Germany plans to keep at least two P-3C Orions patrol aircraft

The process of renovating the German Navy’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft [MPA] fleet has commenced. Presently, Berlin maintains a fleet of four P-3C Orions patrol aircraft, but plans are underway not only to swap these with the P-8A Poseidon but also to expand the fleet size. 

Germany plans to keep at least two P-3C Orions patrol aircraft
Photo by Todd R. McQueen

As reported by Germany’s HartPunkt, the arrival of the new aircraft is anticipated to commence in 2024, with all eight units being operationally prepared by the year 2025. However, Berlin has determined that a minimum of two from its fleet of aging P-3C Orions will be kept operational until 2025. This arrangement ensures a seamless transition between the old and new aircraft, maximizing the use of resources. 

The resolution to upgrade Germany’s patrol aircraft was taken several months prior when the P-3C Orions were approaching the end of their service life, according to sources. The currently operational P-3C Orions are housed at the Wurster North Sea coast location, situated in the Northern region of Germany.

P-8A Poseidon

Designed and manufactured by Boeing Defense, Space & Security, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon serves as an American maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. It’s essentially a militarized version of the civilian Boeing 737-800 and is designed specifically to cater to the United States Navy’s [USN] requirements. 

Performing a multitude of roles, the P-8 features in anti-submarine warfare [ASW], anti-surface warfare [ASUW], and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR] activities. Equipped with an array of weaponry that includes torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, this impressive aircraft can also deploy and monitor sonobuoys. Additionally, it can work in harmony with other aviation assets such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned maritime surveillance aerial vehicle [UAV]. 

Raytheon to supply APY-10 radars for German P-8A Poseidon fleet
Photo by Greg L. Davis

Not solely operated by the United States Navy, the P-8 shares its proficiency with several other global defense forces, including the Indian Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, the Royal Norwegian Air Force, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The German Navy and the Republic of Korea Navy have also placed orders for this versatile military aircraft. The Royal Canadian Air Force recently announced plans to add to their fleet 14 new P-8 aircraft and holds the option for an additional two, the order was placed in November 2023.

The orders

Germany placed an order for eight patrol aircraft in a two-phase process. Initially, in 2021, the country’s budget commission gave the green light for buying five P-8A Poseidon patrol planes. Following this, toward the end of 2023, the US government sanctioned the purchase of an additional three P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. 

The nearly €1.1 billion for these purchases will be drawn from the Bundeswehr’s special fund. Coming from Boeing, a US manufacturer, the P-8A Poseidon is set to replace the P-3C Orion. Acting as an interim solution from late 2024, its primary role will be submarine detection and maritime reconnaissance. 

Chinese J-16 approaches an Australian P-8A and starts firing
Photo credit: Australian MoD

Moving forward, these responsibilities will be handed over to the Maritime Airborne Warfare System [MAWS]—a product of a German-French cooperative project—for long-term implementation.

Understanding the MPA 

Maritime Patrol Aircraft [MPA] is a type of fixed-wing aircraft. The name itself might sound technical, but simply put, it’s a plane that is specifically designed for long-duration flights over the sea. Its primary uses include anti-submarine warfare [ASW], anti-ship warfare [AShW], and search and rescue missions [SAR]. MPA is also referred to as a patrol aircraft, maritime reconnaissance aircraft, maritime surveillance aircraft, or in old American parlance, a patrol bomber. 

In the comprehensive spectrum of maritime surveillance tools, which encompasses satellites, ships, unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], and helicopters, the MPA holds a significant role. For executing ASW operations, MPAs are equipped with air-droppable sonar buoys and torpedoes. In addition, they can sustain long flights at relatively low altitudes, thereby enhancing their efficiency in the maritime surveillance system.


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