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Australia to upgrade maritime surveillance fleet in $965m deal

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Government to acquire new Triton drone and improve its fleet of 14 Poseidon aircraft amid renewed focus on northern bases.

The Australian government has said it will buy a new drone and upgrade existing patrol and response aircraft in a 1.5 billion Australian dollar ($964.88m) deal to enhance its maritime surveillance capabilities.

The military will buy a fourth MQ-4C Triton drone and upgrade the air force’s existing fleet of 14 P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, Pat Conroy, minister for defence industry, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Triton will be delivered in 2024 and be based in northern Australia.

The aircraft upgrades will provide enhancements to anti-submarine warfare, maritime strike and intelligence collection capabilities, the statement said.

The first Poseidon will enter the upgrade programme in 2026, with the final aircraft to be completed in 2030.

“The purchase of an additional Triton will enhance operations from Australia’s northern bases,” Conroy said, noting that those bases were one of six priorities in the country’s review of its defence strategy.

“The upgrades to the fleet of Poseidon aircraft strengthens our ability to secure and protect Australia’s maritime interests,” he added.

Australia is overhauling its defences amid rising tension in East Asia – particularly over the self-ruled island of Taiwan and disputed South China Sea – and as China forges ahead with the modernisation of its military.

The Australian Air Force has a fleet of 14 Poseidon aircraft [Courtesy of Royal Australian Air Force/Ministry of Defence]

Australia is also looking to deepen collaboration with countries in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific as well as the United States and the United Kingdom, with which it formed the AUKUS trilateral security alliance in September 2021.

Under that agreement, Australia will acquire three nuclear-powered submarines with the three countries also working together in areas such as artificial intelligence capabilities, hypersonic weapons and other advanced technologies.

Conroy said the Northrop Grumman-built Triton was being developed and acquired by the Australian Defence Force in cooperation with the US Navy.

It would be based at the RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory and operated by the newly reformed Number 9 Squadron, located at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.

A maintenance team would be positioned at each base to service the drone fleet, he added.

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