The final three US Navy Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 P-3Cs have departed Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to complete the unit’s move to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.
The ‘Golden Eagles’ are the last of three patrol squadrons – VP-9, VP-4 and VP-47 – that were based in Hawaii but have been reassigned to Whidbey. As a result of the move, the squadron’s parent Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Two is likely to decommission in May.
The last US Navy Orions in Hawaii are the aircraft of VPU-2 at Kaneohe Bay.
The navy eventually plans to maintain a permanent detachment of two P-8As at the base, but until the required infrastructure is completed, the role is being filled by a detachment Orions, the first of which comprises one P-3 from VP-40 deployed from Whidbey Island.
Primarily developed to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s large fleet of attack and ballistic missile submarines, the reduced anti-submarine threat has caused the Orion fleet to assume additional missions in support of ‘littoral’ warfare. The P-3’s maritime surveillance mission has now taken on a greater importance and its surface warfare capabilities were accordingly upgraded through the incorporation of the Anti-surface Warfare Improvement Plan (AIP), which provided enhanced radar, countermeasures, ESM, sensors, and improved communications. New weapons included the AGM-65F Maverick and AGM-84E SLAM missiles.
The first AIP Orions were deployed in September 1998 and 72 P-3Cs were modified between 1996 and 2007. AIP provided improvements to the aircraft’s over-the-horizon targeting (OTH-T) and command, control, Communications, and intelligence (C3I) capabilities. Initially intended for the Update III P-3Cs, AIP mods were later incorporated on five Update II.5 P-3Cs as well. Other upgrades for the AIP Orions includes the installation of the Link 16 and International Marine/Maritime Satellite (INMARSAT) broadband connectivity, which achieved initial operating capability in September 2011.