• The P-8A Poseidon taxis for take-off on a mission at Australia's main operating base in the Middle East.
    The P-8A Poseidon taxis for take-off on a mission at Australia's main operating base in the Middle East. Defence

The deployment of a RAAF P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the Middle East has successfully concluded with the aircraft returning to Australia.

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said this deployment was a ‘targeted and meaningful’ element of Australia’s broader contribution to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC).

The IMSC was set up by the Trump administration in response to Iranian provocations in the Strait of Hormuz, a pattern of behaviour that began after the US unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear treaty with Iran and re-imposed economic sanctions.

“Over the last month, the P-8A Poseidon aircraft has provided valuable maritime surveillance and reconnaissance to support the coalition partners in the IMSC,” Minister Reynolds said. “It is now time for the Poseidon to return home, having played a key role in supporting freedom of navigation and the free flow of shipping, which is crucial to regional security and stability.”

The deployment was the first time the aircraft had operated in the Middle East region. The aircraft will now contribute to maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties around Australia.

A small number of ADF personnel will continue to provide liaison, planning and coordination support to the IMSC headquarters, and a RAN Anzac class frigate will deploy to the Middle East in January 2020 for approximately six months, in support of Australia’s contribution to the IMSC and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).

The CMF is the US-led maritime coalition against terrorism, piracy and drug smuggling.

The Australian government was criticised in some quarters for acquiescing to the US request to join the IMSC. Only three other states have done so – the UK, the UAE and Bahrain. Critics argued that the deployment distracted from more pressing Indo-Pacific issues and undermined the credibility of the rules-based order by endorsing a unilateral US strategy that seems to have created more geopolitical fires than it has put out.

Yet the return of the single P8-A Poseidon after just 30 days highlights the symbolic nature of the deployment, which will now involve ADF assets that were headed to the Middle East anyway under a long-standing counter-piracy commitment.

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