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Turnbull launches new spy in the sky

AAP logoAAP 16/11/2016 Max Blenkin

High in the sky the prime minister and immigration minister have learned firsthand how the RAAF can better detect enemy submarines or people smuggler boats.

Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton flew from Avalon to Canberra aboard the RAAF's newest acquisition, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, with crew members briefing them on the aircraft's advanced surveillance capabilities.

RAAF chief Air Marshal Leo Davies, who shared the flight, said the aircraft's mission system operators showed Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton just what the aircraft can do.

"They were really excited. They were talking about 'I can do this now and I was not able to do that on a P-3.' It's a really exciting story," he told reporters.

This aircraft, which arrived from the US on Tuesday, is the first of 15 Poseidons which will replace the RAAF's 19 Lockheed AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft from 2019.

Poseidon is based on the widely used Boeing 737 airliner. It looks similar to aircraft flown by Qantas and Virgin except it's painted grey and is dotted with small antennae, indicating the advanced electronics inside.

Mr Turnbull said this was a cutting edge surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft which would dominate the skies around the nation's coastline.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton © AAP Image/Mick Tsikas Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton

"It will greatly enhance our ability to keep our borders secure and guard maritime approaches," he said.

Mr Dutton said the work to stare down people smugglers was enduring.

"The additional capacity with the P-8s will very much enhance the opportunity in the work we are doing in Operation Sovereign Borders," he said.

As well as advanced day and night cameras and a radar, P-8 also possesses a very advanced capability to detect and classify other people's radar and monitor their communications.

So doesn't that suggest it could also serve as a spy plane?

"We use all of the systems on board to get as much of the picture to allow us to do the job we need to do. Sometimes that will be ESM (electronic support measures) systems and electronic warfare. Sometimes it will be radar," Air Marshal Davies said.

As well, the aircraft features windows for visual search using the human eyeball.

"That will still be an important part of what we do. P8 brings the technology to the far end but we still need to look out the window," he said.

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