The Royal Air Force has taken delivery of its first Poseidon MRA Mk.1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The aircraft was formally unveiled in a ceremony at Seattle’s Museum of Flight on October 29, when Air Marshal Andrew Turner, DCOM (deputy commander) capability for the Royal Air Force, received the “keys” for the first RAF Poseidon, named Pride of Moray. The aircraft was accepted by a team from No. 54 Squadron, the RAF’s ISTAR operational evaluation unit.
The following day, the aircraft left Boeing Field and was flown to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, using the callsign POSIDN1. The aircraft was officially handed over to the air officer commanding No. 1 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth. The paperwork to formally transfer the aircraft to UK ownership and sign it onto the UK Military Airworthiness Authority register was signed by Michelle Sanders, DE&S delivery team leader.
The aircraft will be maintained by engineers from the RAF’s Poseidon Line Squadron and will be flown by pilots and weapons systems operators from No. CXX (120) Squadron, who are undergoing training with U.S. Navy squadron VP-30, nicknamed the “Pro's Nest.” VP-30 is the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Fleet Replacement Squadron.
RAF aircrew have served with VP-30 since 2010 as part of the RAF’s Seedcorn program, which sought to maintain the UK military’s maritime patrol expertise by embedding former RAF MPA aircrew in U.S., Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand MPA squadrons following the retirement of the BAe Nimrod MR.Mk 2. The Nimrod was withdrawn for financial reasons on March 31, 2010, a year earlier than planned, and after the cancellation of its planned replacement, the Nimrod MRA.Mk 4, on October 19, 2010. The UK did not order a replacement, in the form of the P-8A, until November 2015, when the Ministry of Defence announced the procurement of nine P-8 Poseidons, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
At its height, the Seedcorn initiative saw 11 RAF personnel serving as instructors with VP-30, including two pilots, four tactical coordinators, three electronic warfare officers, and two acoustic operators. RAF personnel also served with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, supporting the P-8A test program. By July 2019, the UK's first two operational Poseidon crews had completed training at NAS Jacksonville and two more crews were converting to the aircraft.
The first aircraft is due to transfer to RAF Kinloss in Scotland in February 2020, before moving to its home base at RAF Lossiemouth, after the completion of runway resurfacing work. The aircraft will initially be flown by No. 120 Squadron, and No. 201 Squadron will reform on the Poseidon in due course. All nine aircraft are due to be delivered by November 2021. The aircraft will have a primary anti-submarine warfare role, protecting the British continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and the two new aircraft carriers, but will also play a central role in NATO missions in the North Atlantic for tracking hostile maritime targets and providing maritime surveillance and long-range search-and-rescue capabilities.
It has been suggested that seven additional P-8 Poseidons should be acquired, bringing the total fleet to 16 aircraft.