A heavy maintenance program for the Norwegian Lockheed P-3 Orions has paid off. The Royal Norwegian Air Force succeeded in beefing up the operational availability of the maritime patrol aircraft by dozens of additional missions.
“Our aircraft are now in the final stages of a heavy maintenance program, which has meant that they have a better operational status than last year and the year before,” says Lt. Col. Ivar Moen who is senior spokesperson for the RNoAF operations in an official news release. “This may explain why we seem to have a higher number of ops this year. Furthermore in 2011 the number of flights was limited because of our P-3 involvement in Operation Ocean Shield.” Ocean Shield is NATO’s contribution to the US anti-terrorist and anti-piracy campaign in the Indian Ocean.
In 2011 the Norwegian P-3s only flew a 122 missions, in 2012 the number was 140, this year the 120 missions were already reached at October 1, meaning the P-3s might be able to clock between 145 and 160 operational flights before the year ends. Three thirds of the flights are in support of the Norwegian Coast Guard.
Four P-3C UIP and 2 P-3N Orion aircraft fly with 333 Squadron out of Andøya Flystasjon in the far north of the country. During the Cold War the Norwegian Orions were essential in NATOs hunt for Soviet submarines.
Nowadays the Orions still perform long-distance patrols of typical 9 hour flights, covering 1.2 million square kilometres (650.000 square nautical miles) during a mission. That is roughly four times the land size of Norway. Missions take the Orion crews over the so-called Norwegian economical zone and all the way to the Jan Mayen island far out in the Norwegian Sea. The island is situated about 540 km (292 nautical miles) east of the coast of Island and considered the most remote spot of the country.
With no aerial refueling capacity of its own the RNoAF P-3s are the only armed response on long distances for the country. The Orion crews are trained to deploy torpedos and Mk 82 bombs at targets.
Source: Royal Norwegian Air Force with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger