NWI - Naval Warfare

IMDEX Asia 2019: RAAF's Poseidon story continues with Japan deployment

11th May 2019 - 08:00 GMT | by Richard Thomas in London

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The Asia-Pacific region, with its geographical variety and rapidly developing military seascape, continues to see strong demand for maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft in order to provide effective coverage of the vast seascape its nations have to contend with.

Regional nations figure prominently on the recently released list of top defence importers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Indeed, the region is the largest importer in the world, accounting for 40% of global arms sales in the 2009-14 timeframe.

The Sweden-based organisation released its 2018 figures on 11 March 2019, stating that India, Australia, China, South Korea and Vietnam were the five largest buyers in Asia-Pacific.

Other Asian countries within the top 25 in the world were, in order, Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and Bangladesh. Interestingly, however, sales in Asia-Pacific dropped 6.7% compared to 2009-13. In fact, all regions except for the Middle East (an 87% jump) experienced a decline in arms sales over the same period.

Within Asia-Pacific, Russia achieved 31% of all arms sales, followed by the US with 27% and China with 9%.

In a region busy purchasing all manner of aircraft and capabilities to fulfill the MPA demand, some countries have in recent years opted to maintain a particularly high-end fleet: one being Japan and its indigenous (and huge) P-1, while Australia focused on the US-designed and built P-8A Poseidon.

Australia, currently enjoying a financial and technological position of particular strength, has been able to invest heavily in its armed forces. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will receive 12 P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) from the US, manufactured by Boeing, with the initial deal for eight aircraft announced in 2014 in a multi-billion-dollar deal.

The Poseidon, since its arrival on the MPA scene and entry into service with the US Navy has gone on to become an almost de-facto ‘Five Eyes’ maritime patrol platform, with the UK and New Zealand also signing up for the type.

An Australian DoD spokesperson told Shephard that the P-8A Poseidon ‘provides the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with an increase in capability over the AP-3C Orion in a number of areas, including in the anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare roles.’

Further, the spokesperson said that the addition of air-to-air refuelling capability ‘provides extended range and endurance options over the AP-3C Orion.’

While the P-8A Poseidon is designed to operate independently, it is also effective when operated as a ‘family of systems’ with other P-8A Poseidon aircraft and with related networked capabilities, like the MQ-4C Triton, which will also be field by Australia.

In addition, a mapped-out upgrade path for the P-8A will see the mission system upgraded to an open system architecture enabling additional capability integration in the future.

The spokesperson added: ‘The P-8A Poseidon’s primary functions include detection and response to naval surface and submarine threats, surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and rescue. The planned fleet of 12 P-8A Poseidon aircraft, in conjunction with the MQ-4C Triton, provide the ADF with sufficient capacity to meet expected operational demands.’

Meanwhile, on 9 April the Australian DoD announced that the RAAF had received its newest P-8A, joining the fleet in providing a wide range of operations including anti-submarine warfare; maritime and overland ISR; border security; and SAR missions.

The latest aircraft has been fitted with a raft of diagnostic equipment to allow the RAAF to collect data to analyse the life of the aircraft and identify future sustainment plans. The aircraft is now undergoing its verification and validation flying in the US, and will join the rest of the fleet in Australia, based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in mid-June 2019.

Australia is also forward-deploying its P-8A’s to better assist in supporting its strategic efforts in the region. Most recently, on 26 April the country announced that it would deploy one MPA to Japan, from where it will conduct maritime surveillance operations to assist in the implementation of UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea by ‘working with partners to monitor and deter ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned goods.’

According to the Australian MoD, since 2018 the country has supported international efforts to ‘deter and disrupt illicit trade and sanctions evasion activities by North Korea and its associated networks’. In 2018 Australia deployed maritime patrol aircraft on three occasions, in April, September and December.

With inputs from Gordon Arthur.

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