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

The Lockheed EP-3 is an electronic signals reconnaissance variant of the P-3 Orion, primarily 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 is known by the acronym ARIES, or "Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System".[1] and has Signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities. SIGINT is the interception of signals, whether communications between people (communications intelligence—abbreviated to COMINT) or from electronic signals not directly used in communication (electronic intelligence—abbreviated to ELINT). The EP-3E generally has a crew of 24, including linguists, cryptographers and technicians.

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.

Hainan Island incident

Main article: Hainan Island incident

On 1 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 Shenyang J-8II fighter resulted in an international incident between the United States and China. Operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the PRC island province of Hainan Island, the EP-3 was intercepted by two J-8II fighters. One of the J-8IIs collided with it. The J-8II crashed into the sea and the pilot, Lt. Cdr. Wang, was seen to eject after the collision. His body was never recovered and he was declared dead. The EP-3 came close to becoming uncontrollable, at one point sustaining a nearly inverted roll, but was able to make a successful, unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui airfield on Hainan island, where the two J-8II fighters involved in the incident had been based. At least 15 distress signals from the Orion had gone unanswered. The crew and the plane were subsequently detained by Chinese authorities because of the death of the Chinese pilot.

After several days of interrogations, the crew was repatriated separately to the United States while the aircraft remained in China, reportedly taken apart for research on American intelligence 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 on board two of Russia's Polet Airlines Antonov An-124 Ruslan back to the United States for reassembly and repair.[2]

Other incidents

On 29 January 2018, a near accident was reported on the Black Sea, when a Russian Su-27 passed a U.S. EP-3 at a distance of several feet.[3][4]

In a separate incident, on 5 November 2018, a U.S. EP-3 was again claimed to have been closely passed in international airspace by a Russian Su-27.[5]

On 19 July 2019, a U.S. EP-3 was "performing a multi-nationally recognized and approved mission in international airspace" over the Caribbean Sea, when a Venezuelan Su-30 aggressively shadowed it at an unsafe distance. [6]

Fictional incidents

Main article: Aircraft in fiction § Lockheed P-3 Orion


Boeing has started working on an unscheduled replacement aircraft, the EP-X, based on their 737.[7]

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."[8]

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.[9]

On 1 February 2010, President Obama unveiled his proposed budget for 2010. This budget called for, among other things, canceling the EP-X program.[10]


After the cancellation of the EP-X Program, the U.S. Navy has planned to replace the EP-3E Aries II with the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton 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 2025.[11]


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.


Map with EP-3 operators in blue

Current operators


United States

Specifications (EP-3E-II – P-3C as indicated)

Lockheed EP-3E flying past Mt. Fuji, Japan

Data from Encyclopedia of world military aircraft Vol.2,[14] Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1984–85[15]

General characteristics



See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ "EP-3E (ARIES II) signals intelligence reconnaissance aircraft". United States Navy Fact File. Archived from the original on 14 November 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  2. ^ "Russians to fly out spy plane". bbc.co.uk. 10 June 2001. Archived from the original on 18 October 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Mar Nero: il top gun russo passa a meno di 2 metri dall'aereo-spia americano". Repubblica Tv – la Repubblica.it. 31 January 2018. Archived from the original on 1 February 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  4. ^ "U.S. EP-3 Intercepted in the Black Sea". 29 January 2018. Archived from the original on 1 February 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  5. ^ "US Navy plane intercepted by Russian jet". BBC News. Archived from the original on 10 November 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Venezuelan fighter 'aggressively shadowed' US reconnaissance plane over Caribbean Sea". ABC News.
  7. ^ "EP-X Program Starts To Take Shape".
  8. ^ "MOD – A – EP-X Analysis of Alternatives – 18-Sep-09 – FBO#2855". www.fbodaily.com. Archived from the original on 9 June 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2009.
  9. ^ Littoral Ships, Other Weapons Cut in New U.S. Navy 5-Year Plan
  10. ^ "Things you should know about budget – CNN.com". CNN. Archived from the original on 22 May 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  11. ^ Trimble, Stephen. US Navy to replace EP-3s with unmanned aircraft Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine " Flightglobal. 11 August 2011.
  12. ^ Pocock, Chris. The Black Bats: CIA Spy Flights Over China From Taiwan, 1951–1969. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0764335136.
  13. ^ Petty, Dan. "The US Navy – Fact File: EP-3E (ARIES II) signals intelligence reconnaissance aircraft". www.navy.mil. Archived from the original on 14 November 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  14. ^ Donald, David; Lake, Jon, eds. (1994). Encyclopedia of world military aircraft Vol. 2. Aerospace. pp. 249–253. ISBN 1874023522.
  15. ^ Taylor, John W.R., ed. (1984). Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1984–85 (75th ed.). London: Jane's Publishing Co. pp. 433–434. ISBN 0710608012.
  16. ^ Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2019.

Further reading

United States tri-service patrol aircraft designations post-1962