Why was it retired?
The Navy is unlikely to return to the Viking, despite its demonstrated flexibility. This is out of a defensible preference for operating fewer different types of aircraft to maximize efficiency in training, maintenance and spare parts. However, the Viking’s retirements reinforces the Navy’s continued reliance on short-range carrier-based aircraft, which is becoming an increasing liability as more capable shore-based missiles threaten carriers at or beyond the maximum combat radius of their onboard aircraft.
Roughly nine years ago the U.S. Navy retired:
A) Its only dedicated carrier-based tanker;
B) its last dedicated carrier-based antisubmarine airplane;
C) a carrier-based plane with more than twice the range of its current jets;
D) all of the above.
With a maximum speed of only five hundred miles per hour—many airliners fly faster—the S-3 Viking wasn’t about to be the subject of any movies starring Tom Cruise. However, the long-legged jets proved extremely useful in a very wide variety of roles, whether as an electronic spy, submarine hunter, aerial tanker, cargo plane or even an attack jet. And many of those roles have not been satisfactorily replaced since.
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The S-3 Viking was first conceived in 1960s to serve as a next-generation submarine hunter. In the event of a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the U.S. Navy’s most important mission would have been combating the Soviet Union’s large submarine fleet. If the war went nuclear, Soviet ballistic-missile submarines could have wreaked terrible devastation on U.S. cities. And if the conflict remained conventional, then attack submarines would have done their best to sink convoys of American troop ships reinforcing NATO forces in Europe.