By Robert Wall
FARNBOROUGH, England–The British Defense Ministry will buy nine military surveillance jets and 50 attack helicopters from Boeing Co. in deals valued at more than $6 billion.
Britain pledged to buy the nine P-8A jets for maritime patrols and hunting submarines in a major defense review last year. The planes fill a gap created after the grounding of an older jet fleet in 2010 and the cancellation of a program to replace them with British-made aircraft.
The U.K. has had to call on sea-monitoring planes from its allies in recent years to help patrol its coast and hunt submarines after sighting suspicious foreign vessels.
Boeing has bet heavily on selling modified jetliners for military applications amid dwindling demand for its combat jets. The U.K. becomes the third overseas customer alongside India and Australia for the P-8A, a heavily modified version of Boeing’s best-selling 737 passenger jet.
Boeing has committed to involve U.K. companies in its programs and work with the British government to build a P-8A operational support and training base at RAF Lossiemouth.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the deal indicated the U.K. remained a place to invest even after Britons voted last month to leave the European Union.
“Whatever uncertainties our country faces, I want the message to go out loud and clear: the U.K. will continue to lead the world in both civil and defense aerospace,” said Mr. Cameron, who is stepping down as Prime Minister.
Boeing has estimated an export market of more than 100 of the planes over the next decade. The aircraft include a host of sensors and the ability to deploy weapons such as torpedoes.
The U.S. State Department earlier this year cleared the government-to-government sale. Other suppliers involved include ViaSat Inc., Rockwell Collins Inc. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. and Raytheon Co.
Separately, the British government said it would buy 50 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters from Boeing. The deal is valued at $2.3 billion, the Defense Ministry said.
British Chief of the General Staff General Nick Carter said “the new Apache fleet will provide the British Army with a highly potent fighting element of its Future Force 2025.
The deal, via the U.S. foreign military-sales program, has been controversial for potentially not providing enough work to British industry. U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said “in the longer term, I want these new Apaches to be maintained in the U.K., and for U.K. companies to do most of the work.” Leonardo-Finmeccanica SpA, the Italian aerospace company with a large helicopter operation in the U.K., should be involved, he said.
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