Will the RNZAF’s new turbo prop Hawker Pacific King Air 350s fill part of the role identified in the 2019 Defence Capability Plan for civil maritime security?
The King Airs already train the air force’s new navigator and air warfare officers at Ohakea. Now one has been identified at the Hawker Pacific base in Australia with what resembles a maritime surveillance radome on the lower fuselage.
The 2019 plan says the maritime security strategy will provide
“ … air surveillance capabilities that enhance all-of-Government maritime domain awareness in NZ and the Southern Ocean. The capabilities delivered through this investment will be dedicated to civil surveillance requirements, with Defence support for their delivery and operation.”
The intention is to free up the new Boeing P-8A Poseidons to fly more missions in the South Pacific and further afield. Investment in a range of capabilities will be considered, including satellite surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles and traditional fixed-wing surveillance aircraft.
The King Air 350 is attracting global attention from smaller air forces as an economical effective approach to inshore surveillance with operating costs a fraction of the Orions – and even more so than the P-8As. If reports from Australia are correct, then the King Air could fulfil a good part of the role.
Our report on the US State Department’s approval of the sale of five Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules to NZ has generated interest among readers. Some have noted that despite the good news, the RNZAF lacks a smaller tactical air transport.
Thirty years ago and even before, this was filled by the Bristol Freighter and the HS Andover which could operate into smaller and unprepared airfields around NZ and Pacific. After the Kaikoura earthquake, a couple of air force officers experienced in tactical transport calculated that the existing airfield and highway could have been used by either the old Freighter or the Andover to move people and freight faster and cheaper than the helicopters.
The Australians recognise the importance of this role and use the Italian Alenia C-27J which are frequently seen exercising in NZ and heavily used in the field. However, our Defence contacts note that with a limited Vote:Defence, some tasks have to be left undone.