EU NAVFOR Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft

10 years of Operation Atalanta’s counter-piracy efforts have seen a continual presence of Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) deployed to Djibouti, Mombasa (Kenya) and Victoria (Seychelles). The MPRAs have been provided by France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. They help to create a broader maritime intelligence picture and when used effectively they can capture crucial imagery and intelligence as well as influencing suspect vessels to behave in a certain way.

In November 2018, EU NAVFOR’s Deputy Commander, Rear Admiral Giuseppe Rapese visited the Spanish and German MPRA detachments. Here he had the opportunity to discuss the progress and celebrate ten years of the operation with the crews.

Our MRPA detachments work closely with key aviation partners, including the Japanese MPRA detachment based in Djibouti. Together, these crews play a crucial part in keeping maritime shipping safe from the threat of piracy, to allow the free flow of international commerce.

The main mission of EU NAVFOR’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) is to fly over operational areas, detect suspicious vessels and behaviours and then guide warships to their position and collect intelligence/imagery on specific areas or activities. This was demonstrated following an attack on the merchant vessel KSL Sydney; the EU NAVFOR MPRA spotted and tracked a suspected pirate vessel that was later seized and destroyed.

The aircraft are equipped with highly capable surveillance systems, which significantly enhance EU NAVFOR’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability in the Somali Basin and Gulf of Aden.

Their speed and high level of endurance make them a key asset in this large operational area. The MPRAs work frequently work closely with the Combined Maritime Forces’ Japanese P3 MPRA.

The crews fly missions several times a week, usually along the Somali coastline. They take pictures and videos of vessels or beach areas that could potentially be linked to piracy. The images are then used by the Atalanta warships off the coast of Somalia, enabling a bird’s eye view of the area of in order to deter acts of piracy against seafarers.

Using its inherent flexibility, speed, reach and response time, the MPRA has been used to assist vessels under pirate attack, working either alone or in coordination with other EU NAVFOR helicopters and warships.

Spain and Germany have both deployed MPRAs to the area since the very start of Operation Atalanta in 2008. The expertise gained by their respective crews has been a key factor contributing to the success of the EU NAVFOR operation.

The aircraft crews come with a contingent of support staff, such as mechanics and logistic personnel. It takes ten mechanics around three hours to prepare an aircraft for a standard patrol and on completion of a patrol, the crews then spend another three hours doing post-flight checks.

Receiving equipment and supplies by air or by rendezvousing with supply ships at sea enables Operation Atalanta’s warships to keep vital capabilities, such as the Seahawk helicopter, fully operational and importantly allows the ships to stay at sea to conduct counter-piracy patrols and to protect vulnerable shipping transiting the area.

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