Naval Air: October 5, 2002


Since 1962, the U.S. Navy's P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft has been searching the oceans for enemy warships and submarines. A 62 ton, four engine aircraft, it can stay in the air for twelve hours and carries a crew of ten. But when the Cold War ended in 1991, the navy quickly realized that the P-3 would soon have very few Russian warships to hunt for. So the P-3 tried out it's radars and night vision gear on dry land and found that they were quite effective. The P-3's got a workout in the Balkans in the late 1990s and proved very valuable in Afghanistan. Ironically, the fact that Afghanistan doesn't have a coast line is what made the P-3 so valuable there. The P-3 can stay in the air for over 12 hours, mainly because it's turbo-prop engines provide the combination of slow speed and high fuel efficiency that marks a superior recon aircraft. By 2001, the P-3s were equipped to provide real time video to commanders as they cruised over Afghanistan. So while the P-3s never saw combat against the Soviet navy, it did play an important role in sinking the Taliban. The U.S. Navy is upgrading the electronics on the P-3 to keep it competitive in the ground reconnaissance game. 


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