Navy Decommissions Three More VP Squadrons; Future of Maritime Patrol Aviation in Doubt

OPNAV NOTICE 3111 29 Nov 05

From: Chief of Naval Operations

To: All COMPATWING

UNCLAS

1. Purpose: To approve disestablishment of subject fleet activities, all under the administrative command of the Chief of Naval Operations.

2. Background: The disestablishment of PATRON SIX FIVE (VP-65), PATRON SIX SIX (VP-66), and PATRON NINE FOUR (VP-94) are in compliance with the Active Reserve Integration (ARI) plan. In adddition, P-3 aircraft fatique issues have required the grounding of 30 aircraft during CY 05, neccessitating an accelerated disestablishment plan to recapitalize scarce aircraft resources.

3. Organizational Changes: Effective 31 March 2006, disestablish VP-65, VP-66 and VP-94.

VP-65 is in Point Mugu, CA. VP-66 in Willow Grove, PA. VP-94 in New Orleans, LA. None of the three squadrons had any aircraft left on the ramp (emphasis added - Ed.). Their 12 P-3s were already on temp loan to active squadrons. All 12 will be transfered no later than 01 Feb 06 to either the active fleet or the boneyard at Davis Mothan AFB. IMRL gear and SE are already in process of being shipped to other locations.

This will reduce the Reserve P-3 force to a total of 18 P-3 aircraft in CY 06.

MESSAGE ENDS

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This is nearly catastrophic regarding the Navy's long-range patrol aviation and ASW capabilities. This memo confirms rumors heard earlier that the Navy now has less than 100 flyable P-3C aircraft, down from 288 in 2003. Stress tests on remaining aircraft made engineers wet their pants. The theoretical max safe wing loading at this point had been calculated to be 3.7Gs. When tested, however, detectible fractures began occuring at 2.8Gs -- what you get in a moderately hard landing or on station in turbulence.

In 2005 alone, the US Navy has contracted with a number of companies, including, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Communications, and Logistics Services International for a total of over $249 million just for structural inspections and repair, principally the wings.

The P-8A, recently chosen to replace the P-3C beginning after 2012, is estimated to cost the Navy at least $15 billion -- money the Navy does not have. Attempts to get allied countries to partner with the US in developing the P-8 for a relatively paultry $300 million each have so far failed. While the Navy has yet to announce the per unit price for the P-8, it is this author's belief that the ongoing war on terrorism and the Navy's clear shift of emphasis to the DD(X), CVN(X), and LCS will starve the P-8 project to the point that no more than 50 will be eventually produced for the US. Fifty would be enough to equip two sqadrons at NAS WHIDBEY ISLAND and two squadrons at NAS JACKSONVILLE with eight aircraft each, plus an additional twelve or so for the RAG at VP-30. However, it is not inconceivable that the program will be defunded entirely and US Navy long range patrol aviation be allowed to die a quiet death. Indeed, as the fourth generation AIP-equipped diesel-electric subs quietly spread across the Third World, the future of US Navy air ASW may rest with the helicopter fleet, aided by surface ships, US subs, and the single fastest-growing weapon in our arsenal, Unmanned Vehicles.

What is the future of US Navy Maritime Air Patrol?