By Renee Hatcher
PMA-290 Public Affairs
A Royal Thai Navy (RTN) P-3T arrived at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in April for a radar upgrade that will benefit Thailand as well as the United States in the global war on terror.
NAVAIRs Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) Program Office (PMA-290) is responsible for the upgrade under the auspices of a foreign military sales (FMS) case. A combined NAVAIR/Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) team at NAS Patuxent River will replace the antiquated APS-80 radar system with a Raytheon commercial off the shelf (COTS) SeaVue radar. This radar will provide enhanced capabilities such as Inverse Synthetic Aperture, as well as a replacement for the functions that were provided by the obsolete APS-80 radar.
Thailand is a coalition partner in Iraq with the United States, said Capt. Steve Eastburg, MSA program manager. The more allies we have with advanced capabilities who can gather and share information and intelligence with the United States, the better poised we all are to win the war on terrorism.
The NAWCAD team will take about eight to 10 weeks to install, integrate and test the COTS SeaVue radar. Ground and flight-testing will be performed at NAS Patuxent River, including a functional check flight, and four five-hour test flights. The upgraded P-3T will be used to train an RTN crew consisting of two pilots, a flight engineer, two naval flight officers, one in-flight technician, and one radar operator prior to ferrying the RTN P-3T back to U-Tapao, Thailand.
We are by no means a production facility, but here at NAVAIR/NAWCAD we have assembled a team of exceptionally talented and skilled professionals who can handle, on a limited basis, a unique upgrade such as this, said John Patterson, PMA-290s deputy program manager for Thailand.
In 1994, the RTN bought five P-3As from the United States via FMS. Three are currently in use flying operational and logistics missions. One was eventually disassembled for spare parts while the other is used solely as a T56-A-14 engine test bed. The U.S. Navy provided maintenance and aircrew training, and also conducted follow-on training. The RTN uses its fleet of P-3s for maritime surveillance, counter-drug operations, VIP flights and to fight piracy. A three-Phased Depot Maintenance (PDM), the first major maintenance conducted on this aircraft since delivery in 1995, was performed at a Lockheed Martin Aircraft Center (LMAC) in Greenville, S.C. prior to arrival at NAS Patuxent River. A NAVAIR Depot Jacksonville ferry crew flew the aircraft from Greenville to Patuxent River.
In December 2003, the RTN decided to pursue depot level maintenance and a radar upgrade for its P-3T. To get a better idea of the structural integrity of the airframe, the NAVAIR/ NAVAIR Depot Team conducted a Material Condition Inspection (MCI) on all three aircraft in U-Tapao, Thailand prior to the three-phase PDM and radar upgrade.
Since the delivery of the aircraft, the RTN has been mostly self-sufficient with respect to maintaining their P-3 aircraft in spite of having a limited maintenance capability, Patterson said. The aircraft were in surprisingly better condition than we initially expected, considering the climate in Thailand and that the aircraft had not received a major maintenance overhaul for nine years.
The RTN plans to upgrade all three operational aircraft. Based on the successful execution of the first upgrade effort, the RTN is currently budgeting for the other two aircraft. The second upgrade could begin as early as October 2005. The RTN is also considering additional avionics upgrades in the future.
My team and I have been working very closely with Capt. Worapol, RTN Air Division Wing One commander, Patterson said. We have been extremely fortunate in that Capt. Worapol has been supportive and thoroughly involved from the beginning of the program.
Not everything, however, was smooth sailing. On the six-day journey from Thailand to the United States, Worapol led the first all-RTN crew to fly from U-Tapao, Thailand to the United States. It was the longest flight ever for the RTN P-3T and for its flight crew.
Just before arriving at their final destination at LMAC in Greenville, the RTN had a scheduled stop in NAS North Island, Calif. and discovered the main landing gear on the P-3T had developed a gas/hydraulic leak. Through an interpreter, PMA-290ss Tom Wilson, of RBC Inc, talked a non-English speaking, 18-year-old RTN maintenance technician, Prapat Yaibua, through the steps necessary to trouble shoot and re-service the leaking landing gear.
This young kid had his Wing Commander hovering over him saying this has to get fixed now and he pulled it off, Wilson said. When I finally met Prapat Yaibua in Greenville, I gave him a great big hug because I knew how scared he must have been.
The courage and dedication of that young man represents the strength of his proud nation as it recovers from the tragic effects of a tsunami caused by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004. The earthquake caused giant, deadly waves to crash ashore killing tens of thousands. The USN sent several of its P-3Cs to assist Thailand in its recovery by patrolling the devastated area looking for survivors and providing real time communications with aid agencies, directing badly needed relief supplies to those most in need.
Thailand has expressed its appreciation for US aid following the tsunami but would have loved to have had the capability to do it themselves, Wilson said. With the upgrades to this P-3T, the U.S. Navy will deliver an aircraft thats fully capable of performing tsunami relief missions and much more. Were helping them to help themselves in more ways than one.
Photo by Mike Wilson
A Royal Thai Navy P-3T arrives at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on April 28 for a radar upgrade.