Following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, United States Navy (USN) P-8A Poseidon crews assisted Texas and Louisiana Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief in search, rescue and reconnaissance missions. The P-8A aircraft were fitted with Search and Rescue (SAR) Kits, a critical capability enhancement initiated and funded by Australia.
Group Captain Debbie Richardson, Program Director overseeing the Department of Defence project responsible for Australia’s acquisition of the P-8A, Air7000 Phase 2B, explains Australia’s leadership in the development of this important capability:
“Australia is party to a number of agreements, including the United Nations Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, under which we are responsible for aeronautical, land and maritime SAR coordination services for our territories and seas.
“A key asset that enables the Royal Australian Air Force to meet its SAR requirements is the Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Response capability currently provided by the AP-3C Orion,” said GPCAPT Richardson.
“As the P-8A Poseidon will partially replace this capability, we based the P-8A’s SAR requirements on actual search and rescue operation tasks undertaken by the AP-3C Orion in recent time.”
As a result, Australia proposed that the P-8A must be capable of carrying five air droppable stores, each containing survival equipment and supplies for up to 20 people.
Australia’s participation in a cooperative program with the USN, for the joint purchase, support and further development of the P-8A, provided an opportunity for Australia to lead the development of a SAR capability for the platform. Following the loss of the MH370 aircraft on 08 March 2014, the USN determined that the integration of a SAR capability onto the P-8A was a high priority.
Australia’s leadership in driving this development has resulted in a search and rescue capability being available for deployment anywhere in the vast expanse of ocean surrounding Australia in a timeframe much faster than the venerable AP-3C.
USN Captain Molly Boron explains the role of the P-8A in supporting the recovery efforts in Texas:
“The UNI-PAC II SAR kit restores the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance community's ability to provide real assistance to those they find in need of rescue at sea.
“While the US Coast Guard (USCG) is the primary maritime rescue service, the P-8A (based on Boeing 737-800) is a natural at maritime search due to its primary mission of Anti-Submarine Warfare. Adding the rescue function to P-8A with the UNI-PAC II SAR kits is a force multiplier to USCG assets. The long endurance, communication suite and radar and camera sensor capabilities of the P-8A should make anyone in distress on the high seas or littorals breathe a sigh of relief when they see a grey 737 circling overhead.
“They will see the aircraft descend to low altitude, open the weapons bay doors, and launch down to them an orange package containing a raft and life-saving supplies ,” said CAPT Boron.
Project Air7000 Phase 2B is responsible for the acquisition of the P8-A Poseidon to partially replace the AP-3C Orion Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance & Response capability.
The P-8A’s primary roles will include the detection and response to naval surface and sub-surface threats, surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and rescue.
All 12 aircraft are planned for delivery to RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia by 2020, two years ahead of schedule.