New Zealand has become the fifth export customer (after Australia, India, Norway and the U.K.) for Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon, with a $1.6 billion order for four aircraft.

Announced July 9 by Minister of Defence Ron Mark, the order includes the cost of infrastructure and training equipment.

The aircraft are expected to enter Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) from 2023 and will replace six Lockheed P-3K2 Orions that have served the RNZAF for more than 50 years.

New Zealand purchased five P-3B Orions in 1966 and acquired a sixth aircraft in 1985.

New avionics led to new designation of P-3K in the late 1980s; they were then given new wings as part of a life extension program in 2000. New radar and digital avionics from 2011 led to the designation P-3K2.

A new title for the Orion fleet was introduced too, the Airborne Surveillance and Response Force.

Always operated by 5 Squadron RNZAF from Whenuapai air base, Auckland, the squadron will operate its P-8As from Ohakea.

Mark says options for a complementary maritime surveillance capability will be included in the forthcoming Defence Capability Plan review, due to be completed by the end of the year.

Smaller manned aircraft, as well as remotely piloted aircraft and satellite surveillance will be considered to complement the P-8s.

The Annual Report of the New Zealand Defence Force shows that last year the existing P-3K2 Orions flew around 120 hours on search and rescue missions and more than 500 hours conducting humanitarian aid and disaster relief work.