New Zealand aims to replace its Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion and C-130H Hercules aircraft within the next 15 years as part of a new defence strategy.

The replacement plans were announced in a defence white paper, the nation's first in 13 years, that set out the strategic direction for New Zealand's military up to 2035.

"We are likely to see growing pressures on our maritime resources, and an increase in illegal migration attempts," says Prime Minister John Key. "Some Pacific Island states will look to us for help as instability continues there, and the strategic balance in east Asia is shifting."

A programme to upgrade the Royal New Zealand Air Force's P-3C maritime patrol aircraft will continue, and the aircraft could be fitted with self-protection equipment and anti-submarine sensors. They will, however, be replaced "with an equivalent level of capability, manned or unmanned", around 2025.

While the air force will also continue upgrading its five C-130Hs, the Vietnam War-era transports will be replaced with an equivalent or superior aircraft by the end of their service lives around 2020.

C-130H Afghan - RNZAF
 © Royal New Zealand Air Force

A study before the next defence review in 2015 will define the replacement decision. It will also assess the use and cost effectiveness of the RNZAF's two Boeing 757s, to help determine the "optimal configuration of any strategic jet transport capability".

The white paper does not specify possible replacements for either the Orion or Hercules fleets.

However, current possible replacements for the P-3C include the Airbus Military C-295, Embraer EMB-145 MP, Saab 2000 MPA, and the Saab 340 MSA. Unmanned options could include the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.

As for the Hercules, replacement candidates could include the C-130J, Embraer's KC-390, or even Airbus Military's A400M.

The white paper adds that "low-end regional surveillance tasks" could be effectively carried out by short take-off and landing maritime patrol aircraft. This capability would increase surveillance capacity in both New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and the South Pacific. The new aircraft would also perform transport and multi-engine flight training that is now served by the Beechcraft B200 King Air.

A review will also determine whether the nation's Kaman SH-2 Seasprite helicopters will be replaced when they are due for upgrade in the middle of the decade.

"The Crown is already committed to a number of acquisition and upgrade programmes contracted for over the past decade, including new helicopters and the upgrade of the C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion fleets," says the white paper.

"These programmes are putting pressure on the budget of the New Zealand Defence Force. Depreciation alone is expected to rise by about NZ$100 million [$77 million] over the next two years."

Source: Flight International