PAGC2301 Asia Pacific DefenceThe centenary of the founding of Wigram Air Base in Christchurch was celebrated on 17 June. Although it is no longer an active base, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) got in on the action by planning a flypast with representation from its entire fleet of aircraft. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, the aerial parade was cancelled.

Nonetheless, Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Clark, Chief of Air Force, was at Wigram for the centennial celebrations. During the event, he spoke to Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter about the status of the air force, which was simultaneously celebrating 100 years of organised military aviation in New Zealand. The New Zealand Permanent Air Force was gazetted on 14 June 1923, initially staffed by just four officers and two other ranks as full-time staff.

The RNZAF was later officially founded in 1937 with approximately 200 personnel. Today, the RNZAF contains 2,390 full-time members and 454 reservists. AVM Clark outlined two main roles for the modern RNZAF. One is maritime surveillance over the nation’s “enormous maritime area”, while the second role is transport.

The RNZAF’s newest asset is the P-8A Poseidon, ordered under an NZ $2.346 billion (US $1.6 billion) contract signed on 9 July 2018. The first aircraft arrived on 12 December 2022, the second in March and the latest on 19 May. The RNZAF chief revealed that the quartet’s final member will be delivered in July.

“You know, the role of the P-8 is right in the same niche as the P-3. When I ask, why did the P-3 last for us for 57 years, why was it so successful? It’s because it really did two things for us. One is it had that contingent military capability. Fundamentally, we’re a defence force, we’re an air force, and we’ve got to be ready to get into harm’s way and be involved in a security or defence environment and the P-3 did that. But the other thing that it had was the daily, weekly utility to patrol New Zealand’s EEZ, the South Pacific fisheries and so on. Search and rescue. So it’s kind of a do everything aeroplane, but also able to get involved in the gnarlier stuff when it’s required.”

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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