Portugal to acquire German P-3C Orion aircraft

On 30th August 2023, the Portuguese Council of Ministers (Presidência do Conselho de Ministros) issued the resolution No. 102/2023, authorizing the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa) to buy six P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) from Germany.

Over the last few years, the future of German fleet of the P-3C Orion aeroplanes had been a subject of long-lasting debates but finally, in June of 2021, the German authorities made decision to buy five Boeing P-8A Poseidon MPA. That decision also meant abandonment of further modernization of the German P-3C fleet and its retirement was re-scheduled to 2025 (instead of 2035, as initially planned).

In consequence, Germany announced that the entire Orion fleet, as well as additional inventory, is available for sale. The complete package included six aircraft, Mid-Life Upgrade programme, spare parts, supporting equipment and test stands, as well as flight simulators and know-how related to tactical procedures.

That offer aroused interest of the Portuguese military authorities. According to the aforementioned government resolution, the P-3C Orion is currently the only aeroplane allowing Portuguese Air Force to fulfil its tasks related to long-range search and rescue missions, surveillance and reconnaissance over the maritime areas being under Portuguese jurisdiction, as well as to be equipped with the corresponding weapons.

Lockheed P-3C Orion, German Naval Aviation

According to official information, acquirement of the former German P-3C fleet will cost Portugal 45 million EUR, to be paid in annual instalments between 2023 and 2027. Purchasing the German aircraft also means that the Portuguese inventory of the P-3C Orion aeroplanes will grow to eleven examples.

It is interesting that both currently operated and soon-acquired P-3C Orion aircraft of the Portuguese Air Force will all be the former Dutch aeroplanes. Between 1982 and 2006, the Netherlands Naval Aviation Service (Marineluchtvaartdienst) operated the fleet of thirteen P-3 Orion MPAs. After their retirement, the Dutch aeroplanes were sold to Portugal and Germany.

The Portuguese P-3 Orion aircraft are currently a subject of modernization programme that upgrades them to a new standard known as CUP+. It was already disclosed by Portuguese authorities that the newly acquired, ex-German aeroplanes, are going to join the aforementioned modernization procedure.

It must be also mentioned that expanding the Portuguese Orion fleet to eleven aircraft, as well as implementing the CUP+ upgrade, means the country is now postponing decision of purchasing any new generation maritime patrol aircraft. Only a few months ago, a lot has been said about possible acquirement of the P-8A Poseidon or Airbus C-295MPA. However, the recent decision of the Portuguese authorities clearly indicates the country is going to maximise the use of the P-3C aeroplanes, without any investment to a completely new MPA platform.

Lockheed P-3C Orion, Nordholz air base, 2019