CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister on Wednesday took delivery of the air force's first Boeing P-8A surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft which will take a front-line role in preventing asylum seekers from reaching the Australian coast by boat.
The Royal Australian Air Force will receive 12 of the modified Boeing 737 jets by March 2020 for 5 billion Australian dollars ($3.8 billion). The plane will take over the coastal surveillance role that the Lockheed P-3 Orion has carried out since 1968.
"These aircraft will be absolutely critical elements in the work of Australia's border protection forces ... ensuring that we can continue to say that it is only the Australian government that determines who comes to Australia," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Canberra air force base.
Australia expects a new wave of asylum seekers to come from Indonesia by boat after a weekend announcement that the United States had agreed to resettle up to 1,600 refugees who have languished at Australia's expense for up to three years in Pacific island camps.
Australia refuses to resettle any refugee who has arrived by boat since the date the tough policy was announced on July 19, 2013. Australia pays Nauru and Papua New Guinea to house boat arrivals from Africa, Middle East and Asia.
No people smuggling operation has successfully delivered asylum seekers to Australia by boat since July 2014, but the navy has turned back 29 boats to Indonesia.
Australia has increased air and sea surveillance between Australia and Indonesia to ensure that any new smuggling attempt was intercepted.