For some years Boeing has been promoting its P-8A Poseidon maritime patroller, which is based on the 737 airliner. However, while the type is attractive to some air arms, there are many who do not have the requirement or budget to warrant such a large aircraft, yet still have need for a sophisticated aircraft for search and rescue work, coastal patrols and anti-piracy missions. To answer that need, Boeing launched the maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) in 2012.
Leveraging the development work done on the P-8A – chiefly the mission system – the MSA was devised to be based on a business jet platform to provide sufficient capacity for a reduced mission crew, good range characteristics and attractive operating economics. The company has aimed for a P-8-like capability, but without anti-submarine warfare capability.
Although the mission suite can be carried by a range of aircraft, Boeing (Chalets 28-29) selected the Bombardier Challenger 605 as the ideal platform, partnering with Toronto-based special mission modification specialist Field Aviation.
On 28 February this year, Field Aviation flew a similar Challenger 604 modified to the MSA’s aerodynamic, structural and aircraft system configuration. Subsequently Boeing installed the mission suite with a Selex ES Seaspray 7300E AESA multimode radar, FLIR 380HD electrooptical/ infrared sensor, Argon communications intelligence suite, Boeing electronic support measures and automatic identification system (AIS) equipment. The company has conducted feasibility studies into providing self-protection systems, and even for arming the aircraft if a customer requires such a capability.
Inside the cabin the MSA has three operator stations, although up to five can be installed if required. Each has a ‘clamshell’ console comprising two 24in high-definition touch-control screens. The consoles fold away against the cabin wall when not in use, allowing the MSA to be rapidly configured for passenger or cargo transport, or for medical evacuation duties.
All functions of the mission suite can be controlled from any of the stations, which share a common tactical picture. Communications can be performed by voice, Inmarsat satcoms data packages or by high-bandwidth line-of-sight datalink. Boeing offers a ground station for the latter.
While the MSA’s sensor suite offers significant capability for overland operations, it is primarily a maritime/littoral platform. Boeing highlights the relevance of the MSA to South Africa’s requirements, given the country’s large economic exclusion zone and search and rescue area. For the latter role the MSA has the ability to air-drop life rafts and other SAR equipment.
Following initial aerodynamic trials and mission installation, the Challenger 604 demonstrator made its public debut at the Farnborough air show in July, and is now in full flight testing after a period of ground trials. The aim of these tests is principally to validate in-flight system performance against uninstalled performance in the laboratory.
At the conclusion of these tests, the MSA will begin customer demonstration tours and flights, and could visit South Africa as part of that campaign when it starts around the turn of the year.