Countries with the P-3 Orion in their arsenal include Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, with Vietnam expected to join their ranks in the future. The US Navy also has a large fleet of P-3 aircraft stationed all around the world, though these are gradually being replaced by the more advanced P-8A Poseidon.
Australia and America's P-3 aircraft are also largely equipped with AN/APS-14 coastal surveillance radar systems, which are said to have strong intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, and target recognition capabilities.
The Australian government recently announced that it is considering teaming up with the US to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where tensions have been escalating over China's land reclamation activities on disputed islands, which have so far resulted in more than 2,000 acres of man-made land being added to existing islands and reefs.
Based on a report from The Australian, it is believed that Canberra is currently assessing its options in the South China Sea, with the most likely option being the deployment of P-3 aircraft from the Butterworth airfield in Malaysia. China's nationalistic Global Times tabloid responded to the claims by noting that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has a large fleet of P-3 aircraft and solid pilot experience.
The US-based Combat Aircraft magazine alleges that Washington has plans to establish a "P-3 chain" comprising US military stationed in Japan, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the RAAF and even the Republic of China Air Force. The purpose of linking together these P-3 Orion bases is to contain Chinese vessels moving in and out of the first island chain of major archipelagos off the East Asian continental mainland coast, while also surveilling China's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, the magazine said.
Australia's ability to play a role in the South China Sea is not limited to the P-3 Orion, Duowei said, as it also has six Collins-class conventional submarines, four Adelaide-class frigates, eight Anzac-class frigates, eight landing craft and eight mine warfare vessels. Australia is also currently in talks with Japan for the purchase of Soryu-class submarines.
According to Duowei, Chinese experts believe the US is trying to use countries without a direct interest in the South China Sea such as Australia to balance or offset the pressure China's rise is putting on security in the Asia Pacific, and that Beijing must find a way to withstand the pressure in order to stand its ground.
A US Navy P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol aircraft in flight.