Today, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) released a statedment that it agreed to buy four Boeing P-8A POSEIDON maritime patrol aircraft, strengthening surveillance capabilities in the face of competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations in the contested South China Sea.
New Zealand is responsible for patrol and rescue missions in a Pacific Ocean zone and plans to step up its engagement in the South Pacific, where it is facing competition over small island nations to Beijing.
New Zealand's Defence Minister Ron Mark said the aircraft acquired from the US through its foreign military sales (FMS) programme would cost NZ$2.34 billion (U$1.6 billion), including training costs, and become operational in 2023. New Zealand’s military had been looking to replace its aging P-3 ORION fleet, and the upgrade pulls it in line with the capabilities of its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners (Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US). In April 2017, the US Government's State Department approved the sale of up to four of the planes, with the estimated cost being $1.46 billion (NZ$2.2 billion). Minister Mark said the extra cost was due to potential foreign exchange changes.
The news followed Friday’s release of a defence policy statement warning that China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability. The POSEIDON purchase, one of the world’s most advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, signals New Zealand’s readiness to help its allies in countering China in the South China Sea, analysts say.
Australia has committed to buy 15 POSEIDONs to replace its ORION aircraft, set to be withdrawn from service next year. 85 P-8s now operate worldwide. Last month, South Korea said it would buy POSEIDON, as it strengthens ASW capabilities against the threat from neighbouring North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Minister Mark said New Zealand could consider more purchases of maritime surveillance technology as part of a review due by year-end: “The complementary capability will consider smaller manned aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems or satellites, for additional maritime surveillance tasks.”