AIRSHOW-UK need for sea patrol aircraft opens new front in Airbus, Boeing battle

Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:32am EDT
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* MH370, yachtsmen searches show gap in UK capabilities

* Airbus, Boeing offer cheaper options than scrapped Nimrod

* UK tender could come after H2 2015 spending review

By Sarah Young and Andrea Shalal

FARNBOROUGH, England, July 17 (Reuters) - Two high-profile sea searches have exposed a shortfall in Britain's maritime patrol capabilities, raising hopes at rival planemakers Airbus and Boeing that they could soon be fighting over a multi-billion dollar contract.

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, missing since March, and the hunt for four British yachtsmen lost in the Atlantic Ocean in May, has brought home to the British government the need to invest in maritime patrol aircraft, sources close to the matter say.

Since scrapping its former programme - the delayed and over-budget BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 - as part of its defence review in 2010, experts say Britain has struggled to carry out aerial hunts for submarines as well as objects on the surface of its waters.

Adding further urgency is that a new aircraft carrier will be received by the Royal Navy in 2017; the vessel is part of a 6.2 billion pound ($10.6 billion) project which Britain will want to adequately protect.

The two planemakers, which regularly battle over commercial orders, are now sparring over the maritime patrol market, in the expectation Britain will want to adapt existing planes to its needs, rather than opt for another complex project like Nimrod.   Continued...