With a nod from the United States, Argentine authorities have finally reached an agreement with the Norwegian government for the purchase of four Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, Argentine Defense Minister Jorge Taiana and Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency (NDMA) D3 Director Magnus Hansvold announced during a ceremony aboard the Fragata Sarmiento museum ship in Buenos Aires.
The new documents have a higher degree of commitment than a letter of intent, but still do not guarantee that the acquisition of the US-built second-hand units to be assigned to the Navy for the control of the South Atlantic will be carried out. The negotiations concern 4 aircraft (three P-3Cs and one P-3N). Two of them were decommissioned by the Norwegian Air Force at the end of June and the rest are stored at the US Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group facilities for Department of Defense surplus aircraft.
All four must undergo airworthiness inspections before the US$ 100 million contract, to be funded over three years, can proceed, with an advance payment of US$ 10 million that would result in at least one delivery before the end of 2023.
The Orion is a medium-weight, four-engine transport aircraft with large, straight and extended wings for better low altitude and low speed performance, with underwing pylons to carry anti-ship missiles. Its 12-hour range and 1,500 nautical mile operating radius make it capable of monitoring nearly the entire maritime coastline in a single flight. They can be configured for imagery reconnaissance and ship identification missions.
It was developed from the four-engine passenger turboprop known as the Electra C for the U.S. Navy for reconnaissance, long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare missions. In the 1970s, the Argentine Navy operated three Lockheed L-188 Electra E for transport and logistics missions. They were also reportedly involved in the so-called death flights during the military dictatorship, when prisoners were dropped alive into the ocean, and were also used in the 1982 war before being decommissioned in 1998.
In 1997, the Navy purchased six P-3B Orion aircraft for the Air and Naval Exploration Squadron to monitor and control illegal fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone. These aircraft have become obsolete; only one (registration 6-P-53) is still airworthy.
Taiana said the four new aircraft would join 6-P-53 for a long-range maritime patrol force of 5 aircraft. The Norwegian aircraft would also feature the technology the Norwegians used to operate, except for NATO-standard communications encryption equipment.
These aircraft have a special observation capacity and also a great autonomy that allows them to fly for many hours, which is very useful for the surveillance and control of our territorial sea and especially our exclusive economic zone. They will also be of great importance for the search and rescue system, said Taiana.
The acquisition of these aircraft is a great contribution to the strengthening of the policy we are developing to improve the surveillance and control of our waters. For this purpose, we have created the Joint Maritime Command, under which the four new maritime patrol boats will be deployed, but in addition we needed a long-range observation aircraft such as the Orion, which will be based in Trelew, a special naval aviation observation station, he added.