Naval Air: New Patrol Aircraft in South Asia

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April 25, 2006: In April, 2006, Lockheed Martin Corp. was awarded an initial $6 million contract to begin upgrading P-3C aircraft purchased by Pakistan, the US' on-again, off-again ally in the War on Terror. Pakistan has ordered nine of the aircraft from the US Navy's surplus fleet. At the same time, the US' own P-3C felt is deteriorating fast under a heavy work load. The Navy is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain its own squadrons. In fact, the US Navy is decommissioning its six remaining Reserve patrol squadrons so that their aircraft can be sent to active duty squadrons (the last reserve squadron will be gone by 2008). Approximately 140 US Navy P-3Cs have been prematurely retired since 2003 because of deterioration, as well as to make available money for the P-8A Multimission Maritime Aircraft being developed for introduction to the US fleet in 2012. In the past three years the Navy has been flogging itself under an intense program of re-winging its lowest time P-3Cs as well as bringing all of its P-3Cs up to the latest tactical capabilities.

In November, 2004, Pakistan had given Portuguese aircraft refitter OGMA a contract to refurb its two P-3Cs, which had been grounded since 1999 following the crash of a third during training. At that time, Pakistan was considering purchasing eight older P-3B aircraft from the US' "boneyard" at David Monthan AFB, where scores of older P-3As and P-3Bs are stored. The most modern version of the P-3B - the P-3B TACNAVMOD "Super Bee"-- uses the same airframe, engines, and flight systems as the original P-3C, but the mission systems, sensors, sensor stations, and interior layout are very different.

In May, 2005, Pakistan decided to obtain P-3Cs, which would be upgraded to a capability similar to the US Navy's Anti-Surface Warfare Improvement Program (AIP) and the Block Modification Upgrade Program (BMUP). This upgrade includes the ability to see ground activity in any weather, in great detail, and fire Maverick and SLAM-ER guided missiles. The upgrade would also include better sensors for electronic warfare activity. In addition, Pakistan has also expressed the intention of adding modifications to the aircraft to allow it to employ the French Exocet and Chinese C-802 anti-ship missiles, as well as the French-Italian A244 torpedo. All these mods would give these P-3Cs formidable capabilities over land. Such aircraft have been heavily used by the U.S. Navy since the 1990s.

Pakistan took delivery of its first new P-3C in October, 2005, and began its replacement of its fleet of creaky Atlantique and Fokker F-27-200/400 maritime-patrol aircraft. The new aircraft are ostensibly to be used in the War on Terror, although only a nugget would not also expect them to be used to keep an eye on India as well.

Pakistan's arch rival India had been looking at the eight ex-US P-3Bs to replace its outdated fleet of ex-Soviet Bear aircraft but earlier this year announced that, instead, it was pursuing talks to acquire the smaller, cheaper, and far less capable Falcon 900 maritime patrol aircraft derivative. The Indian Navy's eight Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft are obsolete and cost a small fortune to continue to operate. India had approached several Israeli companies to upgrade its Bears. However, this negotiation was ended when Russia - another US "ally of convenience" whose loyalties seem up for the highest bidder - warned that any contracts with Israeli companies would result in Russia's suspending any support for the India's Tu-142s.

The initial $6 million contract is just the start. The P-3C aircraft for Pakistan will be paid for, in part, through US military assistance as part of the global war on terror, and the total cost for the eight airplanes plus upgrades is initially estimated to be $970 million. The P-3Cs are to be part of a weapons acquisition contract expected to be worth $1.3 billion. Other weapons included in the package are 2,000 TOW-2A missiles, 60 Harpoon missiles, six Phalanx 20mm guns, and the upgrade of six additional gun systems. - K.B. Sherman

 


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