WASHINGTON — The United States, United Kingdom and Norway have agreed in principal to create a trilateral coalition built around the P-8 maritime aircraft — though exactly what that means remains unclear.

The Pentagon announced June 29 that the three countries had established a "statement of intent to lay out guiding principles for a trilateral partnership with P-8A aircraft." In addition, the announcement said the nations are working on a "framework for further cooperation in areas such as readiness, enhancing defense capability, and interoperability."

A defense official, speaking on background, told Defense News that nothing is "set in stone," and this is just a first step toward coordinating around the aircraft. Potential areas of cooperation include joint operations in the North Atlantic, information sharing and the possibility of co-locating maintenance and training assets.

The last point would seem to build on a November pledge between the U.K. and Norway to find ways to jointly drive down costs for the maritime surveillance plane. The U.K. plans on buying nine P-8s, while Norway has agreed to purchase five of the Boeing-made planes.

Given the shared area of responsibility and the small fleet sizes for both nations, analysts believe cooperation around the P-8 is a no-brainer. And while the U.S. has a larger fleet, being able to share assets such as maintenance will help bring costs down and keep readiness rates high for American assets surveilling the waters near Europe.

Asked in December about forming some sort of P-8 coalition between the three nations, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said, "We haven’t had something like this since the Cold War, … and that just opens up a whole new level of possibilities for us to in the future do collaborative and coordinated operations."

"When you have that interoperability and you can land and get servicing wherever you land — wash racks, maintenance hangars you can use — it just makes it a lot easier," Work told Defense News on Dec. 4.

Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, the outgoing head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said in September that he wanted to expand a recent program that allows NATO allies to pool their resources and buy as a group from the U.S., holding up the P-8 as an example where nations could find joint savings.

"Imagine what you could do with lead nation procurement if you could get something like the P-8 — maybe not the P-8 itself, but certainly all the support, the sonobuoys, the spares, everything associated with it that you could buy — in batch quantities and not have to worry about third-party transfer restrictions," Rixey said then.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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