The interesting question is not why the American "surveillance plane" on a "routine" patrol collided on April Fool's Day with a Chinese MIG, but why such the US needs such patrols with 24-man crews off the coast of China. To collect signals intelligence, including ELINT and RADINT, the US spends billions of dollars on unmanned satellites in geo-synchronous orbit that can intercept signals from any place of interest in the world and lower-orbit "ferret" satellites that can be sent anywhere they are needed. What then is the special mission of EP-3E ARIES "surveillance plane" along the coast of China?


The EP-3E II has a capability that satellites lack.


The EP-3E ARIES II is designed for electronic warfare. It collects SIGINT data, as do satellites, but unlike satellites, which are essentially passive collectors, the EP-3E has the capability of using it for real time, in times of conflict, to assist aircraft and missiles in penetrating enemy air space It accomplishes this mission in two ways: first, it builds a “library” of relevant frequencies and locations of an enemy’s radar, which it can instantly supply allied planes so they can evade or confuse defenses; and, second, it has equipment for orchestrating countermeasures to disrupt and disintegrate the radar network.

To perform this mission, it must ferret out a potential enemy’s “order of battle” for its radar by tracing emanations from early-warning stations, air-defense systems and air bases when they are “lit up,” or activated. If radars are not activated, it must somehow provoke a potential enemy into doing so. In the early days of electronic warfare, US planes actually flew into Russian air space, simulating an attack, to get Russians to turn on its air defense system. But this was an extremely dangerous exercise (according to some estimates, about two hundred US airmen were lost in these secret missions.) Safer means ways were found subsequently to provoke another country to activate its radar without intruding into its airspace. While a satellite cannot provoke this reaction, a plane, which can maneuver, disburse decoys and emit confusing signals, can accomplish this feat. Hence, the EP-3E ARIES II.

According to the official (non classified description) the EP-3E ARIES II SSIP is a flying war room. Its crew of 24 includes an Electronic Warfare Mission Commander (EWMC); Electronic Warfare Aircraft Commander (EWAC); Senior Electronic Warfare Tactical Evaluator (SEVAL); and Electronic Warfare Operators (EWOP), who operate mission subsystems called Story Teller,, Story Book and Story Classic. Story Teller provides a capability “to manipulate selected organic and non-organic data and view a composite tactical situation display, correlate multiple onboard sensor inputs with selected external data link inputs, and communicate value added information via selected data links and communication networks.” Story Book provides a capability to assess the tactical picture and expeditiously add SIGINT data to communications data links, and provide a “situation awareness based on special signals exploitation.” Story Classic system provides search and acquisition system for low band signals (which can detech stealthed planes). It also presumably has undisclosed capabilities.

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