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Navy Replacing EP-3 Aries With Drones

by John Reed on August 16, 2011

So the Navy is going to replace its small fleet of EP-3 Aries signals intelligence aircraft with a “family” of $8 billion worth of drones by 2020. This is important because it marks the first time that one of the bigger intel birds is being replaced by UAVs — a concept that’s been talked about for a while.

From Flight Global:

The US Navy has confirmed plans to retire the special mission versions of the Lockheed P-3 by 2020, and replace them with an all-unmanned fleet.

The decision comes as a blow to contractors who had been hoping to extend the service life of the fleet beyond 2020, or introduce new manned aircraft as replacements.

In written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, incoming chief of naval operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the navy’s ageing EP-3 Aries and special projects aircraft will be retired in 2019 and 2020.

They will be replaced by an $8 billion investment over the next five years in a family of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, Greenert said.

Those investments include $1.1 billion in the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, $3.9 billion in the Northrop RQ-4N broad area maritime surveillance aircraft, $2.5 billion in the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike programme and $1.1 billion in the medium-range maritime unmanned aircraft system.

The EP-3 carries a 24-man crew and a host of sensors designed to vacuum up enemy communications and sensor signals. Remember when one was forced to make an emergency landing in China a decade ago?

Boeing was hoping to produce a variant of its 737-based P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol jet as a replacement for the EP-3 in the same way the P-8 is replacing the P-3 Orion. Back to the drawing board, fellas.

This is also significant because the Air Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives for how it will continue to perform the ground scanning radar mission performed by the fleet of E-8 Joint STARS radar jets made from modified Boeing 707s. The Chicago-based Boeing had hoped to pitch a 737-based plane similar to the P-8 to replace the J-STARS. The Air Force is already eyeing UAVs as one possible way to continue the JSTARS mission. The question now is; if the Navy moves ahead with its effort to replace the EP-3 with a drone, could it push the Air Force toward doing the same with the JSTARS? We’ll see. Yes, the EP-3 and E-8 perform different missions but they’re both large, old and manned intel planes.

Here’s the rest of the Flight article.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

marvel August 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

For the record, the U-2 is apparently being replaced by the Global Hawk: http://defensenews.com/story.php?i=7359220&c=

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jamesb August 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm

How much do you wanna bet these 'replacment' thing take forever to get up and running if they EVER get going?….

Didn't someone tell these knucklheads that the 'trigger' on the budget will wipe out $500 Mil in one shot????

There ain't gonna be ANY new stuff coming down the pike for a
LONG….LONG….Time….

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Hunter78 August 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

If it's cheaper than what it replaces, it's coming. UAV's are going to be coming in in huge flocks.

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jamesb August 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Things…..plural…..may other 'things' not just this stuff….

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Lance August 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I wouldn't put my hopes for a drone since they can lose control and crash much more than a manned aircraft. In the spy business that's bad.

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brian August 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm

You never have to give a flag to the mother of a drone.

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STemplar August 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm

And you don't feel bad about letting it nose dive in the ocean.

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ew-3 August 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

or self destructing at 50K feet.

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jumper August 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Makes sense if there's the money for it… it's a boring mission and a drone has much better loiter time than the old Lockheed bird.

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Thunder350 August 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Is it me, or does that aircraft look like its ready to fall out of the sky? She's seen alot in her time, and its time to retire her.

Bring on the cheap, and easy to mass produce drones! (And the millions it saves training pilots). Our soldiers these days have been training to fly drones since they picked up their first video game/RC Car.

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Alec August 16, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I was hoping the Navy will continue to realize the need for manned aircraft further and further in the future. A drone can never truly replace a real pilot in the sky.

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jhm August 17, 2011 at 12:07 am

well orion pilots dont do crazy dog fighting manuevers, moslty circling a huge patch of ocean so who knows? isnt that what drones do best rt now?

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SMSgt Mac August 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm

the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) platform is an evolution of the Global Hawk with the differences being those driven by mission requirements.
It would be helpful if the correct terminology was used to help keep perceptions in line with capabilities and costs.These are not 'drones': the only drones te US has these days are 'targets'. Drones are relatively cheap. UAVs are 'not so cheap' to 'expensive'. BAMs is on the high side.

Incidently, BAMS is part of a larger system that includes the P-8 MMA, so the disappointment should only be coming from Boeing, who would like to build even more.

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Roy Smith August 17, 2011 at 2:27 am

I’ve noticed so many people saying that we need to cut this or cut that to cut the deficit in government spending. My radical plan calls for very drastic cuts in defense. First,I would retire all U.S. Navy ships(aircraft carriers,cruisers,destroyers,frigates,& submarines),disband the Navy,& have the U.S. Coast Guard assume our maritime defense. The Coast Guard would strictly be a “brown water” & “riverine” force. I would disband the Marine Corps & have the Army assume their duties(more on how I’ll change the U.S. Army later). I would retire ALL fix wing aircraft,except for transport & airlift planes,planes devoted to counter-insurgency,& UAV’s. All fighter jets & bombers will be retired. I would also disband the Air Force & Air Force Reserve,& I’d have the Air National Guard assume defense of our airways. now,finally,what I’d do with the U.S. Army. I’d retire all tanks,self-propelled howitzers,Bradley Fighting Vehicles,M113 APC’s,basically all track vehicles. I’d only have vehicles,like Stryker vehicles,that would be ideal for low intensity conflicts,counter insurgency,peace keeping,& INTERNAL SECURITY. I would retire all Cobra,Kiowa,& Apache attack helicopters,& have an attack helicopter fleet made up of H-6 Little Birds armed only with machine guns & anti-personnel rockets. If we need anything heavier than that,we can convert Blackhawk & Huey helicopters into gunships. I would retire the V-22 Osprey fleet. I would disband the Active Army & Reserve Army & have the Army National Guard assume all of their duties. In essence,our national defense would be in the hands of the National Guard,Air National Guard,& the Coast Guard. If fact I’d disband the Department of Defense & have the Department of Homeland Security assume control of the ARNG,ANG,& CG.

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Chimp August 17, 2011 at 2:43 am

This is an ambitious plan, and would shed loads of money.

However, what are you going to do when, say, a South American country with internal problems decides to "reclaim" a piece of territory that is inhabited by your citizens? Kind of embarassing when you don't have fast jet air cover, or any way of getting what is left of your armed forces to the conflct zone.

Surrender is, of course, always an option.

By the way, the "Enter" key on your keyboard appears to be broken.

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Guest August 17, 2011 at 4:36 am

you are not talking about retirement. Your talking about turning the US Armed Forces into a purely defensive force that only exists to protect the shores of north america. The point is with the force you'd like to have you'd not even be able to protect the shoreline of one state. Not even mentioned any power vacuum…

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blight August 17, 2011 at 7:56 am

Canada would just waltz in with Leopard tanks and take what they wanted. That is, if they wanted to be an occupying power.

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Mastro August 17, 2011 at 10:15 am

What is the crash rate for drones versus manned planes? I am guessing higher.

If you jam an EP-3 – it just flies home- if you jam a done- you get an intelligence pinjata.

If/when the satellites get shot down/jammed- we have no intel?

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Mastro August 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

Have no idea how this ended up here- weird.

Mastro August 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

We'd save money- but Lord knows what would happen in the power vacuum you'd create. Probably a few really nasty things.

I love how you horseshoed in a love letter to the Stryker- its OK- but the Army has fallen in love with heavy armor again after seeing Abrahams shrug off IED attacks that turn Strykers into scrap.

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Guest August 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

That has to be the worst defense plan I have ever heard.

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tiger August 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Please tell us your not a White house aide? I will sleep better if I knew that. Your plan would make us as weak as the police in Oslo & London. Disband the Navy & USMC? Your swords to plowshare strategy will get a thumbs up in Tehran and many other places.

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blight August 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Such a defense plan was last tried in America after Treaty of Paris..and immediately thrown out after XYZ Affair. America only really had a very short time of being internal security only. Even before WW1 and before WW2 the United States still had a standing army and a reasonably powerful Navy.

A modern "isolationist" military would ideally still have a powerful national guard…but knowing state governors, it would be biased towards light infantry (great for filling sandbags) and helicopters (great for firefighting work, SAR and the like) and airlift (for transporting cargo and the like). There would be no air force to shoot down hijacked airliners (though we didn't do so for 9/11).

However, the modern ability to "strike" may be more defined by a powerful clandestine service. Keeping JSOC/SOCOM and the CIA around, plus a clandestine mechanism to deliver TLAM support (take a page out of Klub K?) would fulfill much of our counter-terror needs, just short of nation-state warfare.

However, the weakness of the force previously articulated is a shortage of artillery, airpower and armor. It would basically be like the "army" you see in Hollywood movies, little better equipped than the Fedayeen plastered for OIF.

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SMSgt Mac August 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Gentlemen, I know those whom I would otherwise label as 'brilliant' in almost all other endeavors of their lives, who on the subject of 'services' think not too unlike Mr Smith (though not as extreme), and who live and breath the 'All Army All the time' POV. Everyone else is apparently just superfulous 'support'. It is a form of myopia that has probably existed from the first day after the seaborne infantries of the Egyptians and Sea Peoples clashed approximately 5000 years ago, when no doubt the first calls for a separate 'Navy' were heard.

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SMSgt Mac August 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm

In the US, this 'All Army' myopia somehow survived the War of 1812 via the fortuitous Battle of New Orleans which although was fought AFTER the war was over and thus a senseless waste of life (almost all British), it provided redemption for the 'Army' who had lost almost every land battle and skirmish up to that time. This 'victory' allowed history to largely overlook the point that it was largely the US Navy and privateers who kept the British at a distance, with the big frigates playing the most important roles, whether they were just tying up the British fleet trying to blockade them in port, or raiding the high seas.

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blight August 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Alternatively, we have toed the fine line between psychological rejection of Mother Britain (a maritime power) by attempting to repudiate it and interference in Continental affairs.

If anything, 1812 should suggest that a militia force cannot do well on defense or offense. The Continental Army, combined with standing French forces defeated the regulars before Treaty of Paris, and militia forces didn't exactly keep the British out of their strategic targets.

Privateering is an interesting example of how paramilitary forces can succeed in a time and place where militia cannot. Perhaps it is because they fight in a manner they are most comfortable with (ie, privateers did not attempt to fight line of battle, whereas miltia troops fought offensively on terms better for well-trained regulars, whereas they did better on defense and dug in, like in Baltimore and New Orleans.)

Regarding naval affairs, I'm more sure that what kept the RN on the back foot was the need to deploy the navy globally to defend British assets globally while striking French ones globally. It's hard to imagine what ships could be spared for the blockade of a rebellious colony…unless they openly sided with Bonaparte, which would cause a reprioritization for lots of cutting out expeditions, blockades and yard burnings. But until then…?

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SMSgt Mac August 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm

There is no doubt the US maritime strategy worked because the RN had global commitments to meet, paticularly with one French fellow, and our (US) leadership recognized it a the time and lamented their earlier 'gunboat' preference over real ships. My point stands in light of this sidenote. I have to mention an 'alternatively' as well: If the RN had not had so many commitments (or treated their sailors better) which drove the British 'impressments' in the first place the War of 1812 wouldn't have happened in the first place. Fascinating period of History.

jhm August 18, 2011 at 10:46 pm

there goes tons of jobs…. i guess ur not keynesian since all that cut government spending would you know, kill the economy. think about all the industries connected with keeping those units equiped and properly maintained?

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blight August 17, 2011 at 7:58 am

A lot of reconaissance aircraft were lost on missions "near" the Soviet Union. Flying these missions isn't particularly safe, and if it can be done without risk of human life one might even learn something. However, it does kind of lower the bar before the other side fires a missile: reasoning that if some aircraft are unmanned, the other side won't raise a stink if you blow it out of the sky. And if it happens to be manned, oh well, we thought it was a drone…

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Mastro August 17, 2011 at 10:22 am

Good point- Russia casually shot down the Georgian UAV- no problem.

Killing pilots is bad for the others guys too. We might lose a few more $500 million drones than we care to.

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blight August 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm
tiger August 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm

The UK will likely take the same path with the Nimrod fleet.

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Megido August 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm

@Roy Smith

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John Sullivan October 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

As a taxpayor and tech geek this makes sense but having flown 4 years at the portside bubble window of this bird behind the pilot I can’t tell you how much fun this plane is, how awesome the ground support is, and how greatful I am to Lockheed and others for building such a tough bird and lastly how greatful I am to the taxpayers for funding missions that have been more important to our National Security than they’ll ever know.

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wooky November 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Well put…..i sat in the BIG chair on these and loved every minute of it

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