New Zealand has taken delivery of its first Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. The jet was handed over in a ceremony at Boeing’s Museum of Flight in Seattle on December 7.
“As a maritime nation, delivery of the P-8A will ensure New Zealand maintains a patrol and response capability that will protect and support law enforcement in our Exclusive Economic Zone and Southern Ocean,” said Sarah Minson, acting deputy secretary of capability delivery for New Zealand's Ministry of Defence. “The P-8A will also assist our South Pacific neighbors and deliver long-range search and rescue capability.”
After evaluation of a number of types, including the Kawasaki P-1 from Japan, New Zealand formally announced the selection of the P-8 as its new maritime patroller in July 2018, signing a U.S. Foreign Military Sales order for four in March 2019. In September 2020 the first Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) crew graduated from training with the U.S. Navy at NAS Jacksonville, Florida. They are training further as instructors to allow the conversion of additional RNZAF crews to be conducted in-country.
The three remaining RNZAF aircraft are due to be handed over during 2023. Fleet sustainment will be provided by Boeing Defence Australia, as part of the P-8 International Program. Australia is already an established P-8 operator and expects to operate 15 when procurement is completed.
In RNZAF service the P-8As will replace the maritime patrol fleet of Lockheed P-3K2 Orions, which until 2021 comprised six aircraft operating with No. 5 Squadron at Whenuapai, near Auckland. Today only three are operational following the retirement of three into storage at Woodbourne. Five of the Orions were originally delivered as P-3Bs in the mid-1960s to replace Short Sunderland flying boats, with a sixth ex-Australian P-3B being added later. The six received some system upgrades and were redesignated as P-3Ks. A second upgrade program in the late 2000s to the P-3K2 standard involved more sensor upgrades and re-winging. The RNZAF determined that the Orion should be replaced by 2025, leading to the P-8 purchase. The Poseidons are expected to operate from Ohakea, near Wellington, still with No. 5 Squadron.
Boeing has now delivered 155 P-8s to six overseas customers, including the P-8I Neptune version for India. The global fleet has now amassed more than 450,000 mishap-free flying hours.
UPDATE December 17
The RNZAF has announced that the final three P-3K2s will be retired imminently, citing staff shortages associated with the extra burden of introducing the P-8A. The Poseidon is scheduled to achieve initial operating capability in July 2023, resulting in a capability gap of several months.