Lockheed EP-3E Orion (Aries II)Two USN Fleet Air Reconnaissance Sqns are equipped with a total of 11 EP-3E Orion (Aries II), VQ-1 PR based at Whidbey Island, Washington State and VQ-2 JQ based at Rota in Spain. Both squadrons were originally equipped with the EP-3B, which replaced the EC-121 in 1969. The EP-3E (Aries II) is the latest version and entered service with each squadron between 1971-5
The original task of the EP-3E was to eavesdrop on Warsaw Pact navies, ‘fingerprinting’ their radar and communication suites. However, with the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the EP-3E’s now provide Fleet support tasks as well as having a strategic national security role.
Each aircraft is equipped with comprehensive array of direction finding, analysis and recording equipment. This equipment includes the ALQ-110 radar signals gathering system and ALD-8 radio direction finder, ALR-52 automatic frequency measuring receiver and an ALR-60 which records multiple radio communications. The normal crew of an EP-3E is 24 consisting of 7 officers and 17 enlisted personnel, comprising 3 pilots, a Navigator and a Flight Engineer the remaining 19 comprise the ELINT and COMINT teams and equipment support technicians.
In April 2001, over international waters, an EP-3E (Aries II) 156511 ‘PR-32’ of VQ-1 was involved in a collision with a Chinese Naval Air Arm J-8IID Finback fighter, resulting in severe damage to the EP-3E and the loss of the Finback, together with the pilot. The captain eventually managed to make an emergency landing at Lingshui Air Base on Hainan Island, where the aircraft was impounded and the crew imprisoned by the Chinese authorities. The crew were repatriated and eventually the partley disassembled aircraft was flown back to its base in the hold of a chartered An-124.