Some of the latest small talk ahead of the 2015 SDSR (post upcoming) is that the UK might consider purchasing the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Japan. The Japanese have not long since removed their self-imposed ban on defence exports which would now allow them to sell the P-1 to countries like the UK. And boy does the UK need a new MPA aircraft.
But while the potential of such a purchase has garnered a lot of attention and speculation (and as yet nothing even approaching a public suggestion of interest from the MoD) it also faces a number of issues. The P-1 is so far exclusive to Japan. It has no other orders on the books. Therefore the support infrastructure would exist only in Japan at the start and unlike the Boeing P-8 Poseidon there would not be a global customer base to defray purchase and support costs, not least because the engines are bespoke to the aircraft.
Of course that could change. Kawasaki wants to use the P-1 as the basis for a regional airliner to compete with the likes of Boeing and Airbus, and if that happened then some support costs for the P-1 would fall. There is also the potential for the P-1 to become an export success in its own right, but who would take that first leap of faith and become the first export customer? The UK maybe?
Well I'm a big fan of the philosophy of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". You do something for me, I'll do something for you. And I think just such an opportunity exists with the P-1. Clearly for the Japanese any additional P-1 sales to a foreign customer are a bonus in their own right, but if one country were to take that first leap then it could potentially ease the concerns of others and make the P-1 seem like a more viable option on the global market. And of course we need a brand new MPA.
So why not propose a deal? Start by agreeing a fair and normal price for an order of P-1s, but then add a little twist, either; 1) the Japanese subsidise part of the cost of the UK's purchase, a subsidy that would be paid back in instalments in the future if the P-1 doesn't hit off on the international market, or 2) the UK pays the full price up front, but any future orders by another nation trigger "thank you" payments to the UK for being the first foreign customer, up to a fixed cap.
That way the Japanese only lose out on the deal if other countries follow the UK's lead, but even that is obviously a win for the Japanese. And the UK either ends up paying a fair price for the P-1, which is fine, or it ends up getting a great deal in exchange for having paved the way as the first foreign customer. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Or we could just do the normal running for the MoD and pay over the odds...