Tuesday, April 3, 2001

'World Watchers' find themselves
in the spotlight after China incident

By Wayne Specht, Misawa bureau chief

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The squadron patch proclaims its crew as "World Watchers."

And now the world is watching the political intrigue surrounding Sunday’s incident between a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance aircraft and two Chinese fighter jets.

The EP-3E is on a six-month deployment with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Wash. The recon squadron, which has a permanent detachment at Misawa, was staging missions out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

The electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft bristles with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment. It is powered by four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines, and has 24 seats and 19 crew stations.

On Monday, 24 crew members — 22 sailors, an airman and a Marine — were aboard an EP-3E that was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island located in south China, Defense Department officials said.

Nick Cook, an aviation expert with Jane’s Defense Weekly in London, said the U.S. military routinely sends surveillance aircraft such as the EP-3 to monitor China’s military. The EP-3 can pick up radio, radar, telephone, e-mail and fax traffic, Cook said.

The ARIES II is capable of routine 12-hour missions and has a 3,000 nautical-mile range. Normal crew complement is 24, including seven officers and 17 enlisted aircrew.

It typically carries three pilots, one navigator, three tactical evaluators, and one flight engineer. The remainder of the crew is composed of equipment operators, technicians and mechanics.

The lineage of VQ-1’s "World Watchers" can be traced back to two PBY-5A Catalina "Black Cats" modified for electronic reconnaissance during World War II. The unit was formally established as the Special Electronic Search Project at NAS Sangley Point, Republic of the Philippines, in 1951.

In 1991, the squadron closed its permanent detachment in Atsugi and moved it to Misawa, Japan. That same year, VQ-1 received the first EP-3E Aries II, an upgraded version of the Aries I using modified P-3C Orion airframes. The squadron played a key role in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Today, VQ-1 provides electronic reconnaissance from the east coast of Africa to the U.S. West Coast.

The squadron maintains a permanent detachment at Misawa, and has maintained a continuous presence in the Persian Gulf since July 1992.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.