The AP-3C Orion is an extremely versatile aircraft capable of land and maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, naval fleet support, and search and rescue operations.
The Orion aircraft first entered military service in 1968 as the P-3B model, with the P-3C variant first introduced in 1978. Following several modification projects the significantly upgraded AP-3C Orion (current) were introduced into service in 2002. The AP-3C is a significantly enhanced capability from the first P-3B model; now fitted with a variety of sensors, including digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures, electro-optics detectors (infra-red and visual), magnetic anomaly detectors, friend or foe identification systems and acoustic detectors. Based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in 2012 the AP-3C Orion ceased 10 years of operational service in the Middle East, completing 2,400 missions with more than 3,500 personnel deployed throughout the period.
The AP-3C Orion aircraft is currently deployed on Operations RESOLUTE, GATEWAY, SOLANIA providing support to Border Protection and Fisheries patrols within the South East Asia and Pacific regions. On these missions the AP-3C Orion may work alone or in conjunction with other aircraft or ships. Wartime missions could include maritime strike using eithertorpedoes and/or Harpoon anti-shipping missiles. Due to the AP-3C's excellent surveillance abilities, the Orion is often called on to assist civil authorities in maritime search and rescue operations including survivorsearch and supply (air drop) missions. Notably, the AP-3C Orion was the primary Australian aircraft utilised in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
The AP-3C Orion is in the process of a graduated draw down to retirement with the final aircraft planned withdrawal date in 2021. The AP-3C will be replaced by the P-8A Poseidon and MQ-4C Triton who will perform the vital functions of long range maritime patrol.