Two Royal New Zealand Air Force UH-1H Iroquois helicopters have been loaded on to a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 for deployment to Papua New Guinea, with a third to follow on a further C-17 on Friday.
New Zealand and Australia are providing support to the Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission and authorities to ensure a fair, free and safe general election.
The NZ Defence Force is supporting the Australian Defence Force-led Combined Joint Task Force 630, where over 250 Australian and New Zealand personnel will assist the Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission in the transportation of election material and election officials to and from remote areas.
Deputy Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, New Zealand Lieutenant Colonel David de Koning, says the arrival of No. 3 Squadron signals the start of an intense period of operations in support of the election. The total number of NZ Defence Force personnel involved will be 40.
"No. 3 Squadron will operate through Northern Province and Milne Bay transporting election officials and materials into the more remote villages. They have a lot of work to do over a very short period of time to help ensure the people on the ground get their opportunity to vote."
Four Australian Army Black Hawks helicopters, as well as Royal Australian Air Force B350 King Airs and C-130 Hercules, and a Royal Australian Navy Landing Craft Heavy have also been assigned to the operation. A small number of personnel have also been working with the Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission for several months in a planning role.
No. 3 Squadron has just returned from Ex TROPIC ASTRA, an annual tropical flying exercise in Samoa. Detachment Commander, Wing Commander Shaun Clark, says the deployment to Papua New Guinea comes at an ideal time with 3 Squadron personnel having just exercised their skills in a tropical environment.
"The terrain and weather in Papua New Guinea will present some challenging flying for the aircrew, particularly when operating to the villages in the mountains. The isolation of Tufi means that the maintenance team have no access to external support or equipment. They will be relying solely on what we bring into theatre when we deploy."
New Zealand and Australia are committed to working together maintaining stability and promoting good governance in the Pacific.
"We are looking forward to working with the Australians to assist Papua New Guinea authorities. The NZ Defence Force has a long history, working closely with our Australian partners building interoperability," adds Wing Commander Clark.
"It has been several years since 3 Squadron last deployed on an overseas operation, so everyone is excited about the opportunity."