Navy Replacing EP-3 Aries With Drones

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.

  • marvel

    For the record, the U-2 is apparently being replaced by the Global Hawk:

  • jamesb

    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

    • Hunter78

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

  • jamesb

    Things…..plural…..may other ‘things’ not just this stuff….

  • Lance

    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.

    • brian

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

      • STemplar

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

        • ew-3

          or self destructing at 50K feet.

  • jumper

    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.

  • Thunder350

    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.

  • Alec

    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.

    • jhm

      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?

  • SMSgt Mac

    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.

  • blight

    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…

    • Mastro

      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.

  • tiger

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

  • Megido

    @Roy Smith

  • John Sullivan

    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.

    • wooky

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

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