The Royal Australian Air Force's first upgraded Lock-heed Martin AP-3C Orion was unveiled at the show, nearly three years late. The prototype arrived in Australia from the USA last year and will undergo an extensive test and evaluation programme prior to planned operational acceptance later this year. Prime contractor Raytheon Systems has been paying unspecified liquidated damages to the Australian Government for at least the past two years.


The software-based delays have resulted in a major reduction of the RAAF's maritime surveillance capability. Australian defence analysts estimate that no more than nine out of 17 maritime patrol configured aircraft are currently operational. Five are undergoing a seven month upgrade at Avalon.

Raytheon inducted the first RAAF P-3C into a mission system upgrade at its former Greenfield facility in Texas in January 1997. The project schedule called for the handover of the first upgraded aircraft in March 1998 for operational acceptance trials, and the last of the 17 aircraft to be handed back during 2001. Raytheon's latest forecasts indicate that the final upgraded aircraft will now return to operational service in 2004.

Meanwhile, neighbour New Zealand is close to a decision on whether to axe the Royal New Zealand Air Force's (RNZAF) six-strong Lockheed Martin P-3K Orion maritime patrol force. A review is due by the end of this month.

New Zealand uses the aircraft for resource protection and to fulfil treaty obligations among several Pacific and sub-Antartic islands.

One option is to use civil contractors to meet treaty commitments. In Australia, the Flight Refuelling subsidiary Surveillance Australia operates contract coastwatch and maritime surveillance for government agencies, with five Bombardier Dash 8-200s; three Rheims Cessna 206s; and a fleet of Britten-Norman Islanders.

Source: Flight International