A reporter with the Mainichi Daily News goes on a ride-along on a MSDF P-3C Orion as it patrols the Senkaku archipelago.
On this day, Oct. 13, I have been given the chance to come along with highly trained members of the MSDF’s 5th Aviation Group on a training flight over the East China Sea in their P3C patrol plane. This is a tense area and a tense job, the front lines of a smoldering bilateral dispute with grave implications for both China and Japan.
“Moving to identify,” one of the crew says. Radar has picked up a surface vessel, and pilot Commander Tadahisa Maeda, 45, brings the four-engine plane down to just 150 meters.
“Target is a tanker,” says weapons chief Petty Officer 1st Class Masaki Miyasono, 38, and takes a photo from one of the round windows. The ship has a Panamanian registration, and after confirming it is carrying nothing suspicious, Maeda takes the P3C back up.
The P3C has a wingspan of 30.4 meters, is 35.6 meters long, 10.3 meters tall and crews 11. Japan flies 80 such surveillance aircraft out of four bases across the country. Every day they cover seas around Japan, from Hokkaido Bay in the north to the East China Sea off Okinawa in the south.
Read more at The Mainichi Daily News.
The P-3C in the story almost certainly took off from Naha Air Base on Okinawa. P-3Cs from Naha make daily flights over the Senkakus and adjacent waters. About a squadron’s worth of P-3s are based at Naha, as seen here on Google Maps.
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Naha+Airport,+Japan&hl=en&ll=26.200802,127.648902&spn=0.001374,0.002733&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=41.275297,89.560547&vpsrc=6&hq=Naha+Airport,+Japan&t=h&z=19 width=575 height=400 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]
Japan’s fleet of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft are some of the most important weapons in the SDF’s inventory. The vast distances between mainland Japan and farther-flung (and often uninhabited) islands makes a virtual presence by airpower essential. They are also some of the hardest working, doing daily patrols, in the case of the Senkakus patrol up to eight hours a day.
The MSDF’s P-3C Orion aircraft are to be replaced with the P-1, domestically built by Kawasaki.
A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch