The Navy's S-3B Sundown Plan called for the gradual disestablishment of Viking squadrons as the number of operational carrier-based squadrons flying the F/A-18E/F increases. The F/A-18 took over the aerial tanking role from the S-3. When an air wing receives its first Super Hornet squadron, the Viking squadron in that air wing will reduce its number of jets from 8 to 6. When that air wing receives its second Super Hornet squadron, that Viking squadron will disestablish. The Viking is scheduled for retirement in 2009.
The S-3B Aircraft was originally developed with Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) as its primary mission. Now, the S-3B Aircraft's role in Carrier Aviation is changing focus. The S-3B Aircraft's ASW and Mining Warfare missions were deleted by Chief of Naval Operations Message in December 1999. Deconfiguration of aircraft, in compliance with removal of ASW specific equipment, was accomplished in accordance with AFC 284, this change was completed in FY00.
The S-3B Aircraft performed a myriad of functions which include, but not limited to, Anti-Air Warfare, Anti-Surface Warfare (ASUW), Amphibious Warfare, Counter-Targeting, Over-the-Horizon Targeting, Airborne Reconnaissance, and Command and Control. S-3B Aircraft are tasked by the Carrier Battle Group Commanders to provide surface surveillance and intelligence collection, electronic warfare, mine warfare, coordinated search and rescue, and fleet support missions, including air wing tanking.
The sound of its engines are often compared to that of a vacuum cleaner, hence its nickname, the "Hoover." The S-3B Viking is an extremely versatile aircraft, capable of carrying out several missions vital to the carrier battlegroup. The S-3 has a tremendous fuel capacity and efficient engines, which enable it to stay on station extremely long periods of time.
Its impressive surveillance capability consists of a sophisticated ESM (electronic surveillance measures) suite and an inverse-synthetic aperture radar (ISAR). Both of these tools allow the S-3 to collect electronic intelligence invaluable to the battle group. In addition, S-3B "War Hoovers" have also been cleared to carry the AGM-84D Harpoon and AGM-65F Maverick missiles, giving the Viking an anti-surface capability to match its sensors. Finally, because of their high endurance, S-3's are used as tankers, carrying "buddy stores" that enable them to transfer jet fuel in-flight to other aircraft.
Waterbomber / Airtanker
In mid-2004 Lockheed Martin and Chico, California-based Aero Union started discussions about using the S-3B Vikings as waterbombers as they retire from active service. Large airtankers are primarily used for initial attack and structure protection support. Not every initial attack effort gets air support. Firefighters are trained to improvise and adapt to the conditions on the ground, and to the resources available to fight fire. Aero Union is the largest, most innovative air tanker company in the United States. Aero Union's tanker bases cover most states in the western United States, from Arizona to Montana, with frequent dispatches to fires in the Midwest and the east coast. As of late 2004 Aero Union maintained 8 P3 Orions, 3 SP2H Neptunes and 2 DC-4 Sky Masters ready for instant dispatch by the US Forest Service during the aircraft's contract period.
Aerial Firefighting Industry Association (AFIA) airtanker companies provide aerial firefighting services to all regions of the United States during the peak fire season. The National Airtanker Study (NATS), was completed in two phases. Phase I, completed in 1995, recommended a national fleet of 41 large air-tankers. Phase II, completed in 1996, gave 16 recommendations to guide the airtanker program for the next 20 years.
On 10 May 2004, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior terminated the contracts for 33 large airtankers to be used in firefighting missions due to concerns over the airworthiness of the aircraft, and firefighter and public safety. The decision was based on safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued April 23, 2004, at the conclusion of their investigation into three fatal airtanker crashes related to in-flight structural failures.
The agencies are looking to private industry, educational institutions and other organizations for technologies to create a large fixed-wing airtanker fleet with aircraft specifically designed for this mission and capable of meeting airworthiness requirements from the FAA. The future development of a safe large airtanker program will be realized with these partners and Congress.
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