Posted on September 20, 2023
With tensions remaining high across the Pacific and Indian oceans as China increases its activities, Australia announced plans to increase its maritime surveillance capabilities focusing on its northern approaches and key economic sea lanes. The Albanese Government reports it will invest nearly US$1 billion for new drones and surveillance aircraft upgrades coming from Northrop Grumman and Boeing.
The government approved the acquisition of a fourth MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft System. Australia received its first of the advanced surveillance drone in November 2022. They have a wingspan of approximately 130 feet and can rise up to 66,000 feet. They remain airborne for up to 30 hours and provide long-range, surveillance across Australia’s maritime region. The aircraft, including the relevant ground and support systems, is due to be delivered to Australia in 2024. Northrop Grumman manufactures the Triton which will be developed and acquired by the Australian Defence Force in cooperation with the U.S. Navy.
In addition, the government approved upgrades to Australia’s fleet of 14 Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Response aircraft. Among the capabilities that they reported will be added to the Boeing aircraft are enhancements to anti-submarine warfare, maritime strike, and intelligence collection capabilities. Defence reports that the first Poseidon aircraft are expected to enter the upgrade program in 2026, with the final aircraft to be completed in 2030.
Australia ordered its first P8 surveillance planes nearly a decade ago starting with eight planes that were due to become operational between 2017 and 2021. At the time, they said it was a critical step to expanding coverage over the more than one million square miles of marine jurisdiction, approximately 10 percent of the earth’s surface, that includes critical oil and gas operations the sea lanes for Australia’s energy exports to Asia.
The Triton program is also a decade in development with the first approvals in 2014. The government committed in 2017 to the first investment in the craft saying that they might ultimately employ six or seven of the sophisticated drones.
The order of the surveillance craft was seen as a response to China’s increased activity in the Indian Ocean. India had also declared its interest in purchasing surveillance planes while both Japan and South Korea were also expanding their regional capabilities.
In addition, the highlighting the increased maritime security, the Albanese government is emphasizing the local involvement saying that the investment will provide security and critical jobs in Australia.