Forgot Something

Jane's 'reports' below.

Didn't even bother to note that over a dozen of similar
surveillance planes were shot down during W.W. III.

And, that the crew often includes women.

Lockheed Martin P-3B/C `Iron Clad' variants

Country of origin: USA.
Role: Multisensor surveillance aircraft.
Status: Operational.

The `Iron Clad' (formerly known as 'Reef Point' (to mid-1997) and then 'Storm Jib' (mid-1997 to 1999) platform is a covert US Navy (USN) intelligence gathering system that, as of Issue 7, has been identified as being installed aboard a small number of Lockheed Martin P-3B or P-3C maritime patrol airframes. So configured, such platforms are reported to have been variously designated as P-3B(RP)/P-3C(RP) and/or (E)P-3B/(E)P-3C aircraft. The 'Iron Clad' architecture is understood to incorporate 'sophisticated communications' systems (including satellite links) together with a range of sensors that includes (or has included) electronic/communications intelligence, acoustic analysis/recording, chemical detecting and electro-optical (visible light and infra-red domains)/optical surveillance systems. At an earlier stage in the capability's history, a nuclear particulate `sniffer' is reported to have been included in the suite, a capability that appears to have been removed with the ending of the forty year 'Cold War' between the US and the former Soviet Union. Specific sensors that have been associated with the `Iron Clad' platform comprise the following:

  • a `special' DIrectional low-Frequency Analysis and Recording (DIFAR) -B sonobuoy (see Known mission system specifications).
  • the electro-optical Tactical Optical Surveillance System (TOSS - see Known mission system specifications.
  • the AN/ALQ-78 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system (see Known mission system specifications).

    Elsewhere, sources suggest that `Iron Clad' aircraft are fitted with operator workstations along both sides of their main cabins and that, in at least one case, an AN/AAR-47 missile approach warner (see Known mission systems specifications) and a countermeasures dispensing system have been installed. Further defensive aids provision appears to have been added during 1999/2000, when two suspected 'Iron Clad' platforms were logged with what appeared to be a pod-mounted radar jammer on their outer port wing pylons. Again, a usually reliable US source has suggested that the `Iron Clad' suite may include Battle Group Passive Horizon Extension System (BGPHES) provision (see Known mission system specifications).

    Externally, the 'Iron Clad' configuration is little different from that of the standard P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, with what differences there are centring on the former's use of optically flat viewing ports for onboard imaging systems and non-standard arrays of ventral and dorsal antennas. In terms of 'Iron Clad' airframe modification and equipment installation, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Systems' Greenville, Texas facility and the USN's Naval Aviation DEPot (NADEP) Jacksonville (located, as its name suggests, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida) are understood to have been associated with the programme. In terms of platform performance, one usually reliable source quotes a mid-1980s 'Iron Clad' aircraft as having a maximum range of 7,408 km; an operational ceiling of 8,626 m and a maximum endurance of 10 hours.

    Programme history

    During 1969, USN Patrol Squadrons VP-4 and VP-26 are reported to have established single aircraft temporary detachments to undertake covert surveillance operations with 'Iron Clad'-like platforms. In this context, it is worth noting that the then Martin Aircraft Company is known to have modified two P-3A aircraft (BuNos 150520 and 150528) for a USN `special project' during 1971. These platforms are reported to have remained in service until 1975.

    Late 1970s
    By the late 1970s, the previously described VP-4 and VP-26 temporary surveillance detachments had been regularised into permanent detachments with their own commanding officers.

    During July 1982, the now permanent VP-4 and VP-26 surveillance detachments were raised to squadron status and given the designations Patrol Squadrons Special Projects Unit VPU-2 and VPU-1 respectively. Of these, VPU-1 was based at NAS Brunswick, Maine while VPU-2 was stationed at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. Both squadrons are understood to have been equipped with 'Iron Clad'-type aircraft from the outset and are most likely to have been initially involved in `fingerprinting' the signatures of Sino-Soviet warships and, possibly, submarines. As of this edition, the overall capability appears to be utilised in much wider ways and it is worth noting that the mission has been associated with the codenames `Church Plate' and `Church Plate East'. As of the late 1990s, VPU missions were described by usually reliable sources as including ship screening, search and rescue/space vehicle recovery support and counter intelligence operations. Here, the units were reported as using acoustic, visual and EO (possibly including laser dazzlers) systems to prevent hostile intelligence services gaining information on the USN's current and evolving weapon system and electronic capabilities. Again, the two VPUs were noted as possessing video production and editing and intelligence dissemination skills and as deploying their aircraft for an average of 220 days per year.

    A small number of 'Iron Clad'-type platforms are known to have participated in Operation 'Desert Storm', the January/February 1991 eviction by force of the Iraqi troops who had been occupying Kuwait since the previous August. During the conflict, aircraft of the type were noted at Masirah in Oman, Muharraq International Airport on Bahrain and at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia from where, according to sources, they flew stand-off overland surveillance, coastal surveillance and coastal/island strike bomb damage assessment sorties.

    During the early part of 1992, sources suggest that a programme was initiated to replace four existing VPU aircraft with four new platforms modified from P-3C airframes BuNos 159504, 160285, 160288 and 160292. Work on the effort is supposed to have been undertaken by NADEP Jacksonville, with three aircraft being delivered during US Fiscal Year (FY) 93 and one in FY94. As of this issue, aircraft BuNos 160285 and 160288 cannot be confirmed as being (or as ever having been) anything other than `line' P-3Cs, while aircraft BuNos 159504 and 160292 are known to have been in service with VPU-2 during the third quarter of 1998.

    As part of the US government's post-`Cold War' base closure review, 1993 saw the decision made to close NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii during July 1999 and transfer its tenant units to the US Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Elsewhere in the programme, the period 1993/1994 is reported to have seen 'Iron Clad' platforms providing intelligence and surveillance support for humanitarian relief operations in Rwanda and Operations 'Restore Hope' (1993 peacekeeping operations in Somalia) and 'Uphold Democracy' (the 1994 US invasion of Haiti).

    During US FY97, the now defunct (see following) US Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO) assumed responsibility for the 'Iron Clad' programme. After studying the capability, DARO determined that there was a national need to maintain the 'Iron Clad' fleet for the `foreseeable future'. Accordingly, it was recommended that 'Iron Clad' mission suites should be installed in two low-time P-3Cs (as replacement for the two existing P-3B 'Iron Clad' platforms (see following) whose fatigue lives were scheduled to run out during 2001) and that a mission system rationalisation programme should be initiated. Here, key objectives were to be:

  • standardisation of onboard subsystems in order to maximise capability, reduce operator workloads and simplify logistical support
  • the integration of new mission and communications equipment including `Have Quick' secure radios, a satellite communications system and DARO's 8 to 12 GHz/12 to 18 GHz band Common High-Bandwidth DataLink (CHBDL).

    As originally proposed, the new mission and communications equipment segment of the effort was scheduled to take place during US FYs98 and 99. At the same time, the cost of modifying the two low-time P-3Cs to 'Iron Clad' standard was estimated at then year US$26.6 million. As part of its FY 98 funding deliberations, the US Senate's Defense Appropriations Committee is reported to have recommended adding US$7 million to the 'Iron Clad' funding request as a down payment on the described P-3C conversion programme. As of Issue 7 (and aside from the noted P-3C effort which still appeared to be live during late 1998/early 1999), it was unclear as to whether or not DARO's 'Iron Clad' standardisation recommendations had been followed through following its closure on 1 June 1998. Thereafter, oversight of DARO's various programmes was transferred to a reorganised Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (C3I) Office within the US Department of Defense (DoD). Returning to the specific 'Iron Clad' programme, VPU-1 was redesignated as Special Projects Patrol Squadron One on 8 April 1998, with VPU-2 becoming Special Projects Patrol Squadron Two six days later on 14 April 1998.

    During the period March to July 1999, VPU-2 is understood to have relocated from NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii to Marine Corps Air Facility Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii in response to the former's closure. As of November 1999, usually reliable sources were suggesting that the USN wanted to set the establishment of each VPU at three 'Iron Clad' configured P-3C aircraft plus a single P-3 training/transport platform. Early in the following year, the same sources were noting that the US Congress had approved an increase in spending on a hyperspectral analysis system for the service's EP-3E (see separate entry) and 'Iron Clad' intelligence collection aircraft. The related Adaptive Spectral Reconnaissance Programme (ASRP) was described as making use of a hyperspectral sensor to detect anomalies in the electromagnetic spectrum and to cue high-resolution, narrow field of view IR or optical sensors against targets identified as generating the anomalies. At the time of the report, the ASRP concept was understood to have undergone 'limited' testing.

    Operational deployment

    US Navy Atlantic Fleet
    Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Five

    Base: NAS Brunswick, Maine.
    Formation date: 1 July 1982.
    Remarks: As of the third quarter of 1998, VPU-1 was reported as being equipped with P-3B aircraft BuNos 153450 and 154577 and P-3C aircraft BuNos 159506 and 161122.
    US Navy Pacific Fleet
    Patrol and Reconnaissance Force Pacific

    Base: MCAF Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
    Formation date: 16 July 1982.
    Remarks: As of the third quarter of 1998, VPU-2 was reported as being equipped with P-3C aircraft BuNos 159504, 160292 and 160293.

    Known mission system specifications

    Type: Passive EO missile warning system.
    Description: The Lockheed Martin/Alliant AN/AAR-47 is a lightweight, EO missile warning system that comprises multiple Optical Sensor Converter (OSC) units, a Computer Processor (CP) and a control/indicator unit. Of these, the OSC units (usually four in number) are mounted on the exterior of the aircraft in such a way as to provide 360 coverage in azimuth. Functionally, the OSC units detect the IR component of the exhaust plume of an approaching missile and hands off the received data to the CP for processing. The CP generates a threat warning for the aircraft's crew and automatically initiates an appropriate countermeasures response. Multidirectional threats are prioritised for response sequencing and the CP also incorporates a built-in test function. The control/indicator shows threat bearing and priority and is used by the pilot to set up appropriate aircraft manoeuvres. As applied to the 'Iron Clad' aircraft, the AAR-47 OSCs are located on either side of the platform's nose and rear fuselage, presumably looking forward and abeam and aft and abeam.
    Altitude: up to 15,240 m
    Weight: 20.5 kg (complete system with four OSC units)

    Type: Airborne radar Electronic Support (ES) system.
    Description: Functionally, the Lockheed Martin AN/ALQ-78 ES system automatically detects and characterises radar signals, establishes their bearings and hands off parametric data to the host aircraft's central computer for processing and display formatting. As applied to the standard P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, the equipment incorporates a high-speed rotating antenna/scanning superheterodyne receiver signal acquisition package and is described as normally operating in an omnidirectional search mode. Part of the system is housed in a pod that is carried on the Orion's port or starboard wing root stores pylon.

    Battle Group Passive Horizon Extension System (BGPHES) payload
    Type: Intelligence data dissemination system.
    Description: The USN's BGPHES architecture consists of shipborne terminals and airborne payloads and is designed to provide a battle group commander with a controllable, over-the-horizon sensing capability that functions without revealing his position to an enemy through the use of active systems such as radar. In the ES-3A carrierborne signals intelligence aircraft (see separate entry), the BGPHES airborne payload takes the form of the demountable RS-6BN transceiver package that is described as having `some' commonality with the RS-6B system fitted to US Air Force Lockheed Martin U-2S high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft (see separate entry). RS-6BN is noted as incorporating multiple R56BN transceivers and is supported by the 8 to 12 GHz/2 to 18 GHz band, 10.7 Mbytes/s data rate CHBDL. Functionally, the RS-6BN payload appears to be capable of both acquiring and transmitting data and is understood to be remotely controllable from any BGPHES surface terminal within its line of sight.

    DIrectional low-Frequency Analysis and Recording (DIFAR)
    Type: Sonobuoy acoustic detection technique.
    Description: The DIFAR acoustic detection technique makes use of a sonobuoy capable of generating two beam patterns that are at right angles to each other. Both patterns are measured and are transmitted to a monitoring aircraft together with an omnisense component to resolve the 180 ambiguity inherent within the two beams. Associated signal processing includes comparison of the two beam signals, usually using an arctan function to determine angle. Using this technique, Direction-Finding (DF) accuracy is described as being within 10 to 15 of true target location. If a higher order of DF accuracy is required, cardioid processing can be used whereby the two beam signals are added to or subtracted from the omnicomponent to form four cardioid (heart-shaped) beams, each of which points in a direction with a null opposite.

    Tactical Optical Surveillance System (TOSS)
    Type: Electro-optic surveillance system.
    Description: Thought to have been first installed aboard 'Iron Clad'-type aircraft during the 1980s, the TOSS surveillance system was developed by the then USN Naval Air Development Center at Warminster, Pennsylvania. As applied to 'Iron Clad', the equipment is installed in what, in the standard maritime patrol P-3, is the Tactical Co-ordinator's station. As such, an optically flat viewing window for the system replaces the standard aircraft's forward, starboard side, observation bubble.

    P-3B aircraft BuNo 153450 is thought to have served in the 'Iron Clad'-type collection role with both USN Patrol Squadron VP-26 (in whose colours it is shown here) and VPU-1. Identified external indications of its 'Iron Clad'-type role include the blister fairing under the aircraft's nose radome and flat plate fairings just aft of the cockpit glazing (1997)

    What is thought to be a P-3C 'Iron Clad' aircraft showing the type's fore and aft AAR-47 MAW sensor heads, the optically flat viewing window for the TOSS system and its dorsal and ventral antenna arrays. The view also shows the anonymous paint finish most recently adapted to conceal the platform's true role. Previously, 'Iron Clad'-type aircraft have frequently been painted in false markings to hide their true identities (Lindsay Peacock) (1998)

    Photographed during April 2000, suspected 'Iron Clad' aircraft '227' displays the type's then current anonymous paint scheme and the supposed radar jamming pod described in the main text on its outboard port wing pylon (Lindsay Peacock) (2001)


Aircraft PR-32: its systems and its damage

Aircraft PR-32: its systems and its damage (Source: PA News)

Nose cone and AN/APS-134(V) maritime surveillance radar antenna lost during collision

2. Circular radome believed to contain the OE-319 surveillance antenna system

3. The EP-3E's dorsal and ventral fairings are thought to contain the OE-320 direction-finding antenna group

4. Outside port engine's propeller blades damaged during collision

5. Wingtip antenna housing for the AN/ALR-76 radar band electronic support system.

Planes | P-3