P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol

P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol

The P-3 Orion land-based maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft is operational in the airforces of ten countries. More than 700 P-3 aircraft have been built by Lockheed Martin.

The 227 aircraft in the US Navy fleet have been reduced to 170 and will be further reduced to 130 by 2010. The P-3 will then be phased out following the introduction of the P-6 Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) from 2013.

“The P-3 Orion is a land-based maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.”

The aircraft is also in service with Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Greece, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain and Thailand.

It carries the United States Navy designation P-3, the Canadian Forces designations CP-140 Aurora and CP-140A Arcturus, and the Spanish Air Force designation P.3.

The P-3A was first operational in the United States Navy in 1962. The P-3C first entered service in 1969 and has been continuously upgraded and updated with new avionics systems and mission equipment.


In 1975 an improved navigation system, expanded computer memory, and tactical displays were provided under the Update I programme. In 1976 the Update II programme provided an infrared detection system and sonobuoy reference system and the aircraft were fitted with the Harpoon missile. The P-3C aircraft to the Upgrade III standard, delivered in 1984, were equipped with advanced anti-submarine warfare avionics including the IBM Proteus AN/UYS-1 acoustic processor.

Update IV programme improvements, mainly directed towards the provision of advanced signal processing capabilities, were implemented during the 1990s to meet the threat of new-generation fast, quiet and deep diving submarines. The aircraft are equipped with Raytheon AN/APS-137(V) multi-mission surveillance radar.

International upgrade programmes include 18 aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force upgraded to AP-3C standard. The upgrade includes the installation of an Elta Electronics EL/M-2022(V)3 maritime surveillance radar and a FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE II thermal imager. Deliveries concluded in March 2005.

Eight aircraft upgraded for the Royal Netherlands Navy have been sold to the German Navy. The upgrade included new Electronic Support Measures (ESM), radar and acoustic sensors, new data management system and new communications suite. EADS CASA is upgrading nine aircraft of the Brazilian Air Force. This upgrade includes Thales integrated cockpit avionics and the EADS CASA FITS mission system.

New Zealand has selected L-3 Communications to upgrade six P-3K aircraft with new mission systems. The upgrade will also include new communications and navigation equipment.

“The P-3A was first operational in the United States Navy in 1962.”

Pakistan has purchased seven upgraded ex-US Navy P-3C aircraft and ordered the upgrade of two Pakistan Navy aircraft. The upgrade includes Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR/SAR), Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and communication systems. The first was delivered in January 2007.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, based in Kobe, Japan, manufactures the P-3C aircraft in Japan under licensed agreement. Kawasaki is the prime contractor to the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) for the supply of up to 110 P-3C aircraft. Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), based in Tokyo, manufactures the engines.


The aircraft is flown by a crew of ten on missions up to 14 hours long. The flight deck accommodates the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight engineer.

The main cabin is configured as a mission operations room for the tactical coordinator, the navigator and communications operator, two operators for the acoustic sensor suite, the electromagnetic sensors systems operator (responsible for the operation of the radar, electronic support measures, infrared detection system and magnetic anomaly detectors), the ordnance crew member and the flight technician. Circular protruding windows in the main cabin give the crew a 180° view.


The P-3C’s anti-submarine warfare systems include the AN/ARR-78(V) sonobuoy receiving system supplied by Hazeltine Corporation of New York, the AN/ARR-72 sonobuoy receiver supplied by Fighting Electronics Inc of New York for the operation and management of buoys, two AQA-7 directional acoustic frequency analysis and recording sonobuoy indicators, and a AQH-4 (V) sonar tape recorder.

The sensor suite also includes an ASQ-81 magnetic anomaly detector and an ASA-65 magnetic compensator. Sonobuoys are launched from within the main cabin and from the external hardpoints.

The airborne electronic surveillance receiver, ALQ-78(V) is carried on a pylon under the wing fairing. The system is supplied by Lockheed Martin based in New York and has also been manufactured under licence by Mitsubishi in Japan.

The ALQ-78(V) automatically operates in search mode, its target primarily being submarine radars. When a submarine radar signal is detected the system is switched to direction finding mode and the received signals are characterised.

“The P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft can carry weapons in the bomb bay and on ten underwing pylons.”


The aircraft can carry weapons in the bomb bay and on ten underwing pylons. The bomb bay is in the underside of the fuselage forward of the wing. It is capable of carrying a 2,000lb mine such as the mk25, mk39, mk55 or mk56. Alternative ordnance includes 1,000lb mines, depth bombs, torpedoes, or nuclear depth bombs. The underwing pylons can carry 2,000lb mines, torpedoes, rockets, rocket pods and 500lb mines.

The US Navy P-3C aircraft are equipped to carry the Harpoon AGM-84 anti-ship and stand-off land attack missile. During the late 1990s the US Navy P-3C Orions armed with the Harpoon were deployed in Yugoslavia. US Navy P-3Cs are also being upgraded with the WESCAM 20 multi-sensor system, which includes thermal imager and CCD sensors.

In February 2004, the Boeing SLAM-ER standoff land attack missile completed integration on the US Navy P-3C Orion. 59 aircraft are to be modified to carry the missile by the end of 2004.


The aircraft is equipped with four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines rated at 3,661kW. Each engine drives a four-blade constant-speed propeller, type 54H60-77 supplied by Hamilton Standard. There are five fuel tanks, one in the fuselage and four integral wing tanks with a total fuel capacity of 34,800l.


Crew 11
Length 116 ft 10 in (35.61 m)
Wingspan 99 ft 8 in (30.38 m)
Heigh 33 ft 8.5 in (10.274 m)
Wing area 1,300 sq ft (120 m2)
Empty weight 61,491 lb (27,892 kg)
Gross weight
Max take off weight 135,000 lb (61,235 kg)
Power plant (Dry thrust)
4 × Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines, 4,910 shp (3,660 kW)
Power plant (Thrust with afterburner) 
Maximum speed (Sea level)
Maximum speed (High altitude) 411 kn (473 mph, 761 km/h)
Combat radius
1,345 nmi (1,548 mi, 2,491 km)
Ferry range
4,830 nmi (5,560 mi, 8,950 km)
Service ceiling
28,300 ft (8,600 m)
Rate of climb 1,950 ft/min (9.9 m/s)
Wing loading 103.8 lb/sq ft (507 kg/m2)
Design load factor

  • Hardpoints: 10 wing stations in total (3x on each wing and 2x on each wing root) and eight internal bomb bay stations with a capacity of 20,000 lb (9,100 kg)

  • RADAR: Raytheon AN/APS-115 Maritime Surveillance Radar, AN/APS-137D(V)5 Inverse Synthetic Aperture Search Radar
  • IFF: APX-72, APX-76, APX-118/123 Interrogation Friend or Foe (IFF)
  • EO/IR: ASX-4 Advanced Imaging Multispectral Sensor (AIMS), ASX-6 Multi-Mode Imaging System (MMIS)
  • ESM: ALR-66 Radar Warning Receiver, ALR-95(V)2 Specific Emitter Identification/Threat Warning
  • Hazeltine Corporation AN/ARR-78(V) sonobuoy receiving system
  • Fighting Electronics Inc AN/ARR-72 sonobuoy receiver
  • IBM Proteus UYS-1 acoustic processor
  • AQA-7 directional acoustic frequency analysis and recording sonobuoy indicators
  • AQH-4 (V) sonar tape recorder
  • ASQ-81 magnetic anomaly detector (MAD)
  • ASA-65 magnetic compensator[113]
  • Lockheed Martin AN/ALQ-78(V) electronic surveillance receiver


  • United States Navy – 100 P-3Cs and 14 EP-3Es in service. The government of Singapore has expressed an interest in buying surplus P-3C aircraft from the U.S. Navy
  • Argentine Naval Aviation – six P-3B.
  • Royal Australian Air Force – 18 AP-3C, 1 P-3C. In 2002, the RAAF received significantly upgraded AP-3C. Also known as Australian Orions, they are fitted with a variety of sensors. They include digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures, electro-optics detectors (infrared and visual), magnetic anomaly detectors, identification friend or foe systems, and acoustic detectors. The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is gradually replacing them. The P-3 Orion celebrated 50 years of RAAF service in November 2018. P-3B sold to Portugal.
  • Brazilian Air Force – 9 P-3AM (Upgraded) in 2008 (12 ex-USN airframes purchased). Integrated with the CASA FITS (Fully Integrated Tactical System) utilized in antisubmarine warfare.
  • Chilean Navy – 4 P-3A; based at Base Aeronaval Torquemada, Concón. Three used as patrol aircraft, one used for personnel transport. Chile plans to extend their service lives past 2030 by changing the wings, modernizing the engines, and integrating the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.
  • Canada
    • Royal Canadian Air Force – Canada purchased 18 P-3A in 1980.
    • The RCAF also operated 3 CP-140A Arcturus, P-3 aircraft purchased in 1991 without an anti-submarine warfare suite and used primarily for pilot training and long-range surface patrol. The last two were retired in 2011.
  • German Navy – eight P-3C CUP+ (ex Royal Netherlands Navy).
  • Hellenic Air Force – six P-3B operated jointly with the Hellenic Navy, 1 in operable condition as of 2019, 3 additional of the planes are undergoing maintenance as of 2016 which should return them to airworthy condition, the first of which was completed in May 2019.
  • Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force – four P-3F (71ASW SQN).
  • Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force – 93 P-3C, five EP-3, five OP-3C, one UP-3C, three UP-3D. The Kawasaki Corporation assembled five airframes produced by Lockheed, and then Kawasaki produced more than 100 P-3s under license in Japan. The Kawasaki P-1 is gradually replacing them.
  • Royal New Zealand Air Force – six P-3K2. Five were originally delivered in 1966 as P-3Bs. Another was purchased from the RAAF in 1985. All six have been upgraded by L-3 Communications Canada and now designated as P-3K2, with the first upgraded aircraft returned to New Zealand in April 2011. The New Zealand Government announced they are to be replaced in 2023 with the purchase of 4 Boeing P-8A Poseidons. An interim upgrade contract worth NZ$36M has been awarded to Boeing to upgrade the underwater intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capability of the P-3K2, with a capability similar to that provided in the P-8.
  • Royal Norwegian Air Force – four P-3C, two P-3N.
  • Pakistan Naval Air Arm – ~Four P-3C; based in Naval aviation base Faisal, Karachi. Upgraded P-3C MPA and P-3B AEW models (equipped with Hawkeye 2000 AEW system) ordered in 2006, first upgraded P-3C delivered in early 2007. In June 2010, two more upgraded P-3Cs joined the Pakistan Navy with anti-ship and submarine warfare capabilities. A total of nine. Two aircraft were destroyed in an attack by armed militants at the Mehran Naval Airbase.
  • Portuguese Air Force – five P-3C CUP+ (ex Royal Netherlands Navy). They replaced six former RAAF P-3Bs upgraded to P-3Ps in the late 1980s. The last P-3P flew on 13 October 2011.
  • Republic of Korea Navy – eight P-3Cs, eight P-3CKs. Korean Air/L-3 Communications are upgrading the P-3C aircraft with new electronics, including new magnetic anomaly detectors, electro-optical sensors, surveillance equipment and a self-protection suite. The Navy’s impetus stems from a 2010 experience in which ROK forces detected only 28% of North Korean submarines involved in exercises.
  • Spanish Air Force – Two P-3A HWs, four P-3B ( ex-Norway) being upgraded to P-3M. The Spanish AF bought five P-3B from Norway in 1989 and it was planned to upgrade all five to M standard, however, due to budgetary constraints only four are to be upgraded, the remaining aircraft being used as spares source.
  • Taiwan Navy – The Taiwan Navy obtained 12 P-3C aircraft under the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program in 2007 which were then modernized to provide an additional 15,000 flight hours. 12 P-3Cs (Ordered, with deliveries starting in 2012), with three “spare” airframes that might be converting to EP-3E standard; based in south part of the island and offshore island. In May 2014 Lockheed Martin were awarded a contract to upgrade and overhaul all 12 P-3Cs for completion by August 2015.
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