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Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion

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

United States | 1962

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

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 12/21/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this 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 As of this writing (2017), the P-3 maintains an active presence in the USN inventory though it has been officially superseded on paper by the P-8A "Poseidon" detailed elsewhere on this site.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.

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.

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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.

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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.

January 2020 - The United States State Department has approved a modernization deal to upgrade Argentine P-3C maritime patrol aircraft.

June 2020 - Germany has scrapped plans to modernize its fleet of P-3C maritime aircraft opting instead for an all-new Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) platform.

Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Lockheed P-3C Orion Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft.
4 x Allison T-56-A-14 turboprop engines delivering 4,600 horsepower each and driving four-bladed propeller units.
466 mph
750 kph | 405 kts
Max Speed
28,297 ft
8,625 m | 5 miles
Service Ceiling
5,592 miles
9,000 km | 4,860 nm
Operational Range
3,140 ft/min
957 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Lockheed P-3C Orion Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft.
116.8 ft
35.60 m
O/A Length
100.1 ft
(30.50 m)
O/A Width
38.7 ft
(11.80 m)
O/A Height
77,162 lb
(35,000 kg)
Empty Weight
141,978 lb
(64,400 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft .
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.
Notable series variants as part of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion family line.
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
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 757 Units

Contractor(s): Lockheed Martin - USA / Kawasaki - Japan
National flag of Argentina National flag of Australia National flag of Brazil National flag of Chile National flag of modern Germany National flag of Greece National flag of Iran National flag of modern Japan National flag of the Netherlands National flag of New Zealand National flag of Norway National flag of Pakistan National flag of Portugal National flag of South Korea National flag of Spain National flag of Taiwan National flag of Thailand National flag of the United States

[ Argentina; Australia; Brazil; Chile; Germany; Greece; Iran; Japan (Kawasaki); Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Pakistan; Portugal; South Korea; Spain; Taiwan; Thailand; United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 500mph
Lo: 250mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (466mph).

Graph Average of 375 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.
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Image of the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion
Image from the United States Department of Defense DVIDS imagery database.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion Land-Based Long-Range Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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