With its December 18, 2007, announcement that only a portion of the CP-140 Aurora fleet (10 of 18 aircraft will receive core structural work and upgrades) under the AIMP, the Department of National Defence laid the seeds for the future replacement for the long-range maritime patrol aircraft. According to national media sources, the favoured replacement for the Aurora is the Poseidon, currently entering into production for the United States Navy.
The P-3 Orion, from which the Aurora is derived, has also been the mainstay of the United States Navy’s maritime patrol aircraft, first entering into service with the USN in 1961. With the last USN production Orion coming off the line in 1990, the number of aircraft in the fleet has been dwindling. In 2000, the USN undertook a project to secure a replacement for its Orion fleet, and by 2004, Boeing had been awarded a contract (defeating its sole competitor, Lockheed, which had proposed an upgraded Orion – the Orion 21). The Boeing aircraft, known as the Poseidon, is a militarised derivative of its commercially successful 737-800 aircraft. The first aircraft is to be delivered to the USN in 2009, with an ultimate goal of 108 airframes in service.
The Poseidon is a multimission maritime aircraft that will conduct antisubmarine warfare, shipping interdiction, and electronic intelligence. Its bomb bay will have the capability to carry bombs, Mark 54 torpedoes, and depth charges, while Harpoon air-to-surface missiles can be installed on underwing hardpoints.
Should Canada invest in the platform, it is likely that the fitting out of the aircraft’s systems will focus on long-range maritime patrol, though it would retain an anti-submarine warfare capability. Such a focus would be similar to that currently in existence with the Aurora fleet, which is equipped with an electronic suite that provides exceptional surveillance capability, even though it was originally designed for ASW. Additionally, any Canadian variant of the Poseidon would be expected to perform in search and rescue and counter-drug functions.
Canada’s possible participation in the Poseidon programme is by no means recent news and it is not surprising that some sources have reported it as the preferred option of the Canadian Forces. In 2004, the United States government named Canada as a potential partner in the programme and it began formal discussions with Canada’s government in 2005. At the time, each potential international partner (others included Australia and Italy) was expected to contribute $300 million to have first-tier participation in the programme. Australia is the only named international partner to have formally voiced its preference for the Poseidon, having announced in July 2007 that it desires the platform to replace its own Orion fleet that is to retire by 2018.