Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced today that the country’s government has approved the purchase of eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. The first aircraft is scheduled to enter service at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia in 2017, and all eight are due for delivery by 2021. The initial deal is worth AUS$4 billion ($3.59 billion), of which around a quarter will be spent in Australia on aircraft support and base facilities. A further four aircraft are held as options. Australia becomes the second export customer for the Poseidon, following India.
Speaking at RAAF Fairbairn, near Canberra, in front of a visiting U.S. Navy P-8, Abbott underlined the importance of maritime surveillance to the nation. “Australia, our economic zone alone, is four percent of the Earth’s oceans,” he noted. “Our search-and-rescue zone is some 11 percent of the Earth’s oceans. It is an enormous part of the Earth that we are required to supervise and, if necessary, control, and these aircraft are going to be a very important part of our capacity to do that in the decades to come.”
As well as the initial eight aircraft, options are being held on a further four. Whether those options are exercised will be decided by a Defence White Paper review. Also being studied is a possible buy of Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned maritime patrollers to augment the P-8s. At last week’s Singapore airshow it emerged that a U.S. Foreign Military Sales planning case has been signed covering a potential Australian MQ-4C buy. If procured, they would operate alongside the P-8s in the same BAMS (broad area maritime surveillance) role for which the U.S. Navy is buying them.
Asked about Triton at today’s Fairbairn briefing, Australian Defence Minister, Senator David Johnston, replied that: “[BAMS] is something we are watching closely, and we’ll go back into participating in it with a view to making a decision in the future…we see [Triton] as a very viable option for Australia.”
In Royal Australian Air Force service the P-8As will replace Lockheed Martin Orions that have served with the RAAF since 1968 (P-3B) and 1978 (P-3C). In the late 1990s the 19-aircraft front-line fleet underwent an upgrade to AP-3C standard, with Elta ELM-2022A(V)3 search radar among many avionics and mission system updates.