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Tuesday, 3 April, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
'Big blow' to US intelligence
A Lockheed EP-3E Aries II electronic intelligence gathering aircraft
An EP-3E at Kadena air base on Okinawa
By Paul Beaver of Jane's Defence

China's detention of a Lockheed EP-3E Aries II electronic intelligence gathering aircraft could cut the US's lead in electronic warfare by at least a decade if the Chinese have managed to climb aboard.


The EP-3E is the jewel in the crown of the US Navy's electronic intelligence gathering capability and the loss of its secrets to a potential unfriendly nation is a grievous loss to the US

The minute inspection of the computer systems and antennas aboard will give the Chinese a good idea of the US knowledge base, possible counter-measures and possible counter-counter-measures.

It could also damage the electronic warfare capabilities of Washington's regional allies, Taiwan and Japan.

During its regular flight from Kadena air base on Okinawa to the Chinese coast, the EP-3E updates the "telephone book" of Chinese military signals and communications.

This book has the electronic signature, source, frequency and other discriminating factors of radars, radio systems and micro-wave transmission.

All these are invaluable in times of tension and war.

Destroying equipment

There are standing operating procedures for the US Naval personnel aboard the EP-3E to destroy the most sensitive equipment - erasing hard-drives, breaking CD-ROMs, shredding papers and physically breaking up computers with hammers.

But much can still be learned of the powerful processors and very high speed integrated circuits aboard.


For the US intelligence community, the loss of the EP-3E is a serious event almost unparallelled for four decades - since Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union

The EP-3E is the jewel in the crown of the US Navy's electronic intelligence gathering capability and the loss of its secrets to a potential unfriendly nation is a grievous loss to the US.

The state-of-the-art processing power is not available to China and could be used in other systems, including ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and radar tracking.

It could be sold on to other nations, like Russia or Pakistan, rendering US electronic warfare systems more vulnerable to countermeasures and seduction than ever before.

International law

If the Chinese have abided by international law and not gone aboard they will still be able to glean some good information from an inspection of the outside of the aircraft.

They could open inspection hatches and look inside at aerials and antennas.

Measurements, x-rays and other detection systems could be used.

For the US intelligence community, the loss of the EP-3E is a serious event almost unparallelled for four decades - since Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union.

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