The ES-3A Shadow variant of the basic S-3 Viking airframe was a short-lived but immensely valuable and capable platform optimized for signals capture and analysis.
“The heart of the Shadow is an avionics suite based on the Aries II system of the land-based EP-3E Orion. The Shadow's fuselage is packed with sensor stations and processing equipment, and the exterior sports over 60 antennae. The ES-3A Shadow crew is comprised of a pilot, an NFO, and two systems operators. Advanced sensor, navigation and communications systems allow the Shadow's four-person crew to collect extensive data and distribute high-quality information through a variety of channels to the carrier battle group. This gives the battle group commander a clear picture of potential airborne, surface and sub-surface threats. Missions flown by the detachment include over-the-horizon targeting, strike support, war at sea and reconnaissance.” (1)
The ES-3A was considered a direct replacement for the EA-3B Skywarrior. The aircraft has 60+ antennae but otherwise shared the same flight characteristics as the base Viking albeit with a slight decrease in top end speed. It was also capable of providing aerial refueling in addition to its electronic work.
Two squadrons, VQ-5 and VQ-6, were established in 1991 with one based on each coast of the
. In total, 16
Vikings were converted to the ES-3A configuration and they were typically
operated two aircraft per deployed carrier.
The squadrons were disestablished in 1999. US
The ES-3A was an immensely valuable aircraft because it offered the ability to provide over-the-horizon (OTH) detection and classification using passive sensors. It’s passive nature and relatively small size compared to the E-2 Hawkeye gave it the ability to wander farther afield than the Hawkeye and expand the sensor picture.
With the current emphasis on stealth and passive sensing using IRST and the like, we could use this aircraft today. This was another one of the Navy’s penny wise and pound foolish decisions.