Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft is set to enter RAAF service from 2017 after the federal government approved the acquisition of eight and options on a further four.
The decision was announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Fairbairn Defence Establishment, Canberra Airport on Friday morning, and is the first major defence acquisition from the new Coalition government.
“The first aircraft will be delivered in 2017, with all eight aircraft fully operational by 2021. The government has also approved an option for a further four aircraft subject to the outcomes of the Defence White Paper review,” the Prime Minister said in a statement.
“Together with high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, these aircraft will replace the Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orions that have served Australia so well for over four decades.”
The acquisition of the eight P-8s, under AIR 7000 Phase 2B, has a budget of $4 billion. Facilities work to support the P-8, primarily at Edinburgh, will cost “as much as” $1 billion, the PM said.
Acquisition of a complementary high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV under AIR 7000 Phase 1B remains under consideration, with Defence Minister Senator David Johnston telling media at Fairbairn that Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Triton is “a very viable option”. The numbers and timing of any Triton acquisition remain in question, however. Original AIR 7000 planning anticipated the acquisition of eight P-8s and seven HALE UAVs to replace the AP-3C, but if more P-8 options are exercised fewer UAVs are likely to be funded.
A US Navy P-8, visiting Australia for exercises with the RAAF and RAN, was in Canberra for the announcement.
The RAAF currently operates 18 AP-3Cs from Edinburgh with 92 Wing’s 10 and 11 Squadrons.