MAWS: why does the German order for 8 P-8A Poseidon embarrass France?

Without the future of the Franco-German MAWS program having been officially called into question by the German authorities, the Bundestag budgets committee confirmed the acquisition of 8 American P-8A Pegasus maritime patrol aircraft to replace the P-3C German Orions.

In doing so, Berlin places the responsibility for the abandonment or continuation of the European maritime patrol aircraft program entirely on its French partner, while putting itself in a position of strength in possible future industrial negotiations.

In May 2021, Berlin announced the upcoming acquisition of 5 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to replace part of its P-3C Orion in the canonical age. For many observers, this decision marked the end of the Maritime Air Warfare System, or MAWS, program, launched in 2017 jointly by France and Germany, to replace the Atlantique 2 of the French Navy and the P-3C of the French Navy. Luftwaffe, by 2035.

Towards an abandonment of the MAWS program by Germany with the acquisition of American P-8A Poseidon

This conviction was reinforced when, a few months later, after the announcement of the creation of the special fund of €100 billion intended to finance the transformation of the Bundeswehr following the Russian attack against Ukraine, several statements from German officials suggested that a second order for six additional aircraft was under consideration.

P3C Orion Luftwaffe
German Orions will have to leave active service by 2028

For the Luftwaffe, this was to meet the growing needs in the field of airborne maritime surveillance and NATO maritime patrol, in order to guard the Russian Northern and Baltic fleets, and especially their large fleet of submarines, under control in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and in the North Atlantic.

In this context, it seemed that the MAWS program, which had remained in a semi-vegetative state for several years, was doomed. Moreover, faced with this risk, France began studies with the aim of select the aircraft that can replace its Atlantic 2 beyond 2030. The process is also described within the framework of the Military Programming Law 2024-2030 recently passed by the French Parliament.

On the German side, however, the abandonment of MAWS was never officially mentioned. On the contrary, in October 2022, Berlin very officially insisted on the fact that, for its part, the soon-to-be-acquired P-8A Poseidon were only interim solutions to replace the oldest P-3Cs. And to add that, following the French studies to select the replacement for the Atlantic 2, the future of the MAWS program was, from then on, in the hands of Paris.

8 P-8A Poseidon for €2,8 billion to replace the Luftwaffe's P-3C Orion by 2026

We now see a little more clearly in Berlin's ambitions in this area. Indeed, the Bundestag Budgets Committee authorized the increase in the budget dedicated to the acquisition of German P-8As, going from €1,1 billion to €2,8 billion, with the objective of acquiring 8 devices, three more than the 5 initially announced, and not six as mentioned in March 2022, as well as a complete simulator to train the crews.

P-8A Poseidon Boeing Royal Air Force
The Boeing P-8A was chosen by 8 air forces around the world, including 4 belonging to NATO (Germany, United States, Norway, United Kingdom)

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