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Boeing’s P-8: Bringing Allies Together

New Zealand’s selection of the P-8 highlights certain regional & allied trends


On 9 July, New Zealand’s acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters, announced that New Zealand will acquire four Boeing P-8A POSEIDON aircraft and training system to replace its ageing fleet of six P-3K2 ORION. The contract value is reportedly estimated at NZ$2.3billion (approximately U$1.6billion), and delivery of the new Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) 5th Squadron is scheduled to commence in 2023. For the breaking story on submarine-hunting aircraft to replace ageing ORIONs, please see article here

According to New Zealand’s ‘Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018’ (SDPS2018), a document outlining the country’s periodical review of its formal defence policy settings, the new MPAs will continue to carry out the key tasks already performed by the P-3 ORION: “The P-3 ORION MPA provide a key maritime combat capability that can also support other Government agencies on a range of domestic contingencies, such as search and rescue and disaster relief.”

More specifically, the long range provided by the new MPAs (4,500mi/7242km), will also continue to provide the RNZAF and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) with the capability necessary to support the government’s activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. 

Perhaps just as importantly, the P-8A will ensure the continued interoperability between New Zealand and its allies in the Asia Pacific region. As already noted in the SDPS2018 with regard to the P-3: “The Defence Force will also likely continue to be called on to support maritime security further afield – as it has recently with the deployment of P-3 ORION MPA to the Indian Ocean – both to ensure the security of New Zealand’s lines of communication and to contribute to international peace and security.”

Indeed, the Indian Ocean and the lines of communications leading to it, such as the Strait of Malacca, are becoming key hot spots for submarine proliferation and, as a consequence, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions (more details can be found in the two part series on ASW in the Indian Ocean in NAVAL FORCES issues II/2018 and III/2018, order here).

Already three countries operating in the region have acquired the P-8A: India (12, eight of which already operational), Australia (12, one already operational while the remaining 11 are scheduled for delivery by March 2020, and an option for an additional three), and South Korea (numbers as of yet undisclosed after the announcement in June).

Word on the street is Singapore is also considering the P-8A, together with Saab’s SWORDFISH and Israel Aerospace Industry’s (IAI) Gulfstream G550, to replace its fleet of Fokker 50s; a decision is due to be made soon as Singapore wishes to introduce the new aircraft by the early 2020s. Through the purchase of the four new MPAs, which have the capability to carry anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, New Zealand will certainly greatly enhance its ability to cooperate with allies in the region.

Just as importantly, with this purchase New Zealand becomes the fourth country part of Five Eyes (an intelligence alliance) to acquire a P-8 POSEIDON variant after the US, the UK and Australia. Canada, the fifth country of the alliance, is also due to replace its fleet of 14 updated and life-extended Auroras MPA soon, probably by the end of the 2020s, although while the P-8A is certainly an option under consideration, it is unclear whether it will be a viable one for the country.

Amidst financial constraints and political pressure to secure national industries, it is also possible that Canada might seriously consider a maritime version of the Bombardier C-series airliner as a home-grown option. Perhaps the forthcoming decision the Royal Canadian Navy is to make on the Canadian Surface Combatant, which sees Fincantieri/Naval Group’s FREMM competing with BAE Systems’ Type 26 much like in Australia where the Type 26 was recently chosen for the Future Frigates Programme, will give us a hint as to whether Canada’s decision may or may not hinge upon interoperability with allies or not?

Dr. Alix Valenti


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