The US Navy has awarded Boeing a $2.4 billion production contract for the next 19 P-8A Poseidon aircraft as the UK awaits a delivery that will close a seven-year capability gap.
The contract includes 10 aircraft to add to the current inventory of P-8As in the USN fleet, all five jets currently under contract for Norway, and the four aircraft remaining for the existing UK contract. The contract brings the total UK acquisition to nine aircraft.
The UK currently has no specialised maritime surveillance aircraft since the retirement of the Nimrod fleet in 2012, and has been forced to rely on NATO P-8As, including some from Norway, to track Russian submarines in British waters.
Other NATO aircraft deployed to RAF Lossiemouth came from the US, Canada, Germany, and France.
The UK and Norway are acquiring the Boeing aircraft through the Foreign Military Sales process. The UK will receive their first aircraft in 2019 and Norway will begin receiving aircraft in 2021.
The P-8 is a military derivative of the Boeing 737 airplane, and is a long-range multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations.
The aircraft has been modified to include a bomb bay and pylons for weapons – two weapons stations on each wing – and can carry 129 sonobuoys.
Britain's maritime surveillance capability gap is a stark contrast to Australia. P-8A deliveries to the RAAF continued during 2018 and the eighth of the original 12 aircraft on order is being prepared for delivery.
The Poseidon achieved IOC in March last year, five months ahead of the original schedule, and Final Operational Capability (FOC) is on track to occur in 2022.