There are just four S-3 Vikings plying the skies these days and none of them are executing the mission they were designed for. This may be about to change as South Korea is reportedly moving forward with a plan to return a dozen of the maritime patrol jets to service.
The timing of this announcement is especially relevant as the most recent confrontation with North Korea showcased just how relevant and ready North Korea’s submarine capability remains, regardless of its old age. S-3B’s, which were designed to patrol thousands of square miles surrounding American Carrier Battle Groups, will be well suited for reconnoitering the seas around the Korean Peninsula, and if it comes to it, attacking surface and subsurface threats.
If South Korea gets its S-3 Vikings, they will fill the space left by the retired S-2 tracker, fielding a medium-range capability falling in between the country’s Lynx and Super Lynx anti-submarine warfare helicopters and the country’s fleet of 16 aging P-3C Orion long-range maritime patrol aircraft.
It is not clear at this time what new systems are envisioned for these refurbished jets or what defense contractor would do the work of reanimating and upgrading them. Lockheed, the manufacturer of the Viking, and Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) have a notoriously tight working relationship and seeing how the S-3 would have to integrate with existing South Korean anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare assets, the Lockheed KAI team seems like the most likely candidate.
Even though the S-3 was controversially retired a half decade ago, the type has been eyed for decades to fulfill many other tasks aside from its original carrier-borne anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions, along with the ELINT, carrier onboard delivery and tanker missions it executed during its career. As of yet, none of these new missions have panned out nor have other potential users snapped up the surplus Vikings as some thought they would have.As such, Korea’s push to move their S-3 acquisition forward is exciting.
Regardless of all the potential uses for the Viking, the jet was pulled from its original mission seemingly prematurely, during the “peace dividend” years following the end of the Cold War. Today, with the proliferation of advanced submarine technology, and the rise of multiple potential peer-state rivals, an upgraded S-3’s presence in America’s Carrier Air Wings seems to make more sense than ever.
Although they won’t be flying off of aircraft carriers while wearing South Korean colors, the potential reintroduction of an upgraded Viking into anti-submarine and surface warfare service may just prove how invaluable the aircraft’s capabilities could be. This is especially true for smaller countries who are now facing maritime threats like they have never encountered before.
Simply put, there is no other platform in the world available with the unique capability set of the S-3. Who knows, with new mission systems maybe this sub-hunters glory days lay in its future instead of in its past.
Photos via US Navy
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.