Wellington's four new Poseidons will replace its existing fleet of P-3K2 Orion aircraft, which have been flying missions for the Royal New Zealand Air Force for nearly 60 years. The Orion is also an American aircraft, built by Lockheed.
The deal, announced by New Zealand Defense Minister Ron Mark on Monday, will enable New Zealand to carry out maritime surveillance, resource protection and disaster responses.
The aircraft will play a role in New Zealand's effort to improve diplomatic relations abroad, specifically the coalition government's "Pacific Reset," Mark said in news release. Wellington announced on May 8 that it would kick off the Pacific Reset program to boost international aid in the South Pacific, promising to contribute some $500 million over the next four years to the initiative.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters did not call out China by name when announcing the reset, the New Zealand Herald reported, but he noted that parts of the South Pacific are increasingly contested and that Wellington had its eyes "wide open" to these developments.
"We strongly believe in being part of a Pacific that is free from military competition, a Pacific that remains free from the shafts of strife and war that affect many other parts of the globe… put simply: If we're not there some other influence will be," Peters said May 8.
The US State Department approved the deal in April 2017 for a sticker price at the time of $1.46 billion.
New Zealand's Commonwealth neighbor Australia also recently moved to buy P-8A Poseidon aircraft as well as MQ-4 Triton remotely piloted aircraft from the US government.