Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) despatched two P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the Middle East on 11 January to carry out intelligence-gathering operations in the region aimed at helping ensure the safety of vessels conducting commercial operations with Japan, amid tensions between Washington and Tehran. The JMSDF was approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 27 December 2019, will also include the deployment to the region of Takanami-class destroyer JS Takanami , which is due to leave the Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo on 2 February.
During the mission the aircraft will operate from Japan’s base in Djibouti, where since 2009 other P-3C Orion MPAs have been deployed to hunt for pirates off the coast of Africa. The MPAs, which departed from Naha Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, are expected to begin their 11-month-long mission on 20 January while the warship will begin operations in the region in mid-February. Tokyo decided to avoid despatching the JMSDF to the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, which have been at the centre of the US-Iranian tensions in recent months.
The Lockheed P-3 Orion is a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft developed for the United States Navy and introduced in the 1960s. Lockheed based it on the L-188 Electra commercial airliner. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operated 93 P-3C, five EP-3, five OP-3C, one UP-3C, three UP-3D. The Kawasaki Corporation assembled five airframes produced by Lockheed, and then Kawasaki produced more than 100 P-3s under license in Japan. The Kawasaki P-1 is gradually replacing them.