Australia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the US Navy confirming its participation in the Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Canberra could eventually buy eight P-8As as part of the A$5 billion ($3.75 billion) project, says the defence ministry.
These would enter into service before 2018 to replace its Lockheed Martin AP-3Cs and operate alongside seven-high altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that the country plans to buy, as spelt out in its defence white paper that was released last week.
"Defence will collaborate in Spiral 1, the first in a series of improvements planned through the life of the P-8A. Through participation in the P-8A Spiral 1 cooperative development program, Defence seeks to gain information on the P-8A to support the acquisition and through life support decisions, provide opportunities for Australian industry, and influence the direction of P-8A improvements," says the ministry.
These new aircraft will provide a highly advanced surface search radar and optical, infra-red and electronic surveillance systems, adds the ministry. "Along with a high transit speed and the ability to conduct air-to-air refuelling, these aircraft will provide a superior capability for rapid area search and identification tasks. They will also provide a highly advanced anti-submarine warfare capability, including the ability to engage submarines using air-launched torpedoes," it says.
Australia said in the white paper that it plans to boost its ability to safeguard the country's waters and prevent maritime threats in the region, especially when the USA eventually reduces its military presence in the Asia Pacific.
To this end, it plans to enhance the country's aerial defence capabilities through the procurement of new maritime patrol aircraft, UAVs, and naval combat helicopters. The navy also plans to deploy new major destroyers and frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships.
Boeing is scheduled to deliver the first Spiral 1 aircraft to the USN under a $150 million upgrade package in 2015, two years after a version with a baseline mission system based on the 2004 configuration of its P-3C fleet enters service. India became the first export customer when it ordered eight P-8Is in January. Other potential export customers include Argentina, Canada, Chile, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain and Thailand.