Australia has confirmed that it will acquire eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, with the first examples to be delivered in 2017.

The aircraft will be fully operational by 2021, says prime minister Tony Abbott in a statement. His statement pegs the deal’s value at A$4 billion ($3.6 billion).

“These state-of-the-art aircraft will dramatically boost Australia’s ability to monitor its maritime approaches and patrol over 2.5 million square kilometres of our marine jurisdiction – an area equating to nearly 4 per cent of the world’s oceans,” says Abbott.

Canberra has also approved an option for an additional four examples.

This deal makes Australia the third customer for the aircraft, which is based on the popular 737 airliner. The other two operators are India and the United States navy.

Canberra’s announcement to obtain the P-8A as a replacement for its 19 Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion aircraft has long been anticipated.

In October 2012 it signed a A$73.9 million deal to participate in the further development of the P-8I.

Canberra’s P-8As will work in conjunction with the nation’s planned fleet of high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAVs. It is assessing its UAV options, and it is understood that the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is the platform most likely to be chosen.

“This project will offer significant opportunities for industry and jobs creation,” says Abbott. “Australian businesses have already won approximately $8.5 million of work associated with Australia’s participation in the P-8A programme and 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.”

Although Abbot did not detail the planned configuration of the aircraft, they are likely to be similar to the US Navy’s P-8As. New Delhi’s aircraft, designated the P-8I Neptune, have mission systems developed indigenously in India.