P-3s Saved; Dutch Parliament Over-rules Military

(c) K.B. Sherman

Holland Reverses Decision to Scrap P-3Cs

Following upon the stunning news in September that Holland was abandoning its P-3C aircraft squadrons – and along with them any role in maritime air patrol – The Royal Netherlands Navy then reversed itself in October.

Upon Holland’s announcement of scrapping its P-3C fleet, Germany had responded that the Netherlands was now Holland’s "preferred partner" in Germany’s search for an affordable Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) to replace its aging Breguet Atlantique aircraft, according to Defense News. and The P-3 Orion Research Group. The Dutch Defense Ministry had reportedly offered 10 of its Orions to replace Germany's current MPAs by next year. Germany, France, and Italy have been involved in an ongoing search to replace the increasingly weary AtlantiqueThe reported price would be $34.8 million per P-3 aircraft. Germany was already in the process of evaluating an offer from France for six ATL-2 aircraft at an undisclosed price.

German procurement chief Jörg Kaempf requested an evaluation by autumn of the Dutch offer along with the French offer to sell six ATL-2s. However, both the price for the ATL-2s, and what equipment updates might be included, had yet to be determined.

The announcement by Dutch Ministry of Defense's Henk Kamp that the Royal Netherlands Navy's Maritime Patrol Group would be liquidated, the P-3C Orions withdrawn from use (probably sold), and that Royal Netherlands Naval Air Station Valkenburg would be closed down came as a surprise, to say the least.

Holland has long been one of the US' most committed partners in maritime patrol aviation. However, according to the Dutch MOD, a cut in the country's defense budget of $ 411 million (US) per year would also have resulted in closing-down Twenthe airbase and Fort Seedorf, a Dutch army base in Germany. Holland flies the P-3C Update II.5 aircraft, 13 of which were ordered from Lockheed in 1978 and the first of which were delivered in 1982.

Since 1992 and the end of the Cold War, Dutch Orions have flown anti-narcotics operations over the Caribbean out of Hato Airfield on Curacao. Another ongoing mission has been fishery-, pollution-, and environmental-patrol on behalf of the Dutch Coast Guard, frequently flown over the Dutch territorial part of the North Sea. Since July 1992 Orions have been permanently detached to NAS Sigonella, Italy, where they are part of the multi-national "Operation Sharp Guard," patrolling the Adriatic Sea to maintain the UN embargo against former Yugoslavian states. Similar missions were flown over the area around Haiti in support of "Operation Support Democracy".

Original plans called for a P-3 "Capability Upkeep Program" (CUP-Orion) in the period 1997-2003, with $ 103 million having been reserved to upgrade the Dutch P-3Cs with replacement of the ASQ-114 central computer by the Paramax ASQ-212; installation of TI APS-137 ISAR, ALR-66 ESM, and replacement of the ARR-72 acoustic processor by the CDC UYS-503. Other plans included universal display and control stations.

The Dutch Ministry of Defence’s sudden dropping of last month’s announcement that it planned to liquidate the RNLN Maritime Patrol Group (MARPAT) is said to have occurred under pressure from the majority of the Dutch parliament, which has decided to keep the P-3s flying until at least the beginning of 2005. RNLNAS Valkenburg will also remain open for at least one more year. During this extra time studies will be done regarding current tasking of the Orions. One possibility mentioned is the transformation of the RNLN MARPAT Group into a Dutch-German MARPAT Group, with RNLNAS Valkenburg playing a key part. Perhaps Germany’s search for a new MPA aircraft will be resolved in this way.