• (Credit: Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA))
    (Credit: Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA))

As part of the recently expanded Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP) Defence is preparing to implement what it calls the Enhanced Aerial Surveillance Program (EASP). Through the existing program, funded by Defence, Technology Service Corporation (TSC), operates two Beechcraft 200 Super King Air aircraft on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). The enhanced program will not only replace these aircraft with larger and more capable models, but supplement the capability with small drones launched from ships. 

The Aerial Surveillance Program was created in 2018 as part of the Pacific Step-Up initiative to enhance the FFA’s organic Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Previously the FFA and its 17 member states had entirely relied on aircraft provided by the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordinating Group (PQUAD) which comprises Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States.

Under the current contract, which will be extended through to the fourth quarter of 2024, TSC provides the FFA with approximately 1,440 surveillance hours each year at a cost to Defence of $12 million annually. This figure was doubled to $24 million in the most recent budget as part of a broader $1.4 billion security package for the Pacific. However, as with the rest of the package, Defence will need to find savings from within the current budget. 

To expedite the delivery of new capabilities the program has been divided in two. The immediate priority, with a formal approach to market scheduled for the third quarter of 2023, is the procurement of small commercial drones for use aboard Guardian-class patrol boats. The drones will be provided to partner countries as part of a larger package that includes training and sustainment support. 

The second component is focused on replacing the current aircraft with a larger fleet of multi-role platforms. Among various improvements, the new fleet of aircraft will feature greater endurance, speed and carrying capacity, as well as a lavatory. Pacific countries have indicated their preference for significantly enhanced sensor, data-sharing and search and rescue capabilities. An approach to market is expected early next year.

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