Maritime transition – AP-3C to P-8A
At the end of 2018, Australia’s maritime surveillance community witnessed a changing of the guard. In December, the Royal Australian Air Force’s AP-3C Orion force was retired – at least from the anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles – and its place has now been taken by the Boeing P-8A Poseidon. The Orion has served Australia for 50 years, through two major variants and a significant capability upgrade. But it won’t be leaving local skies altogether, as two previously unannounced Electronic Warfare variants will continue in service until around 2023.
Maritime surveillance capability will also be bolstered early in the next decade following the Government’s decision last year to proceed with the planned acquisition of at least six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted platforms.
Both the Poseidon and Triton will also fit into the Australian Defence Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare (ISREW) jigsaw puzzle and they will be joined by up to five Grumman MC-55A Peregrine electronic surveillance platforms, based on the G550 long-range business jet.
Combined with other ADF assets, such as the Navy’s Sikorsky MH-60R helicopter (and in the future, an embarked unmanned aerial systems capability), surface combatants and submarines, the maritime surveillance of AustraliaÖs coastline, littoral areas and maritime approaches will receive a significant capability boost.
‘Orion’ Bows Out
Australia became just the second export customer for the P-3 Orion (behind New Zealand) with an order for ten of the then-current production P-3Bs in November 1964. The first aircraft entered service in 1968 and were later supplemented, then replaced, by two tranches of the updated P-3C variant.
Eighteen of the nineteen surviving P-3Cs underwent a major capability upgrade under Project Sea Sentinel (Air 5276) between 1999 and 2005, which replaced all the major sensors on the aircraft. The one aircraft not modified was used as a test-bed for new equipment and ultimately reduced to spares during 2014.