crews have also been embedded within Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and American squadrons to hone their skills on maritime patrol aircraft.
Described by the Chief of the Air Staff as “game-changing”, the state-of-the-art submarine hunters fill a capability gap left by the controversial scrapping of the Nimrod MRA.4 and early retirement of the fabled MR.2 variant in 2010. The first aircraft in the £3bn fleet will arrive at a refurbished RAF Lossiemouth in early 2020, with the entire fleet slated to be based there with 120 Squadron (and later 201 Squadron) by November 2021.
With the motto ‘Endurance’ emblazoned on its badge, 120 has a strong history in the anti-submarine role. During the Battle of the Atlantic and later in RAF operations to protect the Normandy invasion fleet, 120 squadron became the RAF’s leading anti-submarine squadron, sinking 14 U-boats and assisting in the destruction of or damaging 11 more. It operated VLR (very long-range) Liberator Mk.Is and Mk.IIIs before adopting the Lancaster GR.3 post-war.
The Squadron transitioned to Shackletons in 1951 and, from 1970, the squadron spent the next 40 years operating the Nimrod. It flew the MR.2 variant in both Gulf Wars and during the Falklands Conflict.
Intended to operate on lengthy, high-endurance sorties, the P-8 will, like its predecessors the Nimrod and Shackleton, complete maritime patrol and intelligence gathering taskings. It is a primary role that includes protecting the Royal Navy’s Vanguard-class submarines – the launch platform for Britain’s continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrence.
The aircraft uses an array of powerful sensors and high-resolution mapping to locate threats and can also carry up to 129 sonobuoys. These air-dropped devices survey their surroundings to pinpoint the location of a potential undersea aggressor and relay that information to the aircraft.
If required, the Poseidon can engage the contact using Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Mk.54 torpedoes against surface targets and submarines respectively. ∎