Australia is to negotiate to join the US Navy's Boeing P-8A Multi-mission Martime Aircraft development programme, after the government gave first-pass approval for the A$4 billion ($3.5 billion) AIR 7000 Phase 2 programme to replace the Royal Australian Air Force's AP-3C Orions.
The 737-based P-8A Poseidon will meet the Royal Australian Air Force's manned Maritime Patrol and Response Aircraft (MPRA) requirement and operate alongside the Multi-mission Unmanned Aerial System (MUAS). Australia has joined the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme to meet the MUAS requirement, otherwsie known as AIR 7000 Phase 1.
Together the manned MPRA and unmanned MUAS will replace the AP-3Cs, which are planned to be retired in 2018 after more than 30 years of service.
After Boeing won the MMA competition in June 2004, Australia was offered a stake in P-8 development in return for investing $300 million in the programme, but the Canberra government turned down the offer in late 2005 because of a crisis in funding for defence procurement.
Australia signed up in January 2007 to join the BAMS system development and demonstration programme. A competiton is now under way, with Boeing offering a Gulfstream G550 derivative, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics the Mariner UAV and Northrop Grumman RQ-4N Global Hawk. A decision is due in October.
Defence minister Brendan Nelson says participation in the proposed cooperative development of the P-8 will provide opportunities for Australian industry.
Boeing and the US Navy recently completed the critical design review on the P-8. Approval to built two test aircraft will be sought later this year. The US Navy plans to buy 108 Poseidons, with deliveries beginning in 2013.