Corpus Christi, Texas - U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Air and Marine today celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its P-3 surveillance aircraft program. There are 16 of these Orion aircraft operating in Corpus Christi, Texas and Jacksonville, Fla.
"The P-3 aircraft is a proven maritime patrol aircraft that has proven itself to be an effective asset in intercepting source and transit zone trafficking of illegal drugs," said Gen. Michael C. Kostelnik, CBP's assistant commissioner, air and marine office. "Air and Marine had the vision to extend the life of this aircraft by putting new wings on them-some something few operators were thinking about in 2006-and we are now helping to shape the way the aviation operations thinks."
Office of Air and Marine operates two P-3 variants, the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and the Long Range Tracker (LRT). The AEW provides wide area search and increased command, control and communications capabilities. The LRT is designed to intercept and track airborne and surface smuggling threats. The two variants often fly in tandem and when used in this manner the pair can identify, detect, monitor and intercept both airborne and maritime targets and have been instrumental in identifying self-propelled semi submersibles.
The P-3 AEW carries a crew of eight and can fly for 12 hours with a range of 3,000 nautical miles and at a ceiling of 26,000 feet. The LRT can also fly for 12 hours with range of 4,000 nautical miles and at 28,000 feet.
They are primarily used for long-range patrols either along the entire U.S. border or in source and transit zones throughout Central and South America.
Though the OAM P-3 program is celebrating 25 years, the aircraft's airframe is more than 40 years in age. The aircraft are going through a modification, which will add new wings and an additional 15-20 years to the life of the aircraft at a cost of about $320 million. Replacing the fleet would come at a cost of about $3 billion.
In 25 years, the P-3 program seized or disrupted nearly 1.9 million pounds of drugs and has flown over 120,000 hours.