Questions remain on whether this P-8A procurement plan, which has yet to be approved by the budget commission and supported by the parliament, will truly be a "temporary stop-gap" solution… or a full fledged alternative to the MAWS program.
According to the “answers to Bundestag” document, Silberhorn (who represents the Federal Minister of Defence in the corresponding committees of the German Bundestag), in response to a question from Member of the Bundestag Christian Sauter (FDP), made the following comments regarding the French offer consisting in modernized ATL2 maritime patrol aircraft:
“The number and the expected readiness of the aircraft on offer will foreseeably not be able to cover the requirements of potential future operational commitments as well as the needs for crew regeneration and for conducting training and reconnaissance flights.”
The above statement makes the U.S. proposal the winner by default. Answering another question from the FDP parliamentary group, the German Government stated:
“The required capabilities of Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon weapon system basically correspond to those of the P-3C Orion. Only the P-8A Poseidon weapon system could ensure a seamless and timely capability transition if a Foreign Military Sales contract were concluded before the summer break in 2021.”
For the record, the United States’ State Department in March 2021 approved a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Germany of Boeing P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and associated support, and related equipment, for an estimated cost of $1.77 billion.
French ATL2 MPA offer
Contacted by Naval News in April, a French Armed Forces spokesperson confirmed that France was proposing to Germany four ATL2 MPAs as an interim solution.
To allow Germany to continue to have a maritime patrol aviation capability between the withdrawal from service of its current P-3C Orion aircraft and the arrival of the new maritime patrol aircraft that will be developed under the MAWS (Maritime Airborne Warfare System) program, France is proposing four refurbished Atlantique 2 (ATL2) aircraft. Depending on Germany’s needs, the four aircraft can be sold once the renovation to std6 has been taken over by the Germans. The four planes will be at the latest aircraft standard (standard 6), which successfully passed the initial operational capability milestone of the French Navy in 2020. They will have a range of high-tech equipment enabling them to carry out efficient maritime patrol missions. The proposal includes training for the implementation of the devices and their maintenance. As the French offer is based on operational cooperation, ongoing discussions are taking place both between the respective naval headquarters and between the defense ministries.
French Armed Forces spokesperson
Asked about the weapons package (and sonobuoys), the spokesperson told Naval News that this topic would be addressed in a second stage.
Q&A with Johannes Peters
To get a “local and informed opinion” on this French porposal, Naval News reached out to Johannes Peters, Researcher, Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK). The Q&A was conducted in late April.
Naval News – In you opinion, is the French proposal interesting for the German Navy as a short term, stop gap ?
Johannes Peters – The ATL2 proposal was neglected unanimously by the GER navy as not suitable for their needs. The reason is, that the ATL2 would have been upgraded system-wise, but the airframe and the engines would have not. That would lead to a similar situation the GER navy is currently facing: operating an old, high maintenance airframe with uncertain deployment readiness. To overcome exactly this dilemma/shortfall the GER MoD stopped the ongoing refurbishment of the P3 (a bottomless hole, btw.) and decided to look for an ad hoc stop-gap solution. The French are unsure about the future deployment readiness of the ATL2 themselves. That’s why they bought the ISR Albatros to bridge the gap until MAWS…
Naval News – The Albatros is intended to replace the Falcon 50 and Falcon 200 in French Navy service. They are dedicated “SUMAR” (maritime surveillance) aircraft and have nothing to do with ATL2, and they are not intended to replace them for ISR, as far as we know.
Johannes Peters – Yes and no. The Albatros is intended to safe flying hours for the ATL2 by overtaking SUMAR tasks. That way, more high value ISR hours will remain for the ATL2. GER operates only one single MPA (P-3C) covering the whole spectrum of tasks. The same would be the case for the (again: old) ATL2. The GER navy fears to be forced into a triage when it comes to available flying hours, meaning to sacrifice SUMAR task in favour for ISR. Something that definitely wants to be avoided.
Naval News – ATL2 deploy the MU90 torpedo and AM39 Block 2 anti-ship missile, two systems that are not currently in German Navy inventory. Do you see this as a major issue ?
Johannes Peters – It would have needed some extra training for the crews, but I don´t see it as a show stopper. It´s not deploying a new weapon system within the navy as a whole, its only four platforms with a special armament for a limited time.
Naval News – What about the long term ? Do you believe this is the only way to “save” the MAWS program ? Should Germany go ahead and select the P-8A MPA, what would this mean for MAWS ?
Johannes Peters – I dont think so, because there is a political will on both sides to bring MAWS to life. GER should definitely proceed with the P-8 solution because I see it as the only realistic way not to run into a capability gap. (A capability desperately needed as a national capacity but also within the alliance!). P-8 would mean filling the gap not only with a stand in but with a leap forward in regard of capabilities. Both operationally and tactically. Experiences from the past (A400-M e.g.) show that the cross-national development of an all new weapon system is a time consuming effort. So without too much looking into the crystal ball it is safe to say, that 2035 as intended (and always communicated by the French to narrow the time-gap to fill and to increase political pressure on GER) year of MAWS deployment readiness is probably too over optimistic. As a realist one should plan with 2038-2040. Five new P-8 will provide GER with a platform to easily bridge this 15 year gap. As written above, the ATL2 solution even today holds the risk to run into a second gap from 2035 onwards should the expectable MAWS delay materialize.
Naval News – Do you believe a joint French/German ATL2 squadron would have been a better solution for the German Navy (like what has been set up for the C-130J of both nations)? This way the maintenance of the four German aircraft would be taken care of by the French Navy who has “know how” on how to keep this proven aircraft airworthy. (Indeed the French Navy is in charge of the ATL2 maintenance, not the industry).
Johannes Peters – I don’t think a joint squadron is the right way to provide a stop gap solution. Establishing such a squadron would be a highly political, and therefore long process (responsibilities, RoE, national workshare, costs, and so on and so forth). Once done, it´s practical implication is another story – my prediction is, that one would reach an acceptable operational readiness level by the time, MAWS is deployment ready. For the special situation at hand, I consider a COTS solution as the only realistic option.
German Navy P-3C Orion early retirement
For the record, the German Federal Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in June 2020 that it was ending the modernization plan of the P-3C ORION maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) ahead of schedule. The MoD cited “costs and technical difficulties” as the reasons that lead to the decision which will result in a “capability gap” which “cannot be accepted”. The Bundeswehr said at the time that it was conducting a market survey taking into account all platforms available on the market. The German MoD statement at the time also added that “this analysis will also evaluate all interactions with the Franco-German cooperation project Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS)”
Questions remain on whether this P-8A procurement plan, which has yet to be approved by the budget commission and supported by the parliament, will truly be a “temporary stop-gap” solution… or a full fledged alternative to the MAWS program.
During the ILA airshow, which took place from 25 to 29 April 2018 in Berlin, French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly and her German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen signed a letter of intent to jointly develop the next generation of maritime patrol aircraft with possible opening to other partners from Europe or NATO.
The project, known as MAWS (Maritime Airborne Warfare System), aims to ensure, from 2030 onwards, the succession of the French Navy’s Atlantique 2 and the German Navy’s P-3C Orion. Unveiled at Euronaval 2018, Airbus’ A320M3A in its MPA variant appeared to be a natural candidate for the MAWS program.
As Naval News noted at the time, Germany’s decision to retire the P-3C early puts it out of sync with France to pursue a common successor via a joint project. Modernized ATL2 are currently being delivered to the French Navy and their replacement won’t be needed until the mid-2030ies.
Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon was not the only platform being considered. The Bundeswehr last year started exploring new acquisitions to replace all current P-3C MPAs set to be retired by 2025 (instead of 2035 initially). The stop-gap platforms being considered were:
- the C295 Persuader from Airbus
- the RAS-72 Sea Eagle from RAS
- the P-8A Poseidon from Boeing.