Maritime patrol aircraft is a class of aircraft that first emerged in order to provide maritime security and to carry out defense activities against hostile military units. The maritime patrol aircrafts, which first started with the zeppelins in the First World War and were developed at a higher level with the use of a wide variety of marine aircrafts and then large bomber aircrafts, became special purpose aircraft with the technology developed during the Cold War. These planes which are used for not only wartime patrol and intervention purposes, also appear as environment-friendly, anti-smuggling and life-saving platforms during times of peace.
The main purpose of the marine patrol aircrafts can are navigating the sea for long periods in order to find and scan the ships on the surface, attack during combat, detect and attack submarines, and search and rescue at sea.
Today, the tasks still of this class are performed by the aircrafts which are built for this purpose (P-3 Orion, Br1150 Atlantic2, IL-38 etc.) or models developed on the basis of military cargo aircraft (Casa CN-235MPA-ASW etc.) or large and long-lasting expensive aircrafts built through further development of commercial aircraft (P-8 ATR-72 etc.). There are 6 units of CASA CN-235-100M ASW models within the Turkish Navy and 3 units of CASA CN-235-100M MPA model marine patrol aircraft within the Coast Guard Command. Replacing these planes which have become increasingly inadequate in tasks such as increased exclusive maritime field control and anti-smuggling, ATR-72 500 planes took as part of the Meltem 3 project. The equipment of these aircraft still continues.
Maritime patrol aircraft are useful to respond to surveillance with a multi-layered approach by creating a continuous, multi-dimensional and real-time picture of maritime interests. These aircraft perform their duties based on certain main equipment. Powerful surface radar, MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector), Sonobuoy (acoustic transmitters and receivers dropped into the sea), ELINT Devices (electronic signal finders), FLIR (optics and forward-looking infrared cameras) and Sniffers that measure carbon in the sea are the main equipment. These platforms, whose functions have gone beyond just detecting ships and submarines at sea and preventing assault, have high ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities, and they arefor multiplier for the countries they serve.
Most Advanced Maritime Patrol Aircraft: P-8 Poseidon
P-8 Poseidon is the most advanced maritime patrol aircraft now in the world. P-8 is the aircraft which carries Synthetic Aperture Radar, Sonobuoy, ELINT systems, FLIR, hydrocarbon tracking system (snifer) and most warfare ammunition (torpedoes, guided cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, smart bombs, etc.) in its class. It is known that the network-centered data management system inside the aircraft is better than the E-8 Joint Star Joint Surveillance Target Radar System and E-3 Early Warning Aircrafts. It has a very serious combat load with internal five-station weapons bay and 6 weapon stations under the wing.
P-8 is designed to work from a very high level in order to increase efficiency. So much so that even the ammunition to be used for the mission is either developed specially or existing ones have been revised. For example, lightweight torpedoes that will be thrown from a very high height, equipped with GPS guidance system and multi-frequency sonobuoy have been used to reach their targets.
There is no MAD (magnetic anomaly detector) on the plane in the style we are accustomed to seeing in marine patrol aircrafts. MADs must be close to sea level in order to detect magnetic anomalies that are caused by submarines at sea. Instead of fixed MAD in the autorotation for this job that does not match the aircraft’s mission profile, it throws the magnetic anomaly drones out of the aircraft and they also report the data, which is received through flights for a long time at low altitude, to the aircraft.
India and Australia purchased the model of this plane with a MAD detector in the tail, while the British bought it with both a MAD drone and a tail in a detector. Currently active in 4 countries, the products ordered by 3 countries are completed. P-8 aircraft will reach a total of at least exact 117 units production.
However, this technology is quite high and the cost of development today has exceeded 30 billion dollars. Although the cost per plane is over 200 million dollars, it is one of the rare projects that ends below the targeted budget. The aircraft is also expected to take part in the tender which will be initiated in the future by Turkey, unless a problem occurs. Another class that has emerged with the development of digital technology and artificial intelligence in the world is the concept of unmanned maritime patrol aircraft.
MQ-4C Triton is the only product that has proven itself in this class and is active. It is the sea-adapted model of RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV. This airplane, whose wingspan is longer than passenger planes, was built to fly at very high, very long ranges and for a very long time (60,000 feet altitude, 8500 nautical miles range, 30 hours airborne time).
In addition to operating individually, the USA has designed and equipped this aircraft in particular to accompany P-8s to increase scan area time and efficiency, in accordance with this principle.
The main part of the 1400-kg payload consists of the active synthetic opening radar under its body, infrared receiver and optics. The remarkable point here is that the MQ-4C Tritons, which were obtained as a successful aircraft after working on the anti-conflict radar and system for a long time, started to work as a complement to the P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
These planes have the ability to stay in the air for a very long time and scan a large area. (RQ-4 is known to scan 100,000 km2 in one task with SAR radar). Approaching problematic areas more than P-8, it is used highly in electronic monitoring and signal gathering tasks as well, with ELINT and SIGINT equipment. As well as being one of the most advanced UAVs in the world, it is also one of the most expensive ones. One of the first prototypes was downed by Iran on June 20, 2019, while it was being used for signal research with the equipment added later.
It is the newest and most advanced maritime patrol model of MQ-9B Reaper which is the most common and one of the best in its class. Demonstration flights all over the world are made currently. EO / IR gimbal, which is usually in front of all Reapers, carries a multi-mode Synthetic Aperture 360 ° Marine Radar and another multi-mode radar separate from this radar (in ordet to avoid collision in the air). Apart from these fixed loads, Sonobuoys can carry Electronic signal finders and pods for signal information analysis in special purpose pods under wings.
It can reach 35,000 hours of flight at an altitude of over 40,000 feet and a range of 5500 nautical miles. It uses the MQ-9 Reaper infrastructure, which is widely used worldwide. Through this cost-effective approach, it is offerable to other countries as a cheaper and simpler alternative to the MQ-4C. India has shown great interest in this platform particularly. There are two radars on it; The first is the classic 360 ° SAR radar, and the second is the navigation radar, which allows it to see and avoid other planes on its route. This radar is also used by the UAV to map the landforms. It is a platform that can carry sonobuoys on pods under the wing and has shown it.
The controlled sales model offered to India will have 14 hours of duty flight time with full duty. Although this may seem low for this type of platform at first, it is not less than full-loaded maritime patrol aircraft. Last year, the MQ-9B took off from the USA and landed to the UK flying autonomously for 24 hours. Possible operational endurence is thought to be much longer.
The latest developed model that it can be used in naval missions by attaching pods and equipment to a normal MQ-9 platform within a day or two. This model has attracted the attention of neighboring country Greece, and test flights have been made in the Aegean Sea with the FLIR mounted model in recent months.
When examined, it can be seen that the Greek have the purpose of using the standard equipped MQ-9B with pods that can be mounted on it and the equipment to be mounted on the hull only during the naval missions. Although this approach may seem to increase multipurpose at first, it will significantly limit the ability and duration of operation of aircraft with such a complex digital infrastructure.
IAI – Maritime Heron 1 – Shoval
It is the maritime patrol UAV that Israel developed over Heron, which is an extremely successful platform. There is a very large SAR radar under the body and the successful EO / IR gimbal of Heron. It has made test flights in many countries and even AB FRONTEX was very interested. However, Heron is a model that could not show its success in its main system, only one or two test prototypes operate in Israel’s hands. It has Israeli ELINT and SIGINT equipment with radars on it.
This aircraft, which we only saw with sonobuoy pods in photos in 2019, is a revised model for successful electro optics and large SAR radar and sea surface scanning tasks.
TAI AKSUNGUR is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV system that can perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and assault duties in all kinds of weather conditions day and night; it can carry EO/IR, can conduct Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), carry payloads and various air-to-ground ammunition systems. It has two twin-turbocharged diesel PD-170 engines that can reach altitude of 40,000 feet and allow up to 40 hours of endurence to complete the most demanding operations.
AKSUNGUR, which has the same avionic architecture and uses the same ground systems as the ANKA UAV System used in Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) inventory, is built on the flight experience of ANKA UAV System in the most challenging combat conditions, including about 20,000 hours of electronic warfare, with a high payload capacity of 750 kg.
In addition to the equipment purchased from the existing ANKA infrastructure, AKSUNGUR is now a vehicle that has reached the highest limit of middle-class UAVs in terms of capacity. AKSUNGUR UAV, which surprises us not only with its intended use, but also with its equipment developed for many different technological tasks, drew attention when IDEF’19 opened its doors. AKSUNGUR proved to be successful in preventing submarines with the usual strong FLIR system, which is also used in Anka and stands out as a useful load, and sonobuoy shooters which are developed to be carried on pods under the wing, in addition to SAR radar. In the official concept videos published later, in AKSUNGUR, which has been observed to carry all the equipment that should be in a modern maritime patrol UAV, it showed that it can carry the features that are not in other UAVs with the MAD system, thanks to its ELINT and SIGINT equipment and its twin-engine, behind its special body and tail structure. In addition, its twin-engine means extra reliability for this type of long-term, over the horizon range and high altitude aircraft. As a result; the most prominent concept of AKSUNGUR UAV is the sea station concept.
There are MQ-9 Predator B produced by U.S. General Atomics and Heron produced by Israel IAI as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and FLIR, which are operational and unmanned aerial vehicles that have reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. The manufacturers of Heron and MQ-9B state that they can carry sonobouy, but not available as operational payload. In addition, the MQ-4C Triton UAV produced by the Northrop Grumman of the USA has the ability to explore above the water, while the ability to perform underwater maritime patrol duties is more limited. ANKA-AKSUNGUR, developed by TAI, will carry the maritime patrol concept (if produced); With its payloads of MAD, FLIR and SAR, sonobouy will be equipped for both surface and underwater maritime patrol missions. Aksungur Maritime Patrol Concept (if produced) does not have an operational rival with such payload capacity.
Author: Kozan Selçuk Erkan
Translation: Elifnur Başaran