The RAAF has deployed a P-8A Poseidon to the Mediterranean as part of an ongoing NATO maritime security operation.
Operation Sea Guardian 22 aims to deter terrorism and enhance capacity-building in the region. The aircraft will be based in Italy, operating in the western and central Mediterranean until mid-October 2022.
The RAAF P-8 Poseidon is a maritime patrol aircraft used for various roles, including reconnaissance and search and rescue.
Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the deployment forms part of Australia’s commitment under a memorandum of understanding with NATO.
“Australia is a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner and an important Asia-Pacific member for the alliance,” Lieutenant General Bilton said.
“Our partner status recognises Australia’s significant contributions to NATO operations and the value that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has demonstrated over several decades.
“Our participation in Operation Sea Guardian is an opportunity to extend Australia’s interoperability with the alliance to the maritime air surveillance domain.”
The contribution to Operation Sea Guardian, he added, represents a “step-up” in the partnership in response to global security challenges.
“Wherever possible, the ADF supports European security initiatives to uphold the rules-based international order,” LTGEN Bilton said.
“I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the deployment, which will guide our future maritime surveillance cooperation with NATO.”
The Boeing-built P-8A is a military variant initially based on Boeing’s workhorse narrow-body 737 Next Generation.
It’s equipped with advanced sensors and mission systems, including a multi-role radar, high-definition cameras, a high-processing acoustic system, and an extensive communications suite.
Australia’s Poseidon fleet is based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and was introduced to partially replace the RAAF’s fleet of AP-3C Orions, together with the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system.
Last year, the federal government announced it is to purchase an additional two P-8A Poseidons, taking Australia’s total fleet to 14.
The news comes after a Chinese J-16 cut across the nose of the aircraft in May in what Defence called a “dangerous manoeuvre”.
The incident, which sparked a diplomatic incident, took place over the South China Sea and saw the fighter jet accelerate so close to the Australian aircraft that a “bundle of chaff” was ingested into its engine.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said the P-8 returned back to base safely but added the incident would not deter the RAAF from continuing to fly over the disputed area.