Australia has invested $73.9 million to complete its investment and enter the US Navy P-8A development program as a partner. The $5 billion program has sofar been endorsed only by the US and Indian Navies. Australia has signed an agreement with the US Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare have signed a new agreement with the United States Navy to participate in the third P-8A development stage, contributing $73.9 million towards the project. “We will ultimately replace our Orion P-3s with the P-8 (but) that is a long-term project,” said Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, adding ”the P-3 Orions have serves Australia well, the Orions are expected to remain in service until the end of this decade or the start of the 2020s. But we have committed ourselves to further work on the P-8 project in collaboration with our United States colleagues.”
In 2007, the government gave initial approval to acquire the Poseidon, an aircraft based on the widely-used737 airliner and which is set to replace Orions in US Navy service. Australia initially contributed $150 million to join the P-8A program, subsequently adding a further $100 million. Once deployed, the Poseidons are likely to be based in RAAF Edinburgh South Australia where the Orions are currently stationed.
The RAAF currently operates 19 Lockheed AP-3C Orions which entered service in the mid-1980s. They have been progressively upgraded with advanced radar and camera systems and can perform maritime and overland surveillance, search and rescue missions and also hunt for submarines.
Orions have played an important role in border protection operations and two operated in the Middle East from 2003, conducting missions over the Persian Gulf region as well as over Afghanistan.