RAAF Boeing P-8 Poseidon Delivered At RAAF Base Edinburgh

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PHOTORECON was present for the arrival ceremony for the Boeing P-8A Poseidon to RAAF Base Edinburgh (north of Adelaide, South Australia) on 25th November. A Welcome to Country ceremony was performed for the P-8 by a small indigenous dance contingent and the aircraft was blessed with a prayer of dedication by RAAF Chaplain Susan Page. Boeing is building 12 P-8 Poseidons for the RAAF to replace the venerable Lockheed AP-3C Orion and with the first delivery to the famous No. 11 Squadron now achieved, one can be expected every three months with the next due in March 2017 – until all are in service here in 2021.

Per the 2016 Defence White Paper there is the further option of 3 airframes but that decision is yet to be made and there is plenty of time given the 2021 timeframe. Enhanced best practice early warning, surveillance and response capability combined with sustainability challenges is the reason the government has to replace the older Orion airframes.

The Hon Christopher Pyne, Minister for Defence industry, highlighted the AUD$400Million Squadron and Hangar maintenance facility which is being built opposite the existing apron area and in fact is very obvious to all observers.

Air Commodore Craig Heap, Commander Surveillance and Response Group, with more than 4,000hrs flying on P-3s (and who thinks it’s a fantastic aircraft) nevertheless commented on the issues with regard to maintenance and funding for continued Orion operations with No.10 Squadron which will now “own” the remaining airframes. 92 Wing will manage the type into retirement.

The P-8 has a number of advantages. Bringing across the best of modern civil airline technology from the 737 series, it incorporates a fully connected, state-of-the-art open architecture mission system and an excellent radar. It also has an electronics support warfare system to help isolate threats within a myriad of transmissions in the airspace in which it operates and a turret-mounted optical camera in the nose which will assist over water and land-based surveillance as has been pioneered with the P-3 in the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres (Middle East Area of Operations). Essentially this means it will be an extremely capable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft. While a range of 2200 nm radius is nominally comparable with the Orion, when operating at 1200nm (or 2200kms) from base, Poseidon actually achieves about the same time on task, about 4 hours at low level, such as on shipping patrols, search and rescue or hunting a submarine.

As Commander, Air Task Group during the search for MH370, Air Commodore Heap noted that the US Navy brought 4 P-8s to WA in their first real Search and Rescue (SAR) deployment – and they were going the furthest distance for the longest time. So going past the 2000km zone you actually get more time “on task” out of a P-8 than you would on a P-3. This is particularly relevant in the more remote Fisheries in the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone and also during extended range SAR missions (Think Tony Bullimore and company in the ’90s).

Doors are opened...

The new squadron stands up in the next couple of days. The new CO and his team have been learning to operate the new type in the states (Jacksonville Florida) and some have also been instructors in the US Navy. Three crews have already returned and are ready to fly Poseidon here. The plan is to conduct operational test and evaluation of the P-8 in Australia in a variety of missions into next year as USN has already proved the capability operationally. USN are interested in how we will operate the type here and is open to suggestions which may filter to rewriting of some procedures as RAAF feeds back to them based on their experiences. The multi-intelligence capability of Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicles being discussed in the Defence White Paper, means broader coverage and especially persistence at extreme range so the P-8 won’t have to do everything at once. The RAAF can cue these assets as the mission requires. It is more comfortable than the P-3 to fly in, very smooth – especially for the mission system operators at the back (who may be susceptible to air sickness – which is always an issue in P-3s down low). Being based around a different main spar, with higher military g-loadings, means the Poseidon stays very smooth and is a lot easier to operate in that space.

Wing Commander David Titheridge, CO 11 Squadron, in an exclusive interview with PHOTORECON, spoke on the uninterrupted history of 11SQN on show here today including the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society’s Consolidated Catalina and SP-2H Neptune, AP-3C Orion “Felix” (a nod to the famous “Black Cats” of WWII) and of course, the P-8A.

As Commander, single-aircraft, P-8 detachment, 11SQN (until assuming command of 11SQN in about two weeks), Wing Commander Titheridge reflects on commanding the first RAAF P-8 Squadron. “It’s about integrating a new system (not just an airframe to be taught to fly) and how it integrates as a new paradigm”. As part of the US-Australia Co-operative program, playing our part as an appropriate partner, specific roles envisaged by Australia are suggested to the US Navy who may write those into the capability for the aircraft and include in enhancements in the planned spiral upgrades.

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SAR is a core role for P-3, whereas the US Navy had that role in an itinerant nature as they also have a dedicated Coast Guard. While commonality will be maintained, USN will develop the aircraft. Quoting the Wing Commander; “…it’s about operating “like” platforms out of “like” bases with “like” support systems to get the most out of the cooperative nature of the Australian Maritime Patrol community and the US Maritime patrol fleet. It will be business as usual for the P-3 with 10 SQN, which has operated by the side of the P-8 squadrons for some time already”. With the P-3 phase out due by 2019, the Squadron of 8 P-8As should be online by 2018. P-3s will maintain the lions’ share of operations next year, then the balance shifts as P-8 becomes operational. When P-3 retires in 2019, trained-up instructors and maintenance teams will have had sufficient time to integrate into the P-8A airframe. It is noted that numbers of P-3s have already been retired and converted to components, given two squadrons have now become one. Reported airframes set aside for preservation (there may yet be others) are: A9-756 for the South Australian Aviation Museum and -751 for the RAAF Museum in December 2017: author. As an aside, for Avalon 2017, P-8 will be in attendance.

Expect P-8 to follow a similar concept of operations to P-3 with the main training, maintenance and operations systems to be at Edinburgh for 12-15 aircraft. Darwin, Northern Territory, will continue to be the persistent forward operations base for a P-8A detachment. This requires some further upcoming investment in order to independently operate out of Darwin. For example, providing an upgraded Operations Centre which can update the mission systems while on task. Critical situational awareness in real time indicates there are some pretty amazing capabilities there, and that sits well within the philosophy of Plan Jericho, Air Force’s drive to “exploit capabilities to their full potential”.

The Aircraft:
P-8A Poseidon, modified Boeing 737-800ERX
Manufactured by: Boeing Defence, Space and Security;
Mission: Maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and response (anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare), search and rescue capability;
Airframe: length 39.5 m, height 12.8 m, wingspan 37.6 m;
Propulsion: 2x CFM-56 High bypass turbofan engines;
Armament: Mk54 light-weight torpedoes, AGM-84 Harpoon Anti-ship missiles and self-protection suite. Bombs and mines are also mentioned in the literature.
Fuel: 34 Tonnes;
Crew: 2x Pilots, 2x Air Combat Officers, 6x Airborne Electronics analysts;
Range: 2,222km radius with four hours on station (10 hours total endurance), can ferry 7,400km; extendable with air-to-air refuelling;
Max speed: 907 km/h; operational 789 km/h;
Ceiling: 41,000ft (12.49 km).

My Thoughts:

During our tour of the aircraft it felt much like any 737 apart from the slightly out of place stores/weapons console. Seating included transit chairs and five console operators positions. Some equipment such as sonobuoy racks and mid-ship station digital screen featuring modes for “weapons and sonobuoys” did hint at a more assertive role for the aircraft. Given the larger amount of space in this airframe, it appears exceptionally roomy, compared today with a P-3.

The History:
11 Squadron: was formed as a general reconnaissance squadron at RAAF Base Richmond on 21 September, 1939. Following the retention of 10 Sqn and its Sunderland aircraft in the UK in late 1939, 11 Sqn promptly proceeded to Port Moresby with two ex-Qantas Empire flying boats, Centaurus and Calypso on patrol duties of northern Australia and islands immediately north as well as New Zealand waters. Thus 11 Sqn became the first RAAF unit to serve in New Guinea. In October, the squadron received two Supermarine Seagull V. 11 Sqn was to remain in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA) for the duration of hostilities.

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During 1941, while being re-equipped with Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina flying boats (aircraft A24-1 arrived on 19 March), the squadron flew from Port Moresby to bomb Japanese shipping at Rabaul in New Britain – by then the most powerful enemy base in the SWPA; to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands and Port Vila in the New Hebrides. Perhaps the only airframe to survive from this early period, the very historic A24-1 still existed for many years post-war at East Arm, Darwin, where it had been essentially dumped, having been lost on takeoff on 30 August, 1945.

In 1942, 11 Sqn moved to Cairns, where it made long range patrols over the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean. In late 1944, 11 Sqn moved again, to Rathmines on Lake Macquarie, near Newcastle, NSW. From there, the squadron performed one of its most successful missions when three Catalinas flew to the Philippines and mined Manila Harbour.

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Disbanded in 1946, 11 Sqn reformed in 1948 with Avro (GAF) Lincoln Mk.30 bombers at RAAF Base Amberley, Qld. The Squadron again disbanded in 1950, reforming later that year RAAF Base Pearce, WA. 11 Sqn transitioned to P2V-5 Neptune aircraft in 1951, beginning a long association with Lockheed maritime patrol aircraft. Operated until 1968, Neptunes were replaced with Lockheed P-3B Orions. 11 Sqn was presented with its own squadron standard in recognition for 25 years meritorious service by HRH Prince Phillip in 1970.

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The Lockheed P-3C Orion was first introduced into RAAF service in 1978 and is still the workhorse of the RAAF’s Surveillance and Response Group (SRG). The AP-3C upgraded Orions were introduced to service in 2002, fitted with a variety of sensors including digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures (ESM), electro optics detection (infra-red and visual), Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), Identification-Friend or Foe (IFF) and acoustic detection (sonobuoys). Currently, AP-3Cs conduct Search and Rescue, locating and attacking enemy submarines and ships using torpedoes and harpoon anti-shipping missiles, as well as the aforementioned ISR missions. 92 Wing is the umbrella Maritime Wing combining the two Maritime Squadrons, 10 and 11, providing economies in operations while enhancing training (under 292 training and support squadron) and deeper level maintenance at one base.

PHOTORECON would like to thank the following for making this report possible:
RAAF, Edinburgh RAAF Base, South Australia;
Wing Commander David Titheridge, CO 11 Squadron;
Jaimie Abbott, Comms Advisor, SRG,
Sara Tennant, Public Affairs Office / South Australia,
Simone Liebelt, RM, Public Affairs