UK’s Future Maritime Surveillance

By on Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Concerns exist about the MoD’s capacity to manage the risk created by the capability gap in maritime surveillance and about its ability to react to demand in the short and medium term, says the Defence Committee in its report, published today, entitled “Future Maritime Surveillance”.

The Committee has serious concerns following the decision in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) programme. Although the MoD’s own capability investigations have concluded that a MPA is the solution to the UK’s maritime surveillance requirements over the next 20 years, the MoD has postponed any decision on a further MPA until at least the next SDSR in 2015.

The UK therefore now has no current or planned sovereign MPA capability (i.e. a capability that could be operated independently) and the MoD has acknowledged that the resultant capability gap cannot be completely covered by an existing single asset or collection of assets. The reduction in certain sovereign long range maritime surveillance capabilities also highlights the UK’s interim dependency on allies for support in protecting the increasingly important reaches of the UK as well as its wider defence and direct military capability.

Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot, says,

“We are unconvinced that the MoD has the capacity to respond to any escalation in the risks that may appear beyond the UK’s shores. Furthermore we believe the risk is likely to worsen in the medium term as further maritime surveillance capabilities are withdrawn or not yet filled.”

The Committee is concerned that the MoD is sending mixed messages in respect of the need for a maritime patrol aircraft. On one hand it says that there is no requirement for such an aircraft and that it is not funded or in the programme but on the other hand it acknowledges that its absence is a risk and something may need to be done.

Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot, says,

“The MoD must explain why it is satisfactory to wait until 2015 or beyond before deciding how to close the capability gap in maritime surveillance.”

The Committee is also concerned about the withdrawal of other maritime surveillance assets, such as the Type 22 Broadsword Frigates, and the potential for other capability gaps to occur in the future, for example when the Sea King (SKASaC) helicopter is taken out of service in 2016 to be replaced by Project CROWSNEST operating from the Merlin Mk 2 helicopter.

However the report acknowledges the work the MoD has undertaken to explore the potential options for maritime surveillance in the longer term, such as unmanned systems, lighter-than-air vehicles and space technology.

The report welcomes the establishment of the Maritime Security Oversight Group and the National Maritime Information Centre as first steps towards a more strategic and co-ordinated output and as a way of mitigating some of the capability gaps. The challenge is to develop these further. The Committee is keen to see a more prominent ministerial role in maritime surveillance, particularly given the number of cross-government interests that exist.
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