As expected, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) yesterday handed Boeing $6 billion-worth of orders, for nine P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and 50 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. The message was that it was more cost-effective to buy from American production lines, but the UK aerospace industry would benefit from support business. To that end, the government signed “strategic partnerships” with Boeing and Leonardo Helicopters (formerly AgustaWestland).
“The P-8A is tried, tested and can be delivered in the timeline we need,” said Tony Douglas, CEO of the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support Organisation. Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told reporters here that they would all be delivered over a 24-month period starting in 2019. Having sent a number of crews to fly P-8s in the U.S. Navy, the Royal Air Force (RAF) is well-placed to accept them quickly. As well as maritime surveillance and anti-submarine missions, the P-8s would do search-and-rescue and overland surveillance, the MoD said. When asked by AIN whether their cost would force retirement of the RAF’s five Sentinel overland surveillance aircraft, Dunne said that would be decided by the next defense review in 2020.
Dunne admitted that the only UK content on the P-8 was auxiliary fuel tanks (from Marshall Aerospace); weapons pylons (from General Electric) and crew seats (from Martin Baker). The weapons would be bought from the U.S., including the sonobuoys, he added. Boeing said it would work with the government to build a new £100 million operational support and training base at RAF Lossiemouth, that would create 100 new jobs.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon described the $2.3 billion Apache deal as “good value for money.” Key avionics from the current British Army AH-64A fleet will be refurbished and recycled into the new machines, including the Longbow fire control radars and the Modernized Target Acquisition and Detection Sights (M-TADS). The first deliveries will be in early 2020, with initial operating capability to follow in 2022.
“In the longer term, I want these new Apaches to be maintained in the UK and for UK companies to do most of the work,” Fallon added. Boeing said it was in “advanced discussions” with Leonardo Helicopters on the AH-64E contract. Leonardo would continue to support the current Apache fleet (which was built by them in the UK) for their remaining eight years. The MoD admitted that the new strategic partnership agreement with the Yeovil-based company “is not a contract and does not have financial value.” But it would spend about £3 billion with Leonardo over the next decade to upgrade and support other UK military helicopters, such as Merlins and Wildcats.
Boeing said it would be creating another 2,000 jobs in the UK, therefore doubling its headcount in the country. It would be making new capital investments here, including a cooperation with QinetiQ to enhance the latter’s five-meter wind tunnel, and unspecified joint projects with Rolls-Royce on propulsion systems. Boeing also said it would provide opportunities for UK companies to double the value of their subcontracts on Boeing aircraft programs.
Boeing added that it would also be making the UK its European base for training, maintenance, repair and overhaul of all its defense aircraft and helicopters.