The P-3C Orions belonging to the VP-40 “Fighting Marlins” are returning home after their final deployment to the Middle East.
On Oct. 3, 2019, three P-3C Orions belonging to VP-40 (the examples BuNo 162318 flying as “VVQE318”, BuNo 158222 “VVQE222”, and BuNo 160287 “VVQE287”), coming from Souda Bay, Crete, landed at Lajes Field. The aircraft were the first P-3s belonging to the “Fighting Marlins” to perform a stopover in the Azores, on their way from the type’s final deployment to Sheik Isa Air Base, in Bahrain.
More P-3Cs are flying the same westward route to NASWI: two additional P-3Cs (reportedly BuNo 162773 and 162776) should make a stop in Lajes in the afternoon on Oct. 7.
Noteworthy, the first three aircraft could be tracked online while flying from Souda to Lajes, although flight tracking websites and DB had some mismatches in the registrations. The one using callsign VVQE287 (“Navy QE287”) showed on flight tracking websites with BuNo 161766 (although its real registration was 160287) whereas the one using callsign VVQE318 was shown as 162770.
— ItaMilRadar (@ItaMilRadar) October 3, 2019
— nde (@5472_nde) October 3, 2019
The aircraft nightstopped in the Azores and departed on Oct. 4, 2019, bound for Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, on the US Atlantic coast. From there the Orions would continue their flights back to their homebase at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), Washington.
VP-40’s Orions had started deploying on Mar. 25, 2019, after finishing a 12-month inter-deployment readiness cycle at NASWI. Actually, the aircraft did not only deploy to Bahrain: some VP-40 P-3s went to Kadena, Okinawa, in Japan, within the 7th Fleet AOR.
“From Sheik Isa, VP-40s P-3Cs are positioned to conduct routine anti-submarine warfare and counter-piracy patrols, among other missions, throughout the region, including around various strategic points, such as the Strait of Hormuz,” Joseph Trevithick wrote in a story at The War Zone back in April. “The planes at Kadena, situated on the island of Okinawa, will be flying many of the same missions in the western Pacific and may find themselves tasked to help keep an eye out for North Korean ships looking to circumvent international sanctions. You can read more about the kind of missions that Navy patrol squadrons undertake here.”
The deployment to the Middle East of the VP-40’s Orions marks the end of an area: the squadron is the last U.S. Navy’s active duty P-3 Orion unit; upon completion of its final deployment in the 5th Fleet AOR (Area Of Responsibility), the “Fighting Marlins” will retire the P-3 beginning to begin a period of transition to the P-8A Poseidon.
The sundown deployment of the VP-40 “Fighting Marlins” does not mark the end of the P-3 Orion activites on NASWI though. The Naval Reserve squadron, VP-69, is not scheduled to transition away from the P-3C during 2019. The VQ-1 will also continue to operate the EP-3E ARIES II SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) aircraft ( a highly modified version of the P-3C that became famous on Apr. 1, 2001 when one such planes and its crew were detained for 11 days following a collision with a Chinese J-8IIM fighter – that crashed causing the death of the pilot – and the subsequent emergency landing at Ligshui airbase, in Hainan island) for a few more years. Interestingly, as highlighted by Trevithick in his article, another P-3 unit slated to operate a special variant of the P-3C equipped with a variety of specialized intelligence-gathering hardware, for some more time, is Patrol Squadron Special Projects Unit Two (VPU-2), the “Wizards”.
H/T to the APS – Associação Portugal Spotters for the shots and interesting details about the VP-40 P-3s nightstopping in Lajes!