Germany to purchase three more P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft

Germany Buys Three More Poseidon, Increasing Question Marks On MAWS
The decision will satisfy operational requirements for German Naval Aviation but is unlikely to generate enthusiasm in France.

Germany is buying three more Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, bringing the total fleet for their Marineflieger naval aviation to eight P-8A. The Ministry of Defence (BMVg) made a related announcement on their website today, putting the total value of the addition at €1.1 billion.

Speculation surfaced in early November in unsourced reporting that Berlin had requested a modification of the existing Foreign Military Sale (FMS) approving originally five P-8A back in 2021 worth $1.77 billion, with delivery commencing in 2024.With the three additional aircraft the German Marineflieger (Naval Aviation) will be able to replace all existing P-3C on a one for one-basis.

The ageing Orion MPA, which Germany had acquired used from the Netherlands back in 2006, faced increasing availability troubles over the years. The original intention was to have the aircraft undergo a life-extension including re-winging for service into the 2030s. By that time a collaborative program with France dubbed Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) aimed to replace both the German P-3C and French Breguet Atlantique ATL2 MPA. The common effort encountered a severe rupture when the German life-extension effort failed and the single airframe used to evaluate the undertaking was effectively retired. The German MPAs meanwhile were seeing routine use in NATO- and EU-related deployments. This previously included anti piracy patrols off Somalia and then patrol flights in the Mediterranean off Libya. Therefore Marineflieger and the Ministry of Defence were under additional pressure to find a straightforward fix to the problem.

As such Berlin had framed the purchase of five Poseidon consistently as an “interim”-solution until MAWS would be operational and provide additional numbers. The total requirement by Marineflieger for an MPA-component amounts to twelve aircraft. This figure is required to fully replace all Breguet Atlantique ATL1 the German Navy had to retire in the early 2000s, when they reached the end of their service life, which led to the Orion-purchase.

A push buying up to seven more Poseidon for Germany gained some short term momentum again in 2022 with the renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following this event Chancellor Scholz proclaimed the “Zeitenwende” (turning point) for defence spending, re-focusing Germany on enhanced contributions to NATO, including a one off 100 billion fund to purchase new military equipment. In light of other funding obligations however the German Navy was unlikely to attain the full number of aircraft. Instead the recently published “Zielbild Marine 2035+” formulated the requirement, now fulfilled, of eight P-8A for naval aviation.

“Zielbild Marine 2035+” German Navy force structure calling for eight P-8A. German MoD graphic.
While the addition of three aircraft does not meet the optimum target for Marineflieger, it nevertheless fully recapitalises the existing Orion-fleet, as noted above. Therefore the original framing of the “interim”-purchase now moves from looking rather dubious to being in severe doubt. Integration of the American P-8A into a Franco-German maritime warfare system of any nature is unlikely to be feasible without the consent of the United States on relevant technical aspects, not to mention the likely very substantial cost of doing so.

With the Poseidon-acquisition Germany already joined a number of other users offering opportunities for interoperability, notably in the European context, with both the UK and Norway operating the type. Meanwhile Portugal will acquire the remaining six German P-3C including all associated equipment and will use them to sustain operation of their own fleet of five Orion, which they had also obtained from the Netherlands back in 2010.

Notional depiction of an Airbus A320 MPA shown at Euronaval 2018. Airbus picture.
This increase to a full fleet of P-8A now notwithstanding the German Ministry of Defence in their announcement today still emphasised the Poseidon-purchase as an interim measure. Berlin’s stated intent remains to work on MAWS with France. The scope that cooperation can now possibly take however appears increasingly dubious. Once the full P-8A capability and infrastructure is established, any effort to abolish it for an as of yet very vague program looks rather unlikely.

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