Aussie Poseidon will be an advanced version of the US Navy P-8A

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A P-8A Poseidon assigned to the Bureau of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 replicates the characteristics of an MK-54 torpedo. (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Greg L. Davis)

The Australian Government has approved the acquisition of eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft at an investment of about A$4 billion (US$3.6 Billion). 

A P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 is seen in flight over Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo: U.S Navy by Anthony Petry)
A P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 is seen in flight over Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo: U.S Navy by Anthony Petry)

The new fleet is expected to become fully operational in 2021. 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.

There are 18 Orions in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Delivered in the late 1970s the Aussie Orions fleet went through a comprehensive upgrade in the early 2000s, improving radar, ESM and other avionic capabilities.

Manned-Unmanned Team

The replacement of those aircraft comes under the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Project Air 7000 plan estimated to cost about A$7 billion. Phase 2B outlines the manned element (Poseidon) plan with the follow-on phase 1B element defining the unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) element. Phase B will cost about A$3 billion and include six or seven Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones. A formal announcement expected later in 2014.

“The P-8 gives us an unprecedented capability to find, fix and track both surface ships and submarines,” RAAF chief Air Marshal Geoff Brown

The purchase of Tritons was opposed in military circles in 2012, due to its inability to carry weapons. The new government has backed the procurement, particularly for its exceptional area coverage capacity – the US Navy claims a Triton can monitor an area of close to seven million square kilometres in one operation.

An U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft sits on the flight line at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., as a Navy P-3C Orion aircraft flies in the background Jan. 9, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Navy by Gulianna Dunn)
An U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft sits on the flight line at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., as a Navy P-3C Orion aircraft flies in the background Jan. 9, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Navy by Gulianna Dunn)

The Australian acquisition would be the second international Poseidon sale for Boeing and the first international sale for the Triton UAS. The first eight P-8I ‘Neptune’ were ordered by India in 2009 for US$2.1 billion. Three have already been delivered to India. Additional four aircraft were ordered in 2011.

Boeing is expected to hand over the first Australian P-8 in 2017, with all eight aircraft delivered and fully operational by 2021. The Australian Government has also approved an option for a further four aircraft subject to the outcomes of the Defence White Paper review.

Extending the Reach of Maritime Surveillance

“The P-8 gives us an unprecedented capability to find, fix and track both surface ships and submarines,” RAAF chief Air Marshal Geoff Brown said. The P-8A has an unrefuelled range of over 4,000 nautical miles (7,500 kilometres) or the ability to remain on station conducting low-level Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW)

Lt. Cmdr. Colette Lazenka, Tactical Coordinator with Patrol Squadron (VP) 30, shows Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Mark Leavitt some of the new features of the P-8A Poseidon.(Photo: U.S. Navy  by Richard Stewart)
Lt. Cmdr. Colette Lazenka, Tactical Coordinator with Patrol Squadron (VP) 30, shows Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Mark Leavitt some of the new features of the P-8A Poseidon. (Photo: U.S. Navy by Richard Stewart)

missions for over four hours at a range of more than 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 km) from base. These aircraft can also be refuelled in flight, from the boom of tanker aircraft such as the KC-30A, pushing its endurance out to over 20 hours, making it possible to patrol Australia’s isolated Southern Ocean territories up to Antarctica.

In addition to patrolling Australia’s maritime approaches and supporting coalition operations in the Pacific Ocean, the Australian Poseidons will be tasked to conduct search and rescue; anti-submarine and maritime strike missions using torpedoes and Harpoon missiles.

Boeing Team Installs Radar Antenna on P-8A Poseidon. Photo: Boeing
Boeing Team Installs the Raytheon APY10 Radar Antenna on the P-8A Poseidon test aircraft. Photo: Boeing

In addition to the military missions, Australia also need real-time surveillance in the vast sea areas north east of Australia, all the way to Sri-Lanka, to help find asylum seeker vessels on their way to Australia. On such non-military missions the Poseidon will work closely with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) aviation fleet, to secure ocean resources, including offshore energy resources off northern Australia.

Aussie P-8A to be More Mature Aircraft

The aircraft is equipped with the Raytheon APY10 maritime surveillance radar, providing all weather, day and night surveillance for surface, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission support.

“Increment 2 will have sufficient capability to allow the RAAF to replace one squadron of AP-3Cs, achieving initial operational capability in 2019.”

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Australia’s first P-8As are likely to be delivered in an increment 2 configuration, which adds acoustic equipment and a maritime automatic identification system capability to the USN’s baseline increment 1 aircraft now entering use. The future standard will have sufficient capability to allow the RAAF to replace one squadron of AP-3Cs, and should achieve initial operational capability in 2019.

Since 2007 Australia has invested about $250 million in the P-8A development, becoming a ‘minor partner’ in the US Navy lead program. Australian businesses have already won approximately $8.5 million of work associated with Australia’s participation in the P-8A program. According to Ministry of defence sources, Australian companies stand to benefit by as much as $1 billion through construction of facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia and elsewhere and work to meet maintenance and other support needs.

Additional photos attached to the full version:

A P-8A Poseidon assigned to the Bureau of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 replicates the characteristics of an MK-54 torpedo. (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Greg L. Davis)
A P-8A Poseidon assigned to the Bureau of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 replicates the characteristics of an MK-54 torpedo. (Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Greg L. Davis)
Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, prepare to load a MK-54 torpedo onto a P-8A Poseidon aircraft. (Photo: U.S. Navy, by Eric A. Pastor)
Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, prepare to load a MK-54 torpedo onto a P-8A Poseidon aircraft. (Photo: U.S. Navy, by Eric A. Pastor)