Saturday, June 4, 2011

Navy Keeping P-3 Orions Fit

Chile's navy is not necessarily giving up on its P-3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft. An aviation engineering company in New Zealand just conducted an eight-month refit for one of the planes, an indication that Chile plans to keep at least some of the P-3s flying for many years. This came to light with news of trouble during a test flight in New Zealand. According to the company's website, Safe Air has done maintenance work on four Chilean P-3A3 Orions and it calls Chile one of its key maintenance customers. The Navy has plans to replace its P-3 fleet with EADS/CASA C-295 Persuader aircraft, although not immediately. Chile acquired eight Orions from U.S. surplus inventories in 1992-94, according to the SIPRI arms transfers database. Four have been kept for spares, and one was converted into a transport plane, leaving three for maritime patrol. The planes were delivered without most sensors, but in 2003 Chile purchased three AN/APS-115 radars, a standard for the P-3 fleet. The radar searches the sea surface and can detect submarines at shallow depths. Update: A story in Jane's Defence Weekly notes that the P-3 overhauled in New Zealand has more structural damage than expected and will need more work. This has caused the Navy to rethink its plans to extend the service life of its Orions and consider using its options to purchase more C-295s.

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