New Zealand’s defence ministry has approved an order for four Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The four aircraft, based on the 737 airliner, will replace the country’s aging fleet of Lockheed Martin P-3K Orions, says the ministry.

The deal will be conducted under the US government’s foreign military sales (FMS) mechanism. Deliveries will start in 2023.

“The P-8A will bring enhanced capability to the roles performed by the Orions over many decades such as contributing to the international rules-based order through peace and security operations, search and rescue, disaster response, resource and border protection, and environmental and marine resource monitoring,” says the ministry.

“Like the Orions before them, the P-8As are expected to serve New Zealand over several decades to come. The P-8A will enable New Zealand to continue to deploy to a wide range of airborne maritime situations independently, and when required, work effectively with partners, who will all be operating the aircraft at the time of delivery to New Zealand.”

New Zealand’s close ally, Australia, is a major operator of the P-8A. It has seven Poseidons in its fleet, and will have 12 by 2022.

The aircraft will be operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 5 Sqn., which now operates the Orions. The arrival of the new aircraft will see the squadron shift from RNZAF Whenuapai to Ohakea.

In May 2017 the US State Department approved a $1.46 billion deal for the sale of four P-8As to New Zealand. Other vendors interested in the deal include Kawasaki with its four-engined P-1 and Saab with its Swordfish MPA.

The RNZAF operates six P-3Ks with an average age of 48.6 years, and an age range of 33.2-51.9 years.

In addition, the defence ministry will consider other assets to complement the P-8As.

“The Government will further consider options for a complementary capability or capabilities for lower-end, civilian maritime tasks, through the use of cost-effective options that could include smaller manned aircraft, remotely-piloted aircraft systems, or satellites.”