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Burton signs Orion upgrade contract

5 October 2004

Burton signs Orion upgrade contract

With final negotiations completed and the contract signed, work can begin next year on a major upgrade of New Zealand’s P-3 Orion aircraft fleet.

At the signing ceremony today with US firm L-3/IS Communications Integrated Systems, Defence Minister Mark Burton said that this $352 million project was another significant step in re-equipping all three services of the NZDF.

“Since the 2002 release of the Defence Long-Term Development Plan, 22 major re-equipment projects have been advanced. They include investments in seven new purpose-built naval vessels, a 15-year life extending upgrade of our C-130 Hercules aircraft, the purchase of two 757-200 jet aircraft to replace our ageing 727s, and the recent acquisition of a new fleet of Light Operational Vehicles.

“Our Orion fleet is critical for surveillance of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone and surrounding waters, as well as meeting our South Pacific obligations. The Orions are also used for search and rescue operations, and were recently deployed to the Arabian Sea area in support of the international campaign against terrorism.”

Mark Burton noted that the upgrades had been developed from a whole-of-government approach, involving extensive consultation with a range of government agencies to ensure that the planes will meet both military and civilian agency requirements.

The mission systems and communication and navigation equipment will both be upgraded together, with the two projects running in parallel to maximise efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The mission systems upgrade involves the installation of new imaging radar electronic sensor equipment (video and infrared camera), and mission management systems. The upgrade of the communications and navigation will ensure the aircraft are able to comply with pending mandatory global air traffic regulations. The upgrades also include ground-based support and training facilities.

“This government has been committed from day one to building a modern, sustainable, well-equipped Defence Force, and this investment in our P-3 fleet is another clear example of that commitment. This upgrade will ensure interoperability with our security partners, allow New Zealand to participate in a range of operations, and provide support to the Defence Force’s other maritime and land force elements,” said Mark Burton.

Contact: Jenny Alexander, 04 471 9773 or 021 887 087 For images, contact: Squadron Leader James Martin, 04 4711206

Questions and answers about the P-3 Orions

What do the P-3 Orions do?

The Orions play an important part in the surveillance of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and surrounding waters, the Southern Ocean and the Ross Sea. The aircraft are also used to meet our South Pacific search and rescue obligations and assisting with EEZ surveillance. The Orions can also contribute to regional and global security, such as their recently completed deployment to the Arabian Sea area in support of the international campaign against terrorism.

How has today’s security environment changed surveillance requirements?

Today’s security environment includes security risks such as:

terrorism drug trafficking illegal immigration, and illegal fishing.

Managing these risks requires a range of government agencies to work together. The P3 Orion project has been developed through consultations with many government agencies, ensuring that the aircraft will provide a high quality, integrated surveillance capability, with the ability to share information in real-time.

Maritime patrol aircraft, such as the Orion, have traditionally been used primarily to conduct maritime surveillance operations. It is now increasingly regarded as a multi-role aircraft. Once upgraded, its ability to support both maritime and land operations will significantly enhance the NZDF’s ability to achieve a range of policy objectives.

Why upgrade the Orions?

Upgrading the Orion’s mission systems is the second phase of a life extension programme for New Zealand’s long-range aerial surveillance capability. The first phase involved structural refurbishment, and was completed in 2001.

Much of the existing equipment onboard the P-3, such as the radar and electro-optical systems, is largely obsolete and needs to be replaced. The current systems will not comply with future changes to air traffic management regulations, which require modern communication and navigations systems.

What does the upgrade include?

The upgrade is a combination of two projects on the Defence Long-Term Development Plan (LTDP): the P-3 Mission Systems Upgrade and the P-3 Communications and Navigation Systems Upgrade. These two projects are closely related and are being completed together to maximise efficiency and reduce project complexity, risk, and cost.

The core of the upgrade will see the P-3 Orions equipped with high quality radar and electronic sensors, which are fundamental to meeting the requirements of multiple agencies. They enable the detection, location and classification of many contacts at distance, improving patrol effectiveness and efficiency, and the collection of quality imagery that supports identification and monitoring of vessels and evidence gathering.

The sensors will be linked to the mission management system. This enables the crew to operate the sensors and correlate sensor information in space and time based on navigation data. The system also enables information to be recorded, analysed and processed onboard the aircraft before being transmitted to agencies and other patrol assets.

To support the sensors and mission management system, a ground-based support system will be included in the upgrade. This will provide the data libraries, software support and basic training facility.

Other equipment includes:

New imaging radar: a modern, multi-mode, imaging system developed for use on maritime patrol aircraft. The radar system includes maritime search, imaging, and navigation and weather avoidance modes. It will be able to detect a range of contacts, including small maritime vessels, aircraft and vehicles

Electronic sensor: including three imaging systems which allow colour video imagery, a high magnification capability, and the ability to generate video images of scenes at night

Mission management system: enables the crew to operate the sensors and correlate sensor information based on navigation data. The information can be recorded, analysed, and processed onboard the aircraft before being transmitted to agencies and other patrol assets

Mission trainer: utilises a replica of the aircraft workstations and has provisions for all mission system control panels

Communications: existing internal communications, radio, and encryption equipment will be replaced with modern systems which transfer voice, data, and images

Flight Deck Digitisation: modern digital navigation equipment will be installed to meet future changes to air traffic management regulations, and

Flight deck trainer: simulator to conduct flight crew training. The flight deck trainer will be connected to the mission trainer to provide complete crew training capability. Currently, there is no ability for the flight deck crew to train together with the mission crew. This feature will significantly enhance the level of preparedness and improve crew availability.

What is the timeframe for the upgrade?

Upgrading the Orion is a complex process. The design, development, installation, testing and certification of the prototype aircraft will take more than three years.

Early installation of the electro-optics system is scheduled to begin in late 2005. This installation on three aircraft will provide a significant increase in visual and infrared detection capabilities as an interim benefit prior to the delivery of the full upgrade.

Work on the full modification for the first aircraft will commence in early 2006, with delivery scheduled for mid 2008. The first aircraft will be modified at L-3’s facility in Greenville, Texas.

Safe Air Ltd, an L-3’s subcontractor, will modify the second to sixth aircraft in Blenheim. The sixth aircraft is scheduled for completion in 2010.

What will be the implications of having aircraft out of service?

Upgrading the aircraft should have minimal impact on routine aerial patrol operations, as was the case during the structural refurbishment programme. Sufficient aircraft will be available to cover aerial patrol requirements around New Zealand and in the South Pacific.

What will the Orion upgrade cost?

The cost of the project approved by Cabinet is NZ$352 million. This fits within the Defence Long Term Development Plan.

How will the upgrade enable the Orions to meet contemporary surveillance requirements?

The upgraded aircraft will be able to detect, locate, identify, and monitor contacts and their activity at distance. This improved capability will enable information to be exchanged with other aircraft, ships (such as the new patrol vessels), and defence and government agency headquarters.

Is anti-submarine warfare equipment included in the upgrade?

No. The purpose of this upgrade is to enhance the Orion’s ability to conduct a wide range of surface surveillance tasks, and to meet international air traffic control requirements.

Will the upgraded Orions be interoperable with our security partners?

Yes. The Orions will have a similar suite of sensors to the maritime patrol aircraft operated by our main security partners. They will also have a range of communications systems capable of sharing information with other forces. These capabilities will ensure that the aircraft are fully interoperable and able to work closely with our security partners

Are there any other projects for the Orions?

Three other projects on the LTDP are closely linked to the Orions. These are the anti-ship missile, C-130/P-3 self-protection, and NZDF torpedo replacement projects. They are the next stage in a programme to progressively upgrade the Orions to meet the Government’s defence policy objectives.

How will this project link up with Project Protector?

The Government's decision to proceed with a full upgrade of the P-3 mission and communications and navigations systems, together with the recent signing of the contract for the Protector fleet, represents a significant enhancement of New Zealand's ability to patrol its exclusive economic zone, the Southern Ocean and the Ross Sea and to assist with the protection of our Pacific neighbours' EEZ.

In addition, both projects, taken together will provide New Zealand with enhanced capabilities that will be able to provide more effective and efficient surveillance coverage of New Zealand's maritime interests.

What jobs will the project create for New Zealand Industry?

L-3 Communications Integrated Systems intends to make extensive use of two New Zealand companies: Safe Air Limited and Beca Applied Technologies. L-3 proposes using Safe Air to undertake the upgrade for the second to sixth aircraft and Beca Applied Technologies to assist with the initial software development.


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