[Extracted from Senate Hansard, 11 September 2003, pp.14367-8]

Defence: P3 Orion Flight
(Question No. 1639)

Senator Jacinta Collins asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 17 July 2003:

With reference to the P3 patrol map data obtained during the period 18 to 20 October 2001, which appears in chapter 8 of the report of the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, dated October 2002, and the P3 Orion maps of 20 October 2001 that were supplied to the committee, which indicate that the flight (see maps A-9, A-10, A-11) from the NW end of the flight path to the NE end of the flight path, some 250 nautical miles away, took 2 hours:

(1) Is it the case that the flight should have taken only one hour between these two points if the plane was flying at a rate of 200 to 330 knots per hour.

(2) Can the department indicate why the flight of 20 October 2001 took longer than the normal one hour to fly this path.

(3) What were the names of the crew on the P3 Orion flight on 20 October 2001.

(4) Can any of the data recorded for, or by, the crew members on the P3 Orion flights between 18 and 20 October 2001 (under Operation Relex) be made public, for example, sortie green, inflight REDS, Port Mission Form PURPLE, and mission tapes.

Senator Hill - The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1) It is correct that a P-3C Orion travelling in a straight line could travel 250 miles in one hour. However, when conducting a search, a P-3C is rarely flown in a straight line. Typically, the aircraft is manoeuvred left and right of the search path to avoid bad weather or to position the aircraft for visual identification of contacts. Furthermore, at times the aircraft will loiter in an area in order to confirm the identification of weak or fleeting radar contacts, which may turn out to be sea life (whale, dolphin, and school of fish), or simply cloud.

It is more realistic to view the NW to NE path presented in the maps provided as the intended track of the search, the actual track of the search aircraft is left and right of that path. The Defence submission which accompanies these maps clearly notes that they represent ‘the approximate path’ of these flights. In the interest of a thorough search the actual distance flown over a search leg is often much longer than the straight line distance. For this reason, the aircraft’s cruising speed is not directly relevant to the time taken to complete a search leg.

(2) The P-3 flight of 20 October 2001 took longer than one hour for the reasons given in part (1). The crew post flight report states ‘environmental conditions for this patrol were assessed as very poor due to cloud and rain in all areas’ and, poor environmental conditions can exacerbate the need for the aircraft to manoeuvre either side of the search path.

(3) Defence will not release the names of the P-3 crew as this information is classified.

(4) All of the data recorded by the P-3 crew that could be declassified has been, and put on the public record, including full details of all vessels sighted. The remaining source data, such as sortie Green, inflight reports, Form Purple, and mission tapes are classified and cannot be released.

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