Germany to Replace its Orion MPA with Poseidon

As stated in a recent answer to a parliamentary inquiry, the German Ministry of Defence will most likely be acquiring American P-8A Poseidon to replace its aging fleet of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The ministry dismissed the French offer of Atlantique 2 which had been posed in April.


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In an answer to a parliamentary inquiry regarding the replacement of the P-3C Orion, the German Ministry of Defense has made clear that it does not intend to accept the French offer. German government-news service Behörden Spiegel quotes Thomas Silberhorn, parliamentary state secretary of the Minister of Defence: “The number and expected readiness of the aircraft on offer will not be able to cover the requirements of potential future operational commitments as well as the needs for crew regeneration and the performance of training and reconnaissance flights in the foreseeable future.”

In April, the French Armed Forces Ministry had offered the Germans four Breguet Atlantique 2 planes. In an e-mail to the outlet Defense News, a French spokesperson was quoted: “The four planes will be at the latest aircraft standard which successfully passed the initial operational capability milestone of the French navy in 2020, with a range of high-tech equipment for maritime patrol missions. The proposal includes training and maintenance.” The German navy had previously operated 20 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) as well as 5 Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) variants of the Atlantique 1. In 2010 these were replaced with the Orions currently in service, which had been purchased from the Dutch navy that previously operated them.

The pre-used Orions have been proven as rather unreliable and their maintenance economically disastrous. The ministry of defence admits that only four of the eight Orions currently in German service can be “economically feasible” repaired. It projects, that by 2023 only two of the aircraft will still be operable. Despite this, it holds that there is not (yet) a shortage with regards to operational training.

“In the event of a loss of airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and long-range maritime situational awareness capabilities, the navy would not only lose its material capability, but also the specialised knowledge acquired over many years, which is indispensable for a transition to, and a delay-free deployment of the future Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) weapon system projected within the framework of Franco-German cooperation.”- the Ministry of Defence stated. 

The Ministry also expressed its worry over the fact that that the lack of a German MPA would lead to a NATO-wide capability gap: “The capabilities of the P-3C Orion are scarce resources in the NATO framework, which are only provided by a few partner nations and thus also have a high priority in NATO's capability development. In this respect, Germany would lose a core capability indicated to NATO in an area that is already deficient within NATO."

The Ministry also rejects Airbus’s C-295 MPA, on the grounds that it is less capable than the Orion “in terms of in terms of range, flight duration, the required speed profile and armament”. While still sufficient for Germany herself, it would not be “available in time to avoid a temporary capability gap.” It is also described as lacking a self-protection system and not having its military equipment sufficiently integrated.

In effect, these rejections leave only the American P-8A Poseidon as a replacement to the Orion. In March this year, the U.S. State Department had approved a possible foreign military sale (FMS) to Germany of five Poseidons as well as associated support and related equipment, for an estimated cost of $1.77 billion. The Poseidon had reportedly been the preferred solution of the German navy itself. But it would not have been uncommon for the German Defence Ministry to largely discard the forces wishes, as happened with the Air Forces desire for the F-35 as a replacement for the Tornado.

According to the Ministry of Defence’s answer, even the Poseidon is only considered an interim solution. “In the long term, the development aims at a system-of-systems approach in which a wide variety of sensor and effector carriers are used in a network-based structure. This is currently being investigated in the Franco-German approach, with the aim of operational availability of the Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) from the mid-2030s.” These studies have been started in November last year when the French defence procurement Agency DGA announces the launch of feasibility studies. For the moment, they involve Thales for the French side and Hensoldt, ESG and Diehl for Germany. Airbus and Dassault Aviation were not to be integrated in the studies until 2021.

By Kevin Klemann