President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday touted the capabilities of the nation’s latest maritime patrol aircraft, as the military showed off a newly delivered Lockheed P-3C Orion at an air force base in Pingtung County.
“As the president of the country, I’m proud that the aircraft is joining the force,” Ma said at a ceremony at the air force’s 439th Combined Wing base.
“The P-3C fleet will help Taiwan better protect navigational safety and give Taiwan a naval edge, thanks to its highly advanced reconnaissance surveillance and communications systems,” he said.
The air force took delivery of the plane on Sept. 25.
Three more aircraft are scheduled to arrive by the end of the year, five more next year and another three in 2015, when the 12-strong squadron will be commissioned, Ma said
The aircraft was manufactured in 1973 and has been mothballed ever since.
Experts say the refurbished P-3Cs, which can stay in the air for up to 17 hours and are armed with Harpoon missiles and MK46 torpedoes, will expand the nation’s maritime surveillance patrol capabilities tenfold
“After upgrading key parts and components, it is as good as those currently in service in the United States,” Ma said.
“Despite the warming ties with China over the past five years, it does not mean that we can allow our national defense to slacken off,” he said.
As China has not changed its military policies against Taiwan, “we have to be fully prepared,” he said.
The P-3Cs will replace a squadron of 11 S-2T anti-submarine aircraft that have been in service for more than 40 years, the air force said.
The S-2Ts will be completely decommissioned in 2017, the air force said, adding that components and the engines from the aircraft will go to private groups to be exhibited or to schools for educational purposes.
Sixteen pilots are undergoing P-3C flight training in the US that is due to be completed in the middle of next year, the air force said.
The US government approved the sale of the 12 P-3Cs to Taiwan in 2007.
Additional reporting by AFP