BRUNSWICK (AP) – Despite improvements over the years, the aging P-3 Orion aircraft that make up six squadrons at Brunswick Naval Air Station could be a weakness during the next round of base closings.

The Navy is expected to reduce its fleet of P-3 Orions from 230 to 148 planes, said Rick Tetrev, chairman of the Brunswick Naval Air Station Task Force, which was created to lobby for retaining the base.

Tetrev raised the issue Monday night during a presentation to the Brunswick Town Council on the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure proceedings.

“It’s a worrisome issue,” Tetrev said afterward.

There are no active plans to replace the Brunswick P-3 Orions, turboprop aircraft originally designed as long-range submarine hunters and later updated to include battlefield surveillance.

Brunswick Naval Air Station is currently home to four active-duty P-3 Orion patrol squadrons and two reserve squadrons. The aircraft can be armed with cruise missiles, air-to-ground missiles, torpedoes and depth charges.

Last month, the Defense Department estimated in a new report that it could save billions of dollars by closing as many as one-fourth of the country’s military bases next year. The report estimated saving $5 billion by 2011 and $8 billion each year after that.

That report was followed by an announcement that the station’s two helicopters will be eliminated as of July 1. Those helicopters conduct search-and-rescue missions throughout Maine.

Despite losing some of its value, Tetrev said, the base has a lot going for it. It is the only active air station in the Northeast, it has strong strategic military value, and it provides 63,000 square miles of unencumbered air space which can be used to fly missions or training, he said.

“It’s not over ’til it’s over,” Tetrev said. “There’s still enough reason left that we’ve got to stay vigilant. We’re going to keep plugging ahead and stirring the pot.”

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