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P-3 Orion

The P-3C is a land-based, long range anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol aircraft. It has advanced submarine detection sensors such as directional frequency and ranging (DIFAR) sonobuoys and magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) equipment. The avionics system is integrated by a general purpose digital computer that supports all of the tactical displays, monitors and automatically launches ordnance and provides flight information to the pilots. In addition, the system coordinates navigation information and accepts sensor data inputs for tactical display and storage. The P-3C can either operate alone or supporting many different customers including the carrier battlegroup and amphibious readiness group. The aircraft can carry a variety of weapons internally and on wing pylons, such as the Harpoon anti-surfacemissile, the MK-50 torpedo and the MK-60 mine.

Each Maritime Patrol Aviation (MPA) squadron has nine aircraft and is manned by approximately 60 officers and 250 enlisted personnel. Each 11-person crew includes both officer and enlisted personnel. The MPA squadrons deploys to sites outside the United States for approximately six months, and generally spends one year training at home between deployments.

In February 1959, the Navy awarded Lockheed a contract to develop a replacement for the aging P-2 Neptune. The P-3V Orion entered the inventory in July 1962, and over 30 years later it remains the Navy's sole land-based antisubmarine warfare aircraft. It has gone through one designation change (P-3V to P-3) and three major models: P-3A, P-3B, and P-3C, the latter being the only one now in active service. The last Navy P-3 came off the production line at the Lockheed plant in April 1990.

Since its introduction in 1969, the P-3C has undergone a series of configuration changes to implement improvements in various mission and aircraft systems through updates to the aircraft. These changes have usually been implemented in blocks referred to as "Updates." Update I, introduced in 1975, incorporated new data processing avionics and software, while Update II in 1977 featured an infrared detection system, a sonobuoy reference system, the Harpoon antiship missile and a 28-channel magnetic tape recorder/reproducer.

Technical Evaluation (TECHEVAL) for P-3C Update III Aircraft began in March 1981, and was completed in second quarter 1982. Force Warfare Test Directorate, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAVAIRWARCENACDIV), at Patuxent River, Maryland, conducted the TECHEVAL. Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VX-1) began Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) of the P-3C Update III Aircraft at NAVAIRWARCENACDIV Patuxent River in September 1981, and completed this phase of testing in January 1982. Provisional approval for service use was granted in July 1982. Approval for full production was received in January 1986 following Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation (FOT&E). The Update III Program was enhanced by a Channel Expansion (CHEX) Program. CHEX doubled the number of sonobuoy channels that can be processed and has been installed in all P-3C Update III Aircraft. The CHEX Program began in 1983 and the tested aircraft was delivered in April 1986. CHEX TECHEVAL was accomplished from March through June 1988.

The P-3C Update III Aircraft is manned by an 11-man crew composed of five officers and six enlisted. Enlisted crewmembers are selected from the following aviation ratings: Aviation Machinist's Mate (AD), Aviation Electrician's Mate (AE), Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman (AF), Senior Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic (AM), Aviation Structural Mechanic (Safety Equipment) (AME), Aviation Structural Mechanic (Hydraulics) (AMH), Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) (AMS), Aviation Electronics Technician (AT), and Aviation Warfare Systems Operator (AW). The operational concept for the P-3C Update III and P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft remains the same as previous updates to the P-3C Aircraft, to provide tactical surveillance, reconnaissance, strike support, fleet support and warning, and monitoring of electromagnetic signals of interest for intelligence analysis. Patrol squadrons operate with nine aircraft from established Naval Air Stations (NASs) world wide. The P-3C Update III and P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft continue the P-3C's capability of operating one or more aircraft from remote airfields with no organizational or intermediate support for short periods of time.

The P-3C Update III was introduced into the fleet during early 1985, and Aircraft Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was achieved in 1986. The P-3C Update III Aircraft is in the Production, Fielding, Deployment, and Operational Support Phase of the Weapon System Acquisition Process. The noteworthy additions and changes which comprised Update III, enhanced acoustic data processing capabilities and improved the sonobuoy communications suite. These changes included the Single Advanced Signal Processor System, Advanced Sonobuoy Communications Link Receiver, Adaptive Controlled Phased Array System, Electronic Support Measure (ESM) Set, Acoustic Test Signal Generator, CP-2044 Digital Data Computer, and changes to the Environmental Control System.

The P-3C Update III Anti-Surface Warfare Improvement Program [AIP] Aircraft will provide improvements in Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence; surveillance and OTH-T capabilities; and survivability, to include the Maverick Missile System. Delivery of the P-3C Update III Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW) Improvement Program (AIP) Aircraft to the fleet began 29 April 1998 and is scheduled to be complete at the close of FY00. The P-3C Update III AIP will be accomplished through the retrofit of P-3C Update III Aircraft that have the CP-2044 Digital Data Computer and AN/ALR-66B(V)3 Electronic Support Measures Set installed. Transition to the P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft began in April 1998. Since, as currently envisioned, squadrons will initially operate both the P-3C Update III and P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft, aircrew and maintenance personnel will require training for both aircraft configurations. Training track lengths will increase with the inclusion of the P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft information into existing training tracks. The P-3C Update III AIP Aircraft equipment includes:

NATO's Operation Allied Force marked the combat debut of the P-3C Antisurface Warfare Improvement Program (AIP). The Mediterranean maritime patrol force for these operations included ten P-3Cs, five of the AIP variant, and 14 crews from Patrol Squadrons 1, 4, 5 and 10 from Naval Air Stations Whidbey Island, Barbers Point, Jacksonville and Brunswick, respectively. On March 22, two days before the start of hostilities, P-3C AIP aircraft began flying around-the-clock armed force protection surveillance flights in the Adriatic Sea in direct support of afloat Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) shooting ships. For the next 94 days, Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) provided 100 percent of the Surface Combat Air Patrols (SUCAP) for the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Battle Group and other allied ships operating in the area. This marked the first time surface combat air patrols during actual combat operations have been performed exclusively by non-carrier organic aircraft.

CTF-67 AIP-equipped P-3ís were able to directly observe commercial contraband ships as well as Yugoslav boats and ships moored at coastal sites and underway. The images were downlinked to the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group commander, giving the battle group an unprecedented real-time and near real-time view of the tactical situation. In all, CTF-67 aircraft detected and reported over 3,500 surface contacts. In another first, AIP-equipped P-3ís fired a total of 14 Standoff Land Attack Missiles (SLAMs) at Serb targets. Because of the P-3ís ability to stay on-station for hours at a time, battle group commanders had the flexibility to hit mobile targets on short notice. This in-flight planning/re-targeting ability for SLAM strikes validated the importance of the P-3ís strike role.

The Counter Drug Update Equipment update is a Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) identified urgent requirement to equip a limited number of active and reserve P-3C Update III Aircraft with a RORO capability to install all or selected systems to counter narcotic trafficking operations. Counter Drug Update systems include:

ECP-315 addresses the design, manufacture, and installation of aircraft wiring provisions for AFC-563 kits in 32 aircraft (18 active and 14 reserve). Ten active and five reserve RORO kits are provided for AN/AVX-1 and 10 RORO kits for AN/APG-66 (active duty aircraft only). ECP-391, Project Rigel, addressed the design, manufacture, and installation of aircraft wiring provision kits in 18 active aircraft and eight RORO kits.

The Sustained Readiness Program (SRP) provides for the preemptive replacement of airframe components and systems identified as having potential for significant impact on future aircraft availability because of excessive time to repair, obsolescence, component manufacturing lead time, or cost impact. The SRP kit is comprised of a set of core installations and repairs that must be performed on each aircraft and a set of conditional installations and repairs. The need for the conditional installations and repairs will be determined by inspections performed on each aircraft as it is inducted. In addition, the fuel quantity system will be replaced with a Digital Fuel Quantity System (DFQS). The first SRP aircraft under went modification and was completed in first quarter FY97.

The Electronic Flight Display System (EFDS) is an updated version of the Flight Display System (FDS). It is defined as the flight instrument, associated controls, and its interface to the aircraft, and is designed to provide the pilot, co-pilot, or Navigation/Communication (NAV/COMM) Officer with a comprehensive, unambiguous presentation of navigation information adequate for both worldwide tactical and non-tactical navigation. The display unit uses a flat panel domestic Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Display (AMLCD). The FDS functionally replaces the P-3 electro-mechanical Horizontal Situation Indicator (ID-1540/A), electro-mechanical Flight Director Indicators (FDI) (ID-1556), selected functions of the Navigation Availability Advisory Lights, and integrates GPS navigation with the flight instruments. Additional information such as navigational aid waypoint locations, GPS annunciation, and FDS status pages are also displayed.

Due to the high operational expense of the Inertial Navigation Unit currently installed, a Replacement Inertial Navigation Unit (RINU) has become necessary. The RINU will be installed coincidental with the EFDS and training will be developed to include both systems.

The Navy periodically conducts service life assessment programs to reevaluate its fatigue damage accrual estimate, flight hour limits, and operational availability and reliability. Based on these assessments, the P-3's service life limit hasincreased from 7,500 flight hours to 20,000. Over the years, the Navy found that P-3 flying patterns were not as severe as had been assumed.The original limit was based on conservative assumptions about in-flight stresses (e.g. maneuvers and payload), while the higher limit reflectedactual operating experience and more modern analysis of the original fatigue test data. The Navy periodically reevaluates flight hour limits, or, more accurately, the fatigue damage accrual rate from which it derives flight hour limits. Preliminary analysis in the early 1990s indicated that the 20,000 hour limit for the P-3 could be extended to 24,000 hours or more, which represents an additional 6 years of service life atcurrent usage rates. The extension may be lessened if other factors such as corrosion or cost of operation and maintenancebecome unmanageable. Using the Navy's retirementprojection methodology and assuming a 24,000 Right hour limit, the fleet size would remain at 249 aircraft through the decade and drop to 239 by fiscal year 2005.

On 12 March 1999 Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, Marietta GA, was awarded a $30,205,495 cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to conduct Phase II and III of the service life assessment program (SLAP) being conducted for the P-3C aircraft. The primary purpose of the SLAP is to assess the fatigue life and damage tolerance characteristics of the P-3C airframe, and to identify structural modifications required in an effort to attain the 2015 service life goal.


Primary Function Antisubmarine warfare(ASW)/Antisurface warfare (ASUW)
Contractor Lockheed
P-3A P-3B (L) P-3B (H) P-3C
Date Deployed August 1962 August 1969
Power Plant Four T56-A-10
Allison turbo prop
4,300 horsepower each
Four T56-A-14
Allison turbo prop
4,600 horsepower each
Maximum gross weight 127,500 lbs 127,500 lbs 139,760 lbs 139,760 lbs
Endurance 10-13 hr 10-13 hr 10-13 hr 10-13 hr
Crew composition 5 - minimum flight crew
11 - normal crew
21 - maximum accomodation
Cruise speed (average) 330 knots 330 knots 330 knots 330 knots
Fuel capacity (approximate) 60,000 lbs 60,000 lbs 60,000 lbs 60,000 lbs
Fuel consumption (lb/hr) 4000-5000 4000-5000 4000-5000 4000-5000
Unit Cost $36 million (FY 1987)
Armament up to around 20,000 pounds (9 metric tons) internal and external loads

Bomb Bay:

Two Center-Section Pylons:
Three Under Outer Wing Pylons,
[Per Wing -Inboard to Outboard):
A total maximum weapon load includes
    6 2,000 lb mines under wings
    2 MK 101 depth bombs
    4 MK 50 torpedoes
    87 sonobuoys
    pyrotechnics, signals,


External Dimensions

Wing span 30.37 m
Wing chord (at root) 5.77 m
Wing chord (at tip) 2.31 m
Wing aspect ratio 7:5
Length overall 35.61 m
Height overall 10.27 m
Fuselage diameter 3.45 m
Tailplane span 13.06 m
Wheel Track (c/l shock absorbers) 9.50 m
Wheel base 9.07 m
Propeller diameter 4.11 m
Cabin door (height) 1.83 m
Cabin door (width) 0.69 m

Internal Dimensions

Cabin, excl flight deck and electrical load center:  
Length 21.06 m
Maximum width 3.30 m
Maximum height 2.29 m
Floor area m2
Volume 120.6 m


Wings, gross 3120.77 m2
Ailerons (totals) 8.36 m2
Trailing-edge flaps (total) 19.32 m2
Fin, including dorsal fin 10.78 m2
Rudder, including tab 5.57 m2
Tailplane 22.39 m2
Elevators, including tabs 7.53 m2

Weights and Loadings

Weight empty 27,890 kg
Maximum fuel weight 28,350 kg
Maximum expendable load 9,071 kg
Maximum normal T-O weight 61,235 kg
Design zero-fuel weight 35,017 kg
Maximum landing weight 47,119 kg
Maximum wing loading 507.0 kg/m
Maximum power loading 4.18 kg/kW


P-3B/C at maximum T-O weight (except where indicated otherwise):  
Maximum level speed at 4,575 meters at AUW of 47,625 kg 411 knots
Econ cruising speed at 7,620 m at AUW of 48,895 kg 328 knots
Patrol speed at 457 m at AUW of 49,895 kg Rate of climb at 457 m
Time to 7,620 meters 594 min.
Service ceiling 30 min.
Service ceiling , OEI 8,625 meters
T-O run 5,790 meters
T-O to 15 miles 1,290 meters
Landing from 15 meters at
design landing weight 1,673 meters
1,673 meters
Mission radius (3 h on station at 457 m; 1,500 ft) 845 nautical miles
Maximum mission radius (no time on station) at 61,235 kg 1,345 nautical miles
Ferry range 2,070 nautical miles
Maximum endurance at 4,575 meters on two engines 17 h 12 min
Maximum endurance at 4,575 meters on four engines 12 h 20 min


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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Monday, December 27, 1999 5:25:18 PM