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Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion

Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft


Even after some fifty years of service, the Lockheed P-3 Orion continues as a workhorse maritime patroller for many nations of the world.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/24/2019. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Lockheed P-3 Orion currently serves in the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol roles for various countries around the world including the United States where its chief customer is the United States Navy (USN). Some 757 examples of the type have been produced since series introduction began in 1962 with Lockheed accounting for 650 of this total and Kawasaki of Japan adding another 107 units (local, licensed). The P-3 was developed from Lockheed's L-188 "Electra" passenger hauler and, itself, has been the origin for other designs including the AP-3C "Orion", the CP-140 "Aurora", the EP-3 and the WP-3D "Orion". As of this writing (2017), the P-3 maintains an active presence in the USN inventory though it has been officially superseded on paper by the P-8A "Poseidon" detailed elsewhere on this site.

Rather amazingly, the P-3 series has proven itself a fleet workhorse, amassing over fifty years of consistent, reliable over-water service. Its operators span the globe and run from Argentina and Australia to Taiwan and Thailand. It is certainly one of the more important aircraft in the skies today.

The Orion series was born from a 1957 USN requirement calling for an all-modern, land-based maritime patroller to succeed its aging line of Lockheed P2V/SP-2 "Neptune" aircraft in same role. As this was during the Cold War period, the new aircraft would be charged with searching and tracking Soviet ballistic missile and general attack submarines threatening U.S. interests worldwide. To expedite the development process, Lockheed elected to modify its existing Electra airliner and this work commenced in April of 1958. A prototype went airborne for the first time on November 25th, 1959 and the design was selected ahead of others by the USN with service entry had in August of 1962.

The basic aircraft shared some external similarities to the Electra passenger hauler. A tubular shape made up its fuselage which carried low-set, straight monoplane wings, a single-finned tail unit and stepped cockpit flight deck. At the rear was added a boom assembly containing a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) and the belly incorporated a weapons bay. Powerful radar was also carried aboard and various onboard stations allowed multiple mission specialists to make up the crew.

Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion (Cont'd)

Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft

Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion (Cont'd)

Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft

Supported weapons (held in an internal bay and across ten external hardpoints) include Air-to-Surface (ASM) missiles like Maverick, the AGM-84 Harpoon / SLAM-ER Anti-Ship Missile (ASM), Mk 46, Mk 50 and Mk 54 series torpedoes and unguided rockets. Additionally, the aircraft can dispense naval mines over target areas and drop depth charges on reported submarine positions as needed.

Variants of the P-3 Orion have been many and these followed the various major production models, either adopted or proposed, by Lockheed. The initial form was the P-3A which grew to include several subvariants. Similarly the P-3B held its own stock of subvariants which numbered four and these mainly introduced more powerful engines. The definitive mark is the P-3C which counts six total major subvariants as well as a slew of modified and updated sub-models. These appeared with more powerful radar fits, updated MAD equipment and modernized systems.

The P-3C carries a crew of eleven and has a fuselage length of 116.9 feet, a wingspan of 99.7 feet and a height of 38.7 feet. Empty weight is 77,200lb against an MTOW of 142,000lb. Power is from 4 x Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines developing 4,600 horsepower each and these drive four-bladed (Hamilton Standard) propeller units. Maximum speed is 465 miles per hour with a range out to 4,830 nautical miles (ferry) and a service ceiling reaching 28,300 feet. Rate-of-climb is 3,140 feet-per-minute.

The UP-3D became an ELectronics INTelligence (ELINT) airborne trainer for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense FOrce (JMSDF). The RP-3D was a one-off and used in testing of MAD equipment. The WP-3D is a P-3 associated with NOAA and used in weather tracking / data collection. The EP-3E "Aries" and "Aries II" marks serve as ELINT aircraft. The EP-3E is a SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT) platform with L-3 Communications equipment. The NP-3E has been used as a testbed for various programs.

The P-3F were six Orions delivered to the then-pro-Western government of Iran prior to the Fall of the Shah in the 1970s. The P-3G was used to mark the proposed P-3 successor by Lockheed which became the P-7A (not adopted). Similarly, the "Orion 21" was another intended successor but was bested by the Boeing proposal which has since produced the P-8 Poseidon. The P-3H designator was a proposed P-3C model upgrade which never happened. The EP-3J model numbers two P-3A platforms modified as enemy Electronic Warfare (EW) platforms for training.

New Zealand manages the P-3K and P-3K2 models and Norway the P-3M and P-3N. Portugal uses the P-3P which are ex-Australian examples. The Thai Navy has the P-3T and VP-3T marks. The Australians knew the aircraft as the P-3W and other Aussie forms became the AP-3C and TAP-3C. South Korea has used the P-3CK.

P-3AEWC signifies some eight P-3B models converted for the Airborne Early Warning & Control role.

Canada operates P-3 Orions as the CP-140 Aurora and CP-140A Arcturus. The latter lacks the ASW equipment and is used primarily for training.

Lockheed bills the P-3 as the "World Standard in Maritime Patrol Aircraft" and for good reason - nearly twenty military operators keep it in active inventory. The P-3 has seen action since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and throughout the latter half of the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Additional combat service has been had in the 1991 Iraq War, Operation Enduring Freedom (2001), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003), the Libyan Civil War (2011) and in ongoing anti-piracy actions over Somali waters.

Beyond the arrival of the P-8 model, there is little sign of the P-3 series will be retired any time soon. A Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) by Lockheed have ensured that the P-3 remains a viable maritime participant for the near future.

Program Updates

November 2017 - Germany is moving ahead with a proposed upgrade to its P-3C Orion fleet. The modernization effort by Lockheed Martin will span five years. Germany intends to keep the series flyable until 2035.

May 2019 - The Hellenic Navy (Greece) has received the first (of a potential five total) refurbished P-3 Orion maritime patrollers. The revamped fleet is expected to provide its typical ASW service throughout the 2020s and 2030s.


YEAR: 1962
STATUS: Active, In-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Lockheed Martin - USA / Kawasaki - Japan
CREW: 11
LENGTH: 116.80 ft (35.6 m)
WIDTH: 100.07 ft (30.5 m)
HEIGHT: 38.71 ft (11.8 m)
EMPTY WEIGHT: 77,162 lb (35,000 kg)
MTOW: 141,978 lb (64,400 kg)
POWER: 4 x Allison T-56-A-14 turboprop engines delivering 4,600 horsepower each and driving four-bladed propeller units.
SPEED: 466 mph (750 kph; 405 kts)
CEILING: 28,297 feet (8,625 m; 5.36 miles)
RANGE: 5,592 miles (9,000 km; 4,860 nm)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 3,140 ft/min (957 m/min)
OPERATORS: Argentina; Australia; Brazil; Chile; Germany; Greece; Iran; Japan (Kawasaki); Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Pakistan; Portugal; South Korea; Spain; Taiwan; Thailand; United States

Internal weapons bay for 8 x Torpedoes and 8 x Depth Charges. Ten underwing hardpoints for carrying AGM-84 Harpoon / SLAM-ER anti-ship missiles, AGM-65 Maverick Air-to-Surface missiles, torpedoes (Mk 46, Mk 50, Mk 54), naval mines, depth charges or unguided rockets.
Graphical image of an aircraft air-to-surface missile
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-ship missile
Graphical image of aircraft aerial rockets
Graphical image of an aircraft aerial torpedo
Variants / Models

• YP3V-1 - Prototype of which two were produced.
• P3V-1 - Early Series Model Designation
• P-3 - Standard Series Model Designation
• P-3A - Initial Production Model
• P-3B - Updated Patrol Model Variant
• P-3C - Fitted with Univac digital computer; improved attack system.
• P-3F - Exported to Iran
• AP-3C - Australian-standardized upgrade from P-3C models; fitted with Elta radar system.
• CP-140 "Aurora" - Exported to Canada
• EP-3A - Electronic Intelligence Aircraft
• EP-3E "Aries" - Elint Model
• EP-3J - EW Trainer Model
• NP-3A - Trial Platform Model
• RP-3A - Oceanographic Reconnaissance Model
• TP-3A - Crew Trainer Model
• UP-3A - Utility Transport Variant
• VP-3 - VIP Passenger Transport Model; conversion of early A/B models.
• WP-3A - Weather Reconnaissance Model

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 500mph
Lo: 250mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (466mph).

Graph average of 375 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Lockheed P-3C Orion's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (757)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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