October 17, 2009: Japan has sent two more P-3C maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Somalia, to replace the two they had sent earlier this year to Djibouti, where they patrolled the waters off the coast of Somalia. The Japanese aircraft serve for four months. The two aircraft that returned had made 74 missions and spent 590 hours in the air. The Japanese P-3Cs sighted suspicious ships or boats 410 times, and reported the information to warships below. The P-3s seek out the mother ships, and alert warships to the location where the pirates are operating.
But there are some problems. The American built P-3C maritime reconnaissance aircraft is getting old. The average age of the U.S. P-3Cs is 28 years. The P-3 entered service in 1962. The current version has a cruise speed of 610 kilometers per hour, endurance of up to 13 hours and a crew of eleven. The 116 foot long, propeller driven aircraft has a wingspan of nearly 100 feet. The P-3C can carry about ten tons of weapons (torpedoes, mines, or missiles like Harpoon and Maverick).
The 63 ton P-3 is based on the 1950s era Lockheed Electra airliner. The last P-3 was built in 1990. A more likely replacement for these elderly search planes, are UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), like Global Hawk or smaller aircraft like Predator. These UAVs typically stay in the air for 24 hours, or more, at a time. What maritime reconnaissance aircraft need, more than anything else, is endurance or, as the professionals like to put it, "persistence."
The Japanese sent 150 personnel, along with the two aircraft. There are also nearly a dozen other aircraft and UAVs in the area, searching for pirate activity.