Maritime surveillance


Byline: Nigel Pittaway / Melbourne

The Cold War years pitted submarine forces of the United States and the Soviet Union against one another and spurned the development of sophisticated Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft to counter the undersea threat.

Vast expanses of the Indian and Pacific Oceans provided ideal submarine operating grounds and the Asia-Pacific region played an important part in the battle plans of both American and Soviet Navies.

Since the end of the Cold War the diminished submarine threat has evolved the role of Maritime Patrol Aircraft to focus more on Maritime Surveillance of crucial shipping lanes, border protection and fisheries patrol.

Several regional conflicts and the increase of terrorism and pirate-related activities has seen a proliferation of MPA assets, ranging from the top-of-the-range Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft to the relatively cheap to operate littoral surveillance platforms used by Coastguards and quasi-military organisations.


Arguably the most prolific MPA in the region is the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion, with no fewer than seven countries flying versions of the type. Several countries have either recently upgraded them, or have acquired second-hand aircraft which have been upgraded before delivery and there is an ongoing market for this work.

Boeing sees the737-based P-8 Poseidon Multi-Role Maritime Surveillance aircraft as the natural successor to the P-3 and India has become the first export customer for the aircraft to replace its existing fleet of ex-Soviet types. Australia also has a requirement to partially replace its upgraded AP-3C aircraft.

There is a growing market for a so-called second-tier platform, particularly among countries that need to safeguard their coastline and maritime approaches, but do not have the requirement to patrol vast stretches of open ocean. Typical of these are the ATR-42 Surveyor MP and the Airbus Military CN235MP Persuader. Locally, Indonesian Aerospace (PTDI) manufactures a variant of the CN235MPA to fulfil its own requirements and has also enjoyed some export success.

At the lighter end of the market, the Dornier/RUAG Do228 has enjoyed some success, alongside aircraft such as Hawker Beechcraft’s King Air 200T and Airbus Military C212 Aviocar. Unmanned platforms, such as Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Global Hawk are also set to proliferate.

Setting aside deployed US assets; the following is a brief overview of Maritime Patrol Aircraft activity in the region.


Australia has a fleet of 18 AP-3C Orions, which have maintained a continuous deployment to the Middle East since 2003. This has seen the mission set evolve from traditional Maritime Patrol to the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and has even added an overland surveillance role. They are subject to further upgrade, ensuring viability until replacement by both manned and unmanned platforms over the next decade.

In a similar manner to the US Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project, the AP-3C will be replaced by the P-8A Poseidon and a High Altitude Long Endurance unmanned platform later in the decade,

In addition, the civilian Coastwatch organization has a fleet of Bombardier DHC-8-200 patrol aircraft in support of Australian Customs and border protection agencies.


Having previously held discussions with Indonesia over the purchase of CN235MPA or NC212 aircraft, the Bangladesh Navy announced in June that it would purchase two RUAG Do228NG (New Generation) aircraft.

The first fixed-wing aircraft to be operated by the Bangladesh Navy, the two specially-equipped aircraft will be used for maritime air patrol and search and rescue missions. Deliveries will begin in 2013.


The oil-rich state of Brunei currently uses three Indonesian-built CN235-110MP aircraft to fulfil its maritime surveillance requirements.

The 2011 Defence White Paper flags Brunei’s desire to enhance this capability, saying it wishes to ‘develop a comprehensive recognised Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance picture’, as one of its priorities. Local press reports suggest further MP aircraft, with a more extensive sensor suite, will be purchased as a priority.


Although historically not a major user of Maritime Patrol aircraft, the emerging ambitions of China to become a global naval power will see capability increase dramatically over the next few years.

China is set to join the exclusive ranks of nations able to project air power off the decks of aircraft carriers and has a fast-growing submarine fleet which need protecting.

The country has operated a small fleet of Shaanxi Industry Corporation Y-8MPA aircraft since 1984. The aircraft is a development of the transport Y-8, itself a locally-built variant of the Russian Antonov An-12 and equipped with western surface surveillance radar.

China is embracing UAV technology and is known to be developing a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) platform. It has also displayed CG imagery of one such vehicle detecting and engaging a US Carrier Battle Group at the recent Zhuhai Airshow.


Over recent years the Indian Navy has relied upon the Ilyushin IL-38 ‘May’ and the mighty Tupelov Tu-142 ‘Bear’ for its Maritime Patrol capability. The Il-38s were reportedly upgraded to IL-38SD configuration with the Russian ‘Sea Dragon’ Multi-Mission Avionics and EW suite a few years ago but twelve Boeing P-8I Poseidons are on order, for delivery from 2013.

A version of the baseline US Navy P-8A, the aircraft represent the first purchase of an American combat aircraft in India’s history and the first export order.

The Indian Navy and Coastguard operate the Pilatus-Britten Norman BN-2B Islander and locally-assembled Do228 for littoral surveillance, and both will be replaced by a second-tier MPA system. Airbus Military are offering the CN235MP, whilst SAAB has proposed an AESA-equipped version of its SAAB 2000 MPA. Other companies are expected to bid when a formal competition begins in the next year or two.

India is also a proponent of unmanned surveillance, particularly in the wake of the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks and has a mix of IAI Searcher and Heron UAVs for coastal patrols.


Maritime surveillance of the huge Indonesian archipelago is divided between the TNI-AU (Air Force) and TNI-AL (Navy) and both services are in the process of receiving locally-built CN235-200MPAs to fulfil future requirements.

Three Boeing 737-2X9 Surveiller aircraft were delivered to the Air Force in 1982, equipped with a Side-Looking Airborne Modular Multi-Role Radar (SLAMMR) and a single CN235MPA was delivered in 2009.

Three similar CN235-220MPAs were ordered for the Navy in December 2009 to augment three local conversions of the NC212-200MPA, the last of which was delivered in 2007. The three aircraft represent half of the planned capability required to fulfil the Indonesian Government’s Maritime Essential Force concept, and up to 16 may be acquired over the next decade.


Japan flew the first prototype of its indigenous Kawasaki Heavy Industries XP-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft in September 2007 and plans to acquire 65 aircraft for the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force.

The turbofan-powered P-1 will ultimately replace Japan’s fleet of 100 (largely) KHI-built P-3C Orions acquired from 1981.

The JMSDF also operates a squadron of ShinMaywa US-2 four-engined amphibians for coastal search and rescue duties.

The Japanese Maritime Safety Agency (Coastguard) has a mixed fleet of Hawker Beechcraft King Air 200Ts, SAAB 340s and NAMC YS-11s on fisheries and border patrol and anti-pollution flights around Japan’s maritime areas of interest.


The Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) has a small fleet of Hawker Beechcraft 200Ts for maritime patrol, with a requirement to acquire a new capability during the next few years. Press reports in 2009 suggested Malaysia would sign an agreement with Indonesia for four CN235-200MPAs, but there has been no official announcement of such a deal by either Government.

Malaysia’s proximity to some of the worlds’ busiest sea lanes, in particular the Straits of Malacca was a catalyst behind the formation of the Air Wing of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Two Bombardier CL-415 amphibians were acquired in 2009 and converted to Maritime Patrol configuration with the installation of a Side Looking Infra Red Radar, an EO/IR turret and observation windows. The two CL-415MPs operate alongside a small fleet of helicopters in Malaysia’s territorial waters.


Myanmar received a gift of two Pilatus Britten Norman BN-2B Defenders from the Indian Navy in 2006 and a further pair was transferred the following year. Indian press reports at the time foreshadowed the possibility of further deliveries, but it is not known if this has, or will, occur.

India had flown the aircraft in the Maritime Patrol role but local sources suggest the aircraft were stripped of role-specific equipment before delivery.


Six P-3K Orions are flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force and are currently in the process of a major senor and systems upgrade. In the late 1990s they became the first P-3s to undergo a re-wing programme, extending their operational life until 2025.

The first upgraded aircraft, now designated P-3K2, arrived in New Zealand in April after being converted by L-3 Systems in the United States. The remaining aircraft are being upgraded by Safe Air NZ at Woodbourne and the largely Off-The-Shelf sensors and systems will provide enhanced ISR capability.

The country also has a requirement for a second tier MPA, to shoulder much of the fisheries patrol and border protection work. The 2010 Defence White Paper proposes a future force structure which will include a short-range MPA, which will also have a transport and pilot training capability. It also flags a P-3K2 replacement, to be studied sometime after 2015.


The Pakistani Navy first ordered the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion in 1992, to replace a small force of Aerospatiale Atlantics, but these were embargoed by the US Government until 1996.

A second batch of eight ex-US Navy aircraft were acquired through a Foreign Military Sales deal in 2005. Seven are being upgraded by Lockheed Martin prior to delivery and the first was delivered to Karachi in January 2007 to join the two survivors of the first batch. Deliveries are to be completed in 2012.

Two P-3Cs were destroyed in the recent terrorist attack on PNS Mehran near Karachi, which is also home base to five Fokker F.27-200 Maritime aircraft.


Four Fokker F.27 Maritime aircraft were delivered to the Philippine Air Force in 1982 but it is thought only two are currently active. The Navy also has a small fleet of BN-2A Defenders and at least one has recently been upgraded with modern navigations and communications systems.

President Benigno Aquino announced an Air Force modernisation package in July last year, which included a single ‘long-range maritime patrol aircraft’ of an undisclosed type.


The island state of Singapore maintains a modern and well equipped defence force which, in technical terms, is second to none in the region.

Maritime patrol is currently provided by a squadron of five Fokker 50 Enforcers, but the Republic of Singapore Air Force has reportedly expressed recent interest in acquiring several ex-US Navy P-3Cs. Boeing naturally sees Singapore as a future P-8A customer when it comes time to replace the Fokker 50s.

Singapore deployed a Fokker 50MPA to Djibouti in April, as part of the multinational Task Force 151 charged with counter-piracy duties in the Gulf of Aden.


The Republic of Korea Navy received the first of eight P-3C Orions in 1995 and has recently begun taking delivery of a like number of P-3CKs. The P-3CKs are ex-USN P-3Bs upgraded by Korean Aerospace Industries and L-3 Communications, first ordered in 2002 but delayed by systems integration problems. The first three were handed over at Pohang in March 2010.

In January 2009, Indonesian Aersospace announced it would supply four CN235-110MP aircraft to the South Korean Coastguard by 2012.

South Korea has also expressed a desire to acquire the Global Hawk HALE UAV for surveillance operations but is yet to gain US approval for any FMS sale.


Taiwan is also in the process of requiring refurbished ex-USN P-3s to update its maritime patrol capabilities.

Plans to acquire twelve P-3Cs were announced in late 2004, but the deal was repeatedly frustrated by wrangling between the two Governments. Taiwan originally wanted to refurbish eight of the aircraft locally, but an agreement was finally reached in 2009 for all work to be carried out in the United States.

The first aircraft was inducted into Lockheed Martin’s Maritime Systems and Sensors Tactical Systems facility in St Paul Minnesota in January 2010 and the final aircraft is expected to begin refurbishment in 2013.

The Republic of China Navy currently operates around twenty turboprop Grumman S-2T Trackers.


The Royal Thai Navy flies a mixed maritime patrol fleet of three F.27-200ME Maritime Enforcers, seven Dornier Do228-212s, two Bombardier CL-215s and two P-3T Orions, the latter supported by a UP-3T trainer.

The service has also flown a number of piston-engined S-2F Trackers over the years, but it is not known if any of these remain in service today.


Vietnam took delivery of the first of three Airbus Military C212-400MPAs in August and a second will arrive by the end of the year. The last aircraft will follow in 2012.

Equipped with the Swedish Space Corporation MSS 6000 SLAR, they will be used for maritime patrol, coastal surveillance, fisheries patrol and anti-drug trafficking operations.

Four Soviet-era Beriev Be-12 flying boats have been flown on Anti-Submarine Warfare duties since 1981, but it is not known if these are still serviceable.

In 2005 an order for twelve PZL-Mielec M-28 Skytrucks was announced, but only two were delivered. Plans to fit these with a maritime patrol sensor suite were seemingly abandoned after one aircraft crashed shortly after delivery.


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