Taiwanese Orions declared fully operational as Trackers retire
December 01, 2017 • Leave a Comment
This is an abridged version of the article. The full text can be viewed in the February 2018 issue of AirForces Monthly pp 30-31.
The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) has withdrawn its final operational S-2T Tracker and declared its fleet of 12 P-3C Orions fully operational in a ceremony witnessed by President Tsai Ing-wen on 1 December 2017 at Pingtung North AFB. The S-2T, serial 2220, returned from its last sortie and was greeted by a water cannon salute, bringing an end to the type's iconic and rich career with the Taiwanese military.
The mainstay of Taiwanese maritime surveillance and anti-submarine work for half a century, The ROCAF inducted 10 S-2As in 1967 as its first ASW-capable aircraft. Thirty-four S-2Es were put on strength in the late 1970s with the 33rd and 34th Squadrons, followed by seven S-2Gs in the mid-1980s. Under Project 'Tien Shan', 27 S-2E/Gs were upgraded to S-2T standard in the late 1980s and early 1990s, incorporating new engines and various mission equipment improvements to the sonobuoy receivers and processors, magnetic anomaly detector, radar and FLIR. The upgraded Trackers proved their worth in the 1990s detecting Chinese and American submarines snooping on major Taiwanese military exercises, the latter was a USN Los Angeles-class submarine on a SIGINT-collection mission while ROCAF Mirage 2000s were live-firing MICA missiles in an exercise in 1998. Taiwan was the only user of the MICA outside France at that time and this presented a unique opportunity for the US to gather telemetry data of the missiles.
In recent years, the S-2T’s poor mission availability and its inability to track the latest Chinese submarines saw the Defence Ministry procure 12 P-3C Orions in a US$1.96 billion contract in 2007. The P-3s were pulled from storage at AMARG and underwent a re-wing and structural service life extension program, as well as an avionics upgrade to bring them to late USN P-3C Orion standards.
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