Lockheed EP-3

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
Unit cost
$36 million[1]
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".[2]

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".

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.[3]

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."[4]

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.[5]

On 1 February 2010, the President unveiled his proposed budget for 2010. This budget called for, among other things, cancelling the EP-X program.[6]


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.[7]


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-3)

Lockheed EP-3E ARIES II in 2006

General characteristics


See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. "EP-3 ARES II". military.com.
  2. "EP-3E (ARIES II) signals intelligence reconnaissance aircraft". United States Navy Fact File. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  3. EP-X Program Starts To Take Shape
  4. EP-X Analysis of Alternatives
  5. Littoral Ships, Other Weapons Cut in New U.S. Navy 5-Year Plan
  6. "Things you should know about budget - CNN.com". CNN. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  7. Trimble, Stephen. US Navy to replace EP-3s with unmanned aircraft " Flightglobal. 11 August 2011.
  8. Pocock, Chris. The Black Bats: CIA Spy Flights Over China From Taiwan, 1951 - 1969. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7643-3513-6.
  9. US Navy Fact File EP-3E (ARIES II) | accessdate=11 May 2010
  10. Pike, John. "EP-3E ARIES II". FAS Intelligence Resources Program. Steven Aftergood. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
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