On the technology front, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has designed a camera pod to carry on P-3’s and P-8’s that will provide video evidence of reckless intercepts by anybody who attempts them. We hear about the unsafe airmanship and dangerous maneuvers when they happen, but NRL is giving our maritime patrol aircraft the ability to document these intercepts. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure it will get anybody to the table for discussions about safer procedures, but it will certainly provide the general public (hopefully) a window to view these extremely dangerous situations.
Concerned over increasingly reckless Chinese and Russian intercepts of US aircraft, Pacific Command says it urgently needs a camera on its planes to provide irrefutable proof of their misbehavior. The problem: reconnaissance planes like the propeller-driven P-3 Orion and the new jet-powered P-8 Poseidon are designed to take photos of the land and sea far below, not of fighters flying 50 feet away.
So even as Chinese J-11s buzzed a Navy EP-3 ARIES off Hainan island Tuesday, forcing the US plane to evade, the Naval Research Laboratory was already displaying a prototype under-wing camera pod at the Sea-Air-Space conference outside Washington. Built by NRL in response to an Urgent Operational Needs Statement (UONS) from the Pacific Fleet, the Common Airborne Situational Awareness (CASA) system refits an already flight-certified pod design to carry multiple computer-controlled still and video cameras. CASA has already had a successful flight test on a P-3, with Air National Guard F-16s playing the role of Chinese/Russian interceptors, and now ONR and NRL are waiting on a decision to deploy it.
Why is photographic evidence so important? In the global battle of perceptions, a picture can be worth a thousand démarches. Just think of the U-2 spyplane photos of missile sites under construction in Cuba in 1962.