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New Maritime Patrol aircraft for the UAE

Posted 26 April 2009 · Add Comment

Bombardier Dash-8 Q300s will be converted to provide the UAE with possibly the world's most advanced Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Jon Lake reports.

The UAE has at last signed a contract for a new maritime patrol aircraft, letting a $290 million (AED1.071 billion) contract with Provincial Aerospace to “supply modifications for two Maritime Patrol Aircraft”.

These will be a pair of Bombardier Dash-8 Q300s, converted for the maritime patrol role. The contract includes the design of the modification, as well as the incorporation, and integration of new role specific equipment. The contract will also cover training and integrated logistics support for an unspecified period.

Render of Bombardier Q300 MPA

The UAE has had a long-standing requirement for a long range maritime patrol aircraft. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are heavily dependent on shipping for imports and for oil exports, and the UAE Armed Forces have a responsibility for keeping the sea lanes open, for monitoring pollution, and for long range search and rescue.

In 1998 it was widely reported that the United Arab Emirates had placed an order for four Indonesian developed CN-235 MPA aircraft. It was expected that these aircraft would be equipped with the Thales AMASCOS 300 Airborne Maritime Situation Control System, which included a Thales/EADS Ocean Master 100 radar, an AN/ASQ-508 Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) system from CAE, an Elettronica ALR 733 radar warning receiver, a Thales Optronique Chlio thermal imager, and a Thales (formerly Sextant Avionique) Gemini navigation computer. But these aircraft never arrived, and by the Dubai Air Show in 2007, it was clear that the requirement remained unfulfilled, and that the competition was still underway.

At that show, Provincial showed a model of a Dash-8 Q300 in maritime configuration and wearing UAE Air Force markings, placing it prominently in front of a poster advertising the AMASCOS mission system.
St Johns, Newfoundland-based Provincial is less well known for its Dash-8 MPA conversions than Toronto-based rival Field Aviation. To date, Provincial have provided just two Dash-8s for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba Coast Guard, while Field have 30 orders for such aircraft, from Surveillance Australia, Tenix LADS Australia, US Customs and Border Protection, the Japan Coast Guard, the Swedish Coast Guard and the Icelandic Coast Guard. 21 of these are already in service.

But according to Keith Stoodley, Provincial’s Senior Vice President for Marketing and Sales, “Our company has been operating and modifying Maritime Patrol Aircraft for over 25 years. We have accumulated more than 130,000 hours of MPA mission time on our fleet of ten MPAs (five King Air 200s, two Dash-8 Q100s, and three UAVs) under contract to industry, government and military clients worldwide and we have established contracts for approximately 10,000 hours annually. Our MPA operational experience is key to our success as a designer, modifier and integrator of special mission aircraft. We have experience with a diverse range of aircraft platforms (including but not limited to Dash-8s, King Airs, Swearingen C-26s, and Canadair CL415s), tactical management systems, radars, and sensor suites.”

Provincial’s MPA fleet now operates in 30 countries worldwide and the company has international bases in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Curacao, Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.

Unanswered questions

Stoodley was unwilling to answer specific questions about the competition, or about the equipment that will be installed on the UAE Air Force aircraft, but did proudly admit that “this was an extensive and exhaustive competition involving many of the world’s largest aerospace and defence companies.”

Provincial’s general manager Brendan Power said that “Provincial Aerospace’s unique combination of operational and integration experience is such that we maximise the likelihood of programme success by minimising modification and integration risk. Many of the key structural modifications are proprietary innovations developed by Provincial Aerospace and have been thoroughly tested on our own Maritime Patrol Aircraft.”

Brian Chafe, Chief Operating Officer at Provincial Aerospace described it as “a huge win!”

Certainly the contract is of vital importance to Provincial, and will allow the company add more than 100 employees to its current team of more than 650 employees.

The Dash-8s used by Provincial to fulfil the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba Coast Guard requirement are relatively modestly equipped, with extended range fuels tanks, Provincial’s Airborne Data Acquisition and Management System (ADAM a proprietary tactical management system), an underfuselage FLIR, a 360 degree maritime search radar, and a drop hatch.

It has been reported that the new MPAs will be the most advanced Dash-8 maritime patrol aircraft in the world. It is believed that they will use the Thales AMASCOS mission system, incorporating sensors and equipment from Thales, surveillance equipment from FLIR Systems Inc, electronic countermeasures equipment from Elettronica Spa, and secure telecommunications equipment from Rohde & Schwarz as well as unspecified items from Honeywell and from Saab Systems in South Africa (probably Saab Avitronics).


The Dash-8 model on display

The original UAE Air Force Dash-8 model shown in 2007 featured the same nose-mounted searchlight as the aircraft modified by Provincial for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba Coast Guard, though this was not on the models shown when the contract was announced at IDEX in March 2009.

Both models did feature the same undernose FLIR turret, the same belly-mounted radome for a search radar, and similar ECM/ESM and/or missile approach warning antennas and both had the same under fuselage drop hatch (also a feature of the aircraft operated by PAL for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba Coast Guard aircraft). This incorporates a windbreak, and is designed to deploy Search and Rescue kits and is pressurized, reloadable, and operated from the cockpit. The aircraft will also feature a fully openable rear door, similar in some respects to the openable door design incorporated on some Field Dash-8 conversions but differing dramatically in other respects.

Interestingly, long before the contract was awarded, there were reports that four of the eight DHC-8-315Q aircraft operated by Abu Dhabi Aviation were expected to undergo ‘MSA (Maritime Surveillance Aircraft) conversion’. One of these was registered A6-ADF – the same registration as was applied to the model displayed at the Dubai Air Show in 2007, perhaps coincidentally. Whether this indicates that there may be a further contract, for two more aircraft, remains uncertain. The original MPA requirement was always expected to be for four aircraft, so this might make some sense.

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