The New Zealand Defence Force's (NZDF) five Kaman SH-2G(NZ) Seasprite naval helicopters became officially retired Thursday. They will be replaced by eight newer model, SH-2G(I) helicopters.

April 21 will see the last flight of the NZ model when the remaining aircraft return from assisting the disaster relief recovery operation in Fiji. The SH-2G(NZ) aircraft have served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) since August 2001.

"Upgrading the naval helicopter fleet from five to eight plus a simulator gives the New Zealand Defence Force a significant increase in capability, allowing the Navy to embark up to three helicopters from ships concurrently as opposed to the current two that are available," Chief of the Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies, said.

Unusually, the Naval Helicopter Force Seasprites are maintained by the RNZAF but operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy.

In addition to improved performance and sensors the 'I' model Seasprite is armed with AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missiles, replacing the AGM-65 Mavericks used with the earlier model Seasprites.

Nick Lee-Frampton is the New Zealand correspondent for Defense News.

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