The Royal New Zealand Air Force will soon join their British and Australian counterparts in operating the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft after the New Zealand government confirmed an order for four aircraft to replace their ageing P-3 Orion fleet.
The total cost for the project – including the new aircraft, training systems, infrastructure and associated costs will be NZ$2.346 billion. They will be delivered and begin operations from 2023 with the final Orion aircraft to decommission in 2025. No. 5 Squadron, who currently fly the Orions, will transition to the new aircraft, which will include relocation from their current home at Whenuapai Airbase to the larger airbase at Ohakea.
New Zealand has been widely tipped as a likely operator for the P-8A, having been named as such ten years ago by Boeing. Further aircraft interoperability between the RNZAF and its close allies the RAAF, RAF and USAF will likely provide greater opportunities for crew exchanges and joint training.
Speaking at the announcement, Defence Minister, Ron Mark said that “the purchase ensures the Defence Force can continue to deliver the country’s maritime surveillance, resource protection, humanitarian and disaster response around New Zealand and across the South Pacific.”
“This decision strengthens the coalition Government’s Pacific Reset by providing a maritime patrol capability with the significant range and endurance needed to assist our partners in the region.”
The Royal New Zealand Air Force currently covers an area stretching from the South Pole almost to the equator, representing 1/11th of the earth’s surface. Search and rescue operations in this vast area making up a significant percentage of activations for the Orion fleet.
“One example of the requirement for a fully capable maritime patrol aircraft is simply the number of lives that can be saved,” Mr Mark said.
“In the last seven years of search and rescue operations in our region, Orion maritime patrols have contributed to saving 119 lives.”
“Other tasks the Orions have undertaken recently have included participation in international operations to counter piracy and illicit smuggling off the Horn of Africa, surveillance of the volcano in Vanuatu, assessing damage from Cyclones Winston and Gita in the Pacific, surveillance of critical infrastructure after the Kaikoura earthquake, and fisheries monitoring.”
Costs for the project will be spread out until the 2025/26 financial year. The Government will also consider options for a complementary maritime surveillance capability during the forthcoming Defence Capability Plan review, due to be completed by the end of 2018. This will look at smaller manned aircraft, RPAS systems and satellites to support the P-8A fleet.
“Maintaining a maritime patrol capability is essential for New Zealand’s national security, and for our ability to contribute to global security efforts.”