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Seefernaufklärer P-3C Orion

The P-3C Orion is a four-engine propeller aircraft and is used as a reconnaissance and submarine fighter aircraft. It has a long downtime: the machine can stay in the air for up to twelve hours and provide information about its area of operation. The Orion is equipped with an electro-optical camera system, the MX-20HD. With this system, the crew of the aircraft can be made high-resolution images, even from a great distance. This is why the Orion is also nicknamed the "eagle eye". Connected to the radar system, the camera system reacts immediately as soon as a radar contact is detected. This enables the maritime patrol aircraft to quickly check individual suspicious activities in its wide area of operation from its regular patrol flights.

Eight P-3C Orion belong to Naval Aviation Squadron 3 "Graf Zeppelin". Even if they don't look like that: They are fighter planes and designed for submarine hunting. Most of the time, however, the P-3C Orion are used for reconnaissance over great distances. They monitor large areas of the sea from the air. In addition to contacts over water, this also includes submarines and limited objects on land. The machines can fight underwater targets with Mk46 torpedoes, which they carry in an internal weapon bay in the front part of the fuselage.

Radar, laser rangefinder and the MX-20HD infrared video camera combination make the large reconnaissance aircraft the “flying eye” of the Navy. The P-3C Orion uses different sonar buoys to hunt submarines. You can listen passively or actively send out sonar waves yourself and thus find enemy submarines. The buoys also measure water temperature, salinity and other parameters and thus determine the water quality in a sea area.

In addition, the Orion is equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector in the extended stern. This sensor can detect a submarine in the earth's magnetic field under the aircraft. Because the instrument is very sensitive, electromagnetic radiation can interfere with it. It is therefore located in the aircraft's fiberglass stern, far away from other electronic components in the machine.

The flight crew consists of at least eleven soldiers. These are the pilot and co-pilot, a tactical coordinator and a navigation officer who is responsible for radio communications at the same time. System technicians, on-board mechanics and three surface and two underwater operators complete the crew.

Even if no enemy action is to be expected in a mission, unforeseen circumstances may force the crew to make an external landing. This would be conceivable, for example, in the event of a technical defect or a bird strike. Of course, alternative runways were selected along the flight route before take-off. The problem with such an outlanding in the Horn of Africa, however, is that nobody knows in advance what to expect on the ground. The condition of the slopes and the security situation on site are mostly unclear. In order to be prepared for all eventualities, the crew loads the aircraft with G36 assault rifles and P8 pistols as well as the associated ammunition. If the worst comes to the worst, the crew protects themselves until help arrives.

The four Rolls-Royce turboprop engines are started one after the other and brought up to speed. Together they generate a total output of 19,800 hp. They are able to accelerate the maritime patrol aircraft to 750 kilometers per hour and bring it to an altitude of over eight kilometers. The enormous power is also required, because “Jester” can have a maximum take-off weight of almost 64 tons when fully loaded.

Germany has been continuously participating in the EU-led anti-piracy operation Atalanta since 2008. It protects the transports of the World Food Program, seafarers and merchant ships in the Horn of Africa through maritime surveillance and reconnaissance and prevents piracy off the coast of Somalia.

After the foreign ministers of the European Union agreed on February 17, 2020 to monitor the UN arms embargo against Libya, the EU Council decided on Operation Irini a month later. The focus of EU mission EUNAVFOR European Union Naval Forces MED Mediterranean Irini is the monitoring of the United NationsArms embargoes against Libya. The aircraft is equipped with modern sensors and is ideally suited for the task of surveillance of the sea area. Thanks to radar, laser rangefinder and an infrared video camera combination, nothing escapes his eye. The Orion's range of action is 2,700 kilometers and it reaches a top speed of 750 kilometers per hour. When it premiered, the Orion was in action for three hours and thoroughly searched its assigned area of operation.“

The fleet of eight P-3C Orions were purchased secondhand from Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) in 2005. A government report released in April 2011 noted that the aircraft suffered from operational limitations, and Germany embarked on an upgrade program via the U.S. Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales (FMS). The procurement, integration, and installation of hardware and software required for upgrading the Orions’ mission computer and acoustic systems was approved, with notification given to Congress by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on April 11, 2014.

The Government of Germany has requested a sale for the procurement, integration, and installation of hardware and software to upgrade the aircraft mission computer and acoustic systems, and non-integrated simulator equipment on 8 P-3C aircraft. The hardware and software include A (structural and electrical) and B (Weapon Replaceable Assemblies) kits for future integration into the simulator. Also included are the design, development, integration, testing and installation of a ground-based mission support system (which includes the Portable Aircraft Support System and Fast Time Analyzer System); validation and acceptance; spare and repair parts; support equipment; personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical documentation; U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $250 million.

This sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the military capabilities of a NATO ally and enhancing standardization and interoperability with U.S. forces. This proposed sale will update hardware and software to ensure the P-3 aircraft maintain operational capability. The upgrades will enhance Germany’s ability to participate in future coalition operations and will promote continued interoperability. Germany will have no difficulty absorbing this upgraded equipment into its armed forces.

The principal contractors were Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training in Owego, New York; General Dynamics in Bloomington, Minnesota; Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Marietta, Georgia; and Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training in Manassas, Virginia. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale. A contract was then agreed to between the German government, Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defence and Space on July 22, 2015. The contract called for production of eight midlife upgrade kits (outer wing, center fuselage and horizontal stabilizer) by Lockheed Martin, with Airbus responsible for installation of the kits on the German P-3Cs at its Manching facility.

In the aircraft yard of the naval aviation in Nordholz, the specialists of the technical squadron P-3C of the naval aviation squadron 3 "Graf Zeppelin" ensure that the reconnaissance aircraft of the type P-3C Orion can take off into the Nordholz sky. An aircraft is a complex system and is subject to the highest safety standards. For this reason, the submarine hunters and maritime patrols are continuously inspected and maintained. An Orion comes into the dock every twelve months. Then a major inspection is imminent. In the so-called plannable maintenance, mechanics, electricians or airframes do a complete "health check" on the machine.

The team carefully examines the instruments, electrics, electronics and hydraulic systems. Furthermore, the fuselage, wings and engines of the Orion are more or less severely dismantled in several hundred work steps. The team also takes the smallest components under the microscope and checks their function. In the dock, the airframe also takes a close look at the structure and outer skin of the aircraft. They examine several hundred square meters for dents, cracks, corrosion or other damage. Rivets, seams and much more - every centimeter of the outer skin is inspected.

Kilometers of cable harnesses run like branches through the entire aircraft. They supply the required power to the end user or transmit data and signals. “Without electricity, off the mouse”, is how technician Thomas Friedhoff sums it up. In total, the maritime patrol installed four generators, which guarantee the entire power generation. “They are small“ power plants ”that ultimately ensure that enough juice arrives where it is needed,” he explains. Since nothing works in a modern reconnaissance aircraft without electricity, there are countless plugs, sensors and terminal strips throughout the aircraft.

During the docking phase, the electricians check all wear parts of the electrical system and check that they are working properly. They replace wearing parts and repair minor damage immediately on the aircraft or in the workshop. The electricians also measure the generators and replace them if necessary. On the in-house test stand, the specialist staff subjects the generators to various load tests and records their results in test reports.

On 17 June 2020 the German Federal Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced it will end the modernization of the P-3C ORION maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) ahead of schedule. The reason for this is that the total costs and the technical difficulties that arose during the modernization are too great. "The delays in modernizing the P-3C Orion are already leading to insufficient material readiness for action without any foreseeable improvement," said a press release from the ministry. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the P-3C Orion with tactical marker “60+01” was heavily damaged during a refuelling operation at the end of March 2020.

Therefore, the MoD decided on the basis of a capability assessment with the effects on the availability of P-3C Orion in the German navy, a project analysis by the contractor AIRBUS and a profitability analysis with risk analysis to terminate the modernization project P-3C Orion prematurely. More specifically, this means that work on the model installation of the mission equipment will be stopped.

However, the maintenance measures for rewinging, which have been advanced at two P-3C Orions, are still to be completed. "Rewinging" was necessary for all eight aircraft that the Navy had taken over from the Netherlands in 2004 in order to keep them airworthy - but this only became clear after the aircraft had been taken over. Ten years ago, the Federal Audit Office criticized the purchase of the eight P-3Cs: the government had failed to "adequately check their technical condition" before purchasing the aircraft. As a result, in practice, the Navy never had the full number of aircraft available for use.

A capability gap resulting from the loss of the P-3C Orion, especially for long-range and rapid underwater warfare, cannot be accepted. For this reason, the Bundeswehr conducted a market survey which takes into account all platforms available on the market. In addition to the operational requirements, this analysis also evaluated all interactions with the Franco-German cooperation project Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS).

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:16 ZULU