Military Wiki
EP-3A/B Orion
U.S. Navy EP-3E of VQ-1
Role Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)
National origin United States
Manufacturer Lockheed
Status Active
Primary users United States Navy
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
Developed from P-3 Orion

The Lockheed EP-3 is the signals reconnaissance version of the P-3 Orion, operated by the United States Navy.


A total of 12 P-3C aircraft were converted to replace older versions of the aircraft, which had been converted in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The aircraft are known by the acronym ARIES, or "Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System".[1] The squadrons that flew the EP-3E also flew the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star from 1962 to 1974 and the Douglas EA-3B Skywarrior from 1960 to 1991. There are 11 EP-3Es in the Navy's inventory, the last of which was delivered in 1997.

Notable incidents

In April 2001 an aerial collision between a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II, a signals reconnaissance version and a People's Liberation Army Navy J-8IIM fighter resulted in an international incident between the United States and China. The J-8IIM crashed and its pilot was killed. The EP-3 came close to becoming uncontrollable, at one point sustaining a near inverted roll, but was able to make an emergency landing on Hainan. The crew and plane were subsequently detained by Chinese authorities, accused of "killing the Chinese pilot". In prior years VQ-1 crews had standing orders that in case of attempted forcedown or in case of the possibility of a crash-landing the aircraft was to be intentionally crashed with all hands aboard in lieu of landing in unfriendly territory.

After several days, the crew was repatriated separately to the United States while the aircraft remained in China, reported taken apart for research on American technology. Although the crew attempted to destroy as much classified material, hardware and software on the aircraft prior to the emergency landing, there is little doubt that the EP-3 was exploited by Chinese intelligence services. An American team was later permitted to enter Hainan in order to dismantle the aircraft, which was subsequently airlifted back to United States for reassembly and repair.

Fictional incidents


Boeing has started working on an unscheduled replacement aircraft, the EP-X, based on their 737.[2]

On 16 August 2009, The Navy issued an "EP-X Analysis of Alternatives" that called for "information useful for the execution of the Electronic Patrol-X (EP-X) program which will recapitalize the EP-3E aircraft to provide tactical, theater, and national level Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (ISR&T) support to Carrier Strike Groups and to Theater, Combatant, and National Commanders."[3]

On 23 September 2009, leaked Navy budget documents for FY2011 revealed that the EP-X program would be delayed rather than started in that year.[4]

On 1 February 2010, the President unveiled his proposed budget for 2010. This budget called for, among other things, cancelling the EP-X program.[5]


After the cancellation of the EP-X Program, the US Navy has planned to replace the EP-3E Aries II with the MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft and the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. All P-3 Orion aircraft assigned to special projects squadrons (VPU) and all EP-3E Aries II aircraft are expected to fully retire by 2020.[6]


U.S. Navy Lockheed EP-3A Orion of air test and evaluation squadron VX-1 Pioneers in 1983. This aircraft was used in the "EMPASS" project, the "Electromagnetic Performance of Air and Ship Systems" (EMPASS) Project.

  • EP-3A: Seven modified for electronic reconnaissance testing.
  • EP-3B: Least known of all P-3 family. 3 P-3A(149669, 149673, 149678) were obtained by CIA from US Navy under Project STSPIN in May 1963, as the replacement aircraft for CIA's own covert operation fleet of RB-69A/P2V-7U. Converted by Aerosystems Division of LTV at Greenville, Texas, the 3 P-3A were simply known as "black" P-3A under Project Axial. Officially transferred from US Navy to CIA on June/July 1964, LTV Aerosystems converted the 3 aircraft to be both ELINT and COMINT platform. First of 3 "black" P-3A arrived in Taiwan and officially transferred to ROCAF's top secret "Black Bat" Squadron on June 22, 1966. Armed with 4 Sidewinder short range AAM missiles for self-defense, the 3 "black" P-3A flew peripheral missions along the China coast to collect SIGINT and air samples. When the project was terminated in January 1967, all 3 "black" P-3A were flown to NAS Alameda, CA, for long term storage. 2 of the 3 aircraft(149669 and 149678) were converted into the only 2 EP-3B examples in existence in the world by Lockheed at Burbank in September 1967, while the third aircraft(149673) were converted by Lockheed in 1969-1970 to serve as a development aircraft for various electronic programs. The 2 EP-3B were known as "Bat Rack", owing to their short period of service with Taiwan's "Black Bat" Squadron, were issued to US Navy's VQ-1 Squadron in 1969 and deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. Later, the 2 EP-3B were converted to EP-3E ARIES, along with 10 EP-3A. The 12 EP-3E retired in 1990s, when replaced by 12 EP-3E ARIES II.[7]
  • EP-3: ELINT aircraft for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.
  • EP-3E ARIES: 10 P-3As and 2 EP-3Bs converted into ELINT aircraft.
  • EP-3E ARIES II: 12 P-3Cs converted into ELINT aircraft. Last delivered 1997.[8]
  • EP-3J: Two modified from P-3As for FEWSG use as a simulated adversary EW platform in exercises; later transferred to the former Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 33 (VAQ-33), then transferred to the former Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 11 (VQ-11).


United States

Specifications (EP-3)

Lockheed EP-3E ARIES II in 2006

General characteristics

  • Crew: 22+
  • Length: 116 ft 7 in (35.57 m)
  • Wingspan: 99 ft 6 in (30.36 m)
  • Height: 33 ft 7 in (10.27 m)
  • Wing area: 1300 ft² (120.8 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 0014-1.10 (Root) - NACA 0012-1.10 (Tip)
  • Empty weight: 77,200 lb (35,000 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 135,000 lb (61,400 kg)
  • Useful load: 57,800 lb (26,400 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 142,000 lb (64,400 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Allison T56-A-14 turboprop, 4,600 shp (3,450 kW) each
  • Propellers: Four-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller, 1 per engine
    • Propeller diameter: 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m)


  • Maximum speed: 780 km/h (420 knots, 485 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 650 km/h (350 knots, 405 mph)
  • Range: 2,380 nm (2,739 mi / 4,400 km)
  • Service ceiling: 30,000 feet (9,150 m)

See also


  • Winchester, Jim, ed. Military Aircraft of the Cold War (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2006. ISBN 1-84013-929-3.

External links

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