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Multi-purpose mission: European NATO members search for improved maritime patrol capability

Two USN P-8As are pictured in the shadow of Mount Etna, Sicily, at Naval Air Station Sigonella. The VP (Patrol Squadron) 46, to which these aircraft were assigned, was deployed to Sigonella in early 2021. (US Navy)

Contemporary maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) reflect a broader trend among maritime military forces – creating platforms that are more multi-purpose in nature.

This trend is driven by two parallel tracks. First, reductions in procurement budgets during the last two decades forced the development of previously single-role types into multirole platforms. Second, increased security risks at sea during the last two decades have required individual platforms to be developed with capability to address many or all such risks.

The last two decades have also told a specific story regarding the development of MPA capability. In the immediate post-Cold War period, the reduced threat at sea, increasing interventions ashore, and the desire to cash in on the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend' saw MPA capability reduced and refocused, in the latter instance incorporating overland intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability requirements.

Yet deteriorating strategic stability – especially at sea – in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres during the past decade has seen requirements return across Western armed forces for state-of-the-art, dedicated maritime patrol capability.

In meeting this requirement, the twin trends of reduced budget and increased threat both shaped and reflected a shift in concept of operations (CONOPS) from MPA to multimission aircraft (MMAs).

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