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Navy unit leaving Kaneohe for Washington

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 19, 2016

A Navy patrol and reconnaissance wing with roots in Hawaii back to the 1930s will be eliminated May 1 as U.S. Pacific Fleet consolidates two wings and transfers missions to Washington state.

The planes and personnel of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2 at Kaneohe Bay, which had three squadrons of P-3C Orion turboprop aircraft, are shifting to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Six to eight P-3Cs were assigned to each of the patrol squadrons — VP-4, VP-9 and VP-47.

The Navy decided it would be cheaper to base the units and newer replacement aircraft — P-8 Poseidon jets — at Whidbey. In 2012, the Navy estimated it could save $300 million by consolidating the aircraft on the West Coast and in Florida instead of maintaining those locations and Hawaii, too.

Eighteen Poseidons, a military version of the Boeing 737-800, were originally slated for Hawaii. As previously reported, the squadrons and planes will go to Washington state under the revised plan.

The Poseidons were expected to bring more jet traffic and noise to Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, as well as 904 personnel and about $150 million in base upgrades. However, Kaneohe Bay will become the operating point for a permanent detachment of two P-8s that will perform a Hawaii homeland defense mission.

Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2 is the evolution of Fleet Air Wing 2, established at Pearl Harbor in 1937 and with later service at Kaneohe Bay, Barbers Point and Kaneohe Bay again.

Even before that, in 1934, the U.S. Navy was worried about Japan’s expansion and transferred six P2Y-1 patrol flying boats from San Francisco in what amounted to the first nonstop formation flight from the United States to Hawaii.

PBY Catalina seaplanes were a signature aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941, with more than 60 on Oahu. A patrolling Catalina spotted a Japanese minisub off Pearl Harbor’s entrance before the attacks.

Since the 1950s, Barbers Point was known for its “Rainbow Fleet” of patrol squadrons that routinely deployed with P-2 and later P-3 aircraft to the northern and western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.

The Navy said the aircraft tracked Soviet submarines off the West Coast of the United States and supported operations in the Vietnam War, Gulf War and Kosovo. Later P-3 missions also included Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

Patrol Squadron 4, the “Skinny Dragons,” departed from Kaneohe Bay for the last time in March on a deployment to Sigonella, Sicily; Djibouti; and El Salvador to deter drug trafficking.

The 12 aircrews of VP-4 will be the first of the three Hawaii squadrons to make the move to Whidbey Island to transition to the P-8 Poseidon.

“VP-4 has enjoyed great success for many years in Hawaii,” Cmdr. Christopher Smith, squadron executive officer, said in a Navy-produced news story in March. “Our sailors from today and years gone by have fantastic memories of serving in the Aloha State.”

Effective Feb. 1, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group Pacific will relocate from Hawaii to Washington state, the Navy said recently. On April 1, VP-47 will relocate.

Command of VP-4 was to change immediately to Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10 at Whidbey; on Sept. 1 for VP-47; May 1 for VP-9; and May 1 for the highly secretive Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2, or VPU-2.

P-3 Orions and the newer P-8 Poseidons are in high demand for surveillance, particularly across the vast expanses of the Pacific and Indian oceans. But changing missions coupled with operations out of locations including Asia, the Middle East and Europe have made the Hawaii basing less essential.

Capt. Steve Newlund, the commodore of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2, said in October that he saw no strategic detriment to reducing the maritime and sub-hunting capabilities in Hawaii, because that same capability will come from Whidbey Island.

©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Family and friends of sailors assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 9 watch as the final P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft touches down at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii on April 4, 2016 after a seven-month deployment.
AMBER PORTER/U.S. NAVY

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