Lockheed P-3 Orion Maritime Aircraft for the Philippine Armed Forces?

The Philippine Navy has just improved its maritime surveillance capabilities with the help of the Japanese as they were supplanted by TC-90 Beechcraft King Air patrol aircraft to help the country have its territorial and extra-territorial waters at check. Now, with more plans getting place especially to the augmentation of more patrol aircraft, the Defense Department is opting for this valuable aircraft that means something for protecting the country and its interest.

Image: A Brazilian Air Force P-3 Orion, Modernized. Image Source.
In this report provided by the Philippine News Agency, Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed interest to purchase even at least one unit of P-3 Orion from the United States through the Excess Defense Articles Program, the same process that the Philippines underwent before on the purchase of additional C-130s and the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels which increases the capability of the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy respectively in terms of additional transport capabilities and patrol of the country's waters.

It is worth taking note that the P-3 Orion they are opting shall be retained its original components and shall not be removed unlike those of the Del Pilar vessels in which its components such as the Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) were removed. The primary aim for this purchase, as the patrol suggests pertains more to the improvement of the country's maritime domain awareness in which it goes in line of providing enforced presence and patrol to the national territory and the waters surrounding it which is essential for the country's economy, national security, maritime safety, and the environment. This means that obtaining such aircraft means a lot when it comes to the patrol of the national coastlines in a way that it plays a factor for the country's sovereignty and development in such a manner that it will complement the roles of other units involved such as the Philippine Coast Guard vessels doing their mandate as well as the surface offshore patrol vessels of the Philippine Navy.

While the plans of procuring such asset is a welcoming thing, one may ask: How ideal and feasible is for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to have this asset for the country to have? What does a single unit mean for maintenance and the logistics chain for spare parts? Given that this is a second-hand asset, what approaches do other countries have in obtaining and maintaining these assets at a tip-top shape? These questions will be thoroughly discussed in this article as obtaining them plays a role in surveillance capabilities that are needed to put the country's archipelagic setup at check.


Throughout the years, the Lockheed P-3 Orion plays this essential anti-submarine role to the countries that have utilized it especially the United States that obtains a number of its units in their inventory. Currently. it is in service in 18 countries wherein Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States are among the notable users in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Developed in 1962, the P-3 Orion is the byproduct of an ever-growing submarine technology that is being utilized by rivals of the Cold War which is the United States and the then-Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR. This is said to be the successor of the lesser-capable P-2 Neptune in which it was developed by the same company that developed the P-3 Orion which is Lockheed. The basis of the development of its airframe derived from a passenger airliner that Lockheed produced which is the L-188 Electra. 

Speaking of the L-188 Electra turboprop passenger aircraft, it is notable aircraft on its field where at that time before the introduction of passenger jet airliners, it is this large American turboprop airliner which is tainted of problems at that time where it was shadowed by the more sophisticated jet airliners being introduced on that period. 

Nevertheless, it is still becoming the basis for the P-3 Orion's design to obtain where at present is still in service among the countries and the armed forces it serves. Take note that the P-3 in itself is a more successful iteration of the L-188 line of aircraft where it surpassed its predecessor in terms of service life where while it became obsolete in the airline industry, its usefulness can still be seen through the service of these antisubmarine aircraft in various armed forces of the world.

Throughout its service life, upgrades were made to put these antisubmarine platforms up-to-date in terms of assessing threats so as its spectrum gets a bit more sophisticated across the timeline. In other words, it is constantly being enhanced to keep its role up to the current ones such as to eliminate modern threats looming to harm national security at the present date.

The USQ-78 (V) upgrades and the COP or Critical Obsolescence Program in the United States are several of these examples as old equipment is being replaced as well as having their configuration modified to improve its capability in line with its role within the armed forces.


Since its development, the Lockheed P-3 Orion is still being employed in several countries like Taiwan in this example here where they were in the deal with the United States on the refurbishment of 12 Taiwanese P-3 Orions which may involve upgrades in which at that time is a necessity for the island nation to have since they are facing the threat from the Mainland Communist China's desire to retake the territory occupied by the Republic of China even though violent means as part of their goal to reunite their nation under the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party.

Now, in parallel from the Taiwanese down to the Philippine desire to acquire a second-hand P-3 from the United States - what makes this aircraft so highly important that these nations have the intentions for purchasing them? The answer may lie to its capability as an antisubmarine aircraft wherein as employed within the United States Navy, its performance and reliability may be seen as a credible thing to see in which it can be armed with various weapons fit as desired by the said user. At the current date, many P-3 variants were produced and are currently in service with variations on their role and country assignments. Here are several of the variants:
Click the image to enlarge. Screengrab Source.
It is worth to take note that several variants of P-3 Orions are not oriented to its intended role as the antisubmarine aircraft as it was produced in numbers. Take note that several P-3s were either modified as a trainer model for the crew to familiarize how to operate the platform, a research reconnaissance platform for scientific purposes such as oceanography and weather as well as for Electronic Warfare usage. Several models were intended as utility transport wherein back to the Philippine intentions of obtaining such platforms, such a platform is a no-no since the country already obtains a bulk of transport aircraft such as C-130s and C-295s to do a job as well as retaining its original components definitely mean a lot in terms of military capabilities obtained especially on surveillance and antisubmarine warfare operations.

Aside from the antisubmarine warfare capabilities, the P-3 Orions are also capable of carrying out anti-surface warfare operations wherein these types of aircraft can be fitted with anti-ship missiles alongside the torpedoes fit that is the usual thing for antisubmarine operations. Hence, these setups make the P-3 much like the workaround platform that is helpful for naval operations especially for service branches like the Philippine Navy to partake.

To understand more about the specifications of different variants of the Lockheed P-3 Orions, it is better to check it out on the links specified here, with the alternative link in case the first one failed provided here.

On the current note, the Lockheed P-3 Orions were currently being replaced by the newer Boeing P-8 Poseidon where just like its predecessor, is also derived from an airliner in which in Boeing's case, is the Boeing 737 jet airliner. These soon-to-be decommissioned platforms though are something for the Philippines to seek as desired by the Defense Secretary, along with a possibility from Japan where at one point, such platforms were at the table given that both countries forged an agreement back then when it was done by the previous administration. 

Such a possibility may come again now that radar components from Japan are being considered or preferred radar platform to the Air Force by the Defense Department for its air defense system as part of the recently-conducted re-enhanced cooperation from a defense meeting. It is worth taking note that such possibility remains to be seen given that it may or may not happen depending on what circumstances will be having along the way. So, the planned P-3 Orion purchase from the United States will be the welcoming thing as of the moment.

Chilean C-295MPA that plays the same role as the Lockheed P-3 Orion.
Image Source.
Currently, the Philippine Navy operates the Japanese-donated TC-90 Beechcraft King Air patrol aircraft that is intended for surveillance operations. The Philippine Air Force is also having this Horizon 1 project which is the LRPA or the Long Range Patrol Aircraft project which is intended to replace the older Fokker F-27MPA aircraft that they operated. 

It is worth taking note that since 2014, there are no updates regarding the LRPA or the Long Range Patrol Aircraft Project that is aspired by the Philippine Air Force to have despite the good news pouring in such as the delivery of the S-70i Blackhawks and the A-29 Super Tucano Close Air Support Aircraft as well as the hype regarding the Multirole Fighter Jet Program that is currently in competition between SAAB and their JAS-39 Gripen C/D Fighter Jet versus Lockheed Martin with their latest variant of F-16 which is the F-16V Block 70/72 (Viper) variant.

The reconsideration of the Lockheed P-3 Orion may mean an alternative from the Long Range Patrol Aircraft Project which is reportedly suffered from numerous failed biddings where the package they offered isn't up to the specifications or the eligibility that the Air Force is looking for under the project. One may ask: Now that the attention focuses unto the second-hand P-3 Orions from the United States, what will it be for its operations and maintenance? 

To answer the question, let us focus once again on the Taiwanese approach on their Lockheed P-3 Orions. It is notable that the platforms, the one that came fruition from 1967, has undertaken multiple upgrades either to come up with the times or to keep it airworthy to get it up for operations given its reliability when in service. In Taiwan's case, they spent US$9.3 Million for the upgrade program calling for extended service life and re-enhanced capabilities such as modernized avionics. 

From here, it goes usual to these platforms in the same way as the others wherein upgrades and service life extensions to be performed to keep them serviceable in the long run. In the case of the Philippines, it may go appropriate for some refurbishment operations to take place before its turn-over to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Take note the example of the C-130Ts that were turned over to the Philippine Air Force last 2016 were some re-configuration and test flights were performed to determine its worthiness and other factors that keep up to the standards of the service branch.


With the LRPA failed biddings and the desire of having a more capable force which is now being covered by the TC-90s and soon the frigate-based AW-159 antisubmarine helicopters, the plans of the Defense Department for purchasing at least one or two Lockheed P-3 Orions from the United States is interesting of its own worth, given that its reliability is something that will augment the two aforementioned platforms that is a necessity for the country's geographical setup.

While since it is the plans made by the Department of National Defense, it remains to be seen whether this is to be pursued upon given that the timelines provided may be changed later on varying the conditions that may require this platform or something that is an equivalent to do, depending on their prerogative. 

Nevertheless, if this is to be pursued, then it will be significant to the anti-submarine capabilities of the Armed Forces especially for the Philippine Navy where it ensures the security that is needed to protect the nation's maritime domain especially now that the contested areas like the Panatag Shoal and the Kalayaan Island Group now being the potential flashpoints wherein claimants like China pursues the control of these features that may mean dominant control over the highly-contested West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea in its entirety.

It goes with the hopes and dreams that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in its desire to modernize its military equipment, doctrine, and its personnel to the current standard is still taking the process and also providing the consideration to obtain platforms that may find helpful for the military's mandate which is to defend and secure the country and its citizens as well as to provide that minimum deterrence needed to get this done. 

So, if the Defense Department sees the Lockheed P-3 Orion as an essential platform and eventually pursues it later on, then it may be a nice thing to have where its capabilities are a plus on the aims of getting the nation more secure than ever.

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