PAL Aircraft Services’ P-6 maritime patrol aircraft was a surprise debutante at the IDEX show held last week in Abu Dhabi. The new type, based on a Bombardier Global 6500 business jet, bears some similarities to the abandoned Saab Swordfish concept.
Since the end of the Swordfish program, Boeing has drawn ever closer to the end of P-8A Poseidon production, with the P-8A line expected to close within three years without further orders, assuming a minimum viable production rate of 12 aircraft per year. “Now is the time for a market filler,” Mahmoud El-Awini, PAL’s vice president of business development, told AIN, describing a looming “jet gap”.
Many elements of the P-6 concept remain undefined as they will depend on customer requirements and PAL itself is platform- and systems-agnostic. The aircraft is being designed in partnership with Thales, with radar and sonobuoys from the French company expected to form the basis of an initial baseline configuration.
Like the Swordfish, the P-6 has a 360-degree radar, though this is understood to be a mechanically-scanned system and not AESA technology. The new aircraft also has an undernose EO/IR sensor, and a magnetic anomaly detector sensor, as well as electronic support measures, datalinks, and satcoms.
The aircraft will accommodate between three and eight operator workstations, with five being viewed as the optimum number, and they will be evolved from those developed for the company’s Q400-based P-4 MPA, now in service with the UAE Air Force and Air Defence. This promises to allow crews to be cross-trained on both types. This is significant, says CEO Keith Stoodley, because, “we view the P-4 and P-6 as complementary products. The P-4 has been designed as a littoral ASW asset whereas the P-6 is designed as a blue-ocean ASW asset.”
One feature not shown on models of the P-6, but much in evidence in more recent CGI images, is a box-like “flex bay” behind the search radar. This is able to carry torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, or SAR kits, and can be augmented by between two and six underwing stores stations.
The Abu Dhabi-based company expects a launch customer for the P-6 “soon”. A number of local air forces, including that of the UAE itself, are known to be looking to increase their MPA/ASW and maritime ISR capabilities. Boeing has marketed the P-8 to Saudi Arabia, for example, while other GCC nations face similar surface and sub-surface threats.
Sweden's Saab has no plans to dust off its Global 6000-based Swordfish MPA model, leaving the P-6 as the primary competitor to the P-8 in a number of competitions. “As a company with one foot in the UAE and one foot in Canada, we are clearly watching developments as they pertain to Canada’s process to replace its fleet of CP-140 Auroras,” Stoodley concluded.