The U.S. Navy is decommissioning two spy plane squadrons that played key behind-the-scenes roles in conflicts dating back to the Cold War.
The “Old Buzzards” squadron, called VPU-1, is scheduled to be disbanded Aug. 31. The squadron’s P-3 Special Projects Aircraft and personnel will be transferred from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., to the VPU-2 squadron at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, the Navy said. The squadron held its disestablishment ceremony in April.
In May, VQ-2, a squadron of EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., held its own disestablishment ceremony. The unit will be consolidated into VQ-1, also at Whidbey Island. The VQ-1 squadron, with around 600 people, will become the largest in the Navy.
According to the Navy, the manpower savings for the VQ consolidation will total $86 million from 2012 through 2016, and $22 million will be saved over the same period by the VPU consolidation. The aircraft maintenance and logistics savings will total more than $30 million for the same period.
One retiree described the Special Projects Aircraft as the Swiss Army knives of ISR aircraft, stuffed with acoustic, radar, optical, signals intelligence, measurement intelligence and additional classified sensors. EP-3s carry SIGINT sensors, along with a crew of as many as 22 people.
What is now VPU-1, or Special Projects Patrol Squadron 1, began as a detachment in 1969. It was designated in 1982 as a specially trained patrol unit with the flexibility to respond immediately to situations around the world, on orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2009, the squadron relocated to Jacksonville from the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine.
VQ-2, formerly known as the Electronic Countermeasures Squadron, was established in 1955 and redesignated as the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron in 1960. It moved to Whidbey Island from Naval Station Rota, Spain, in 2005.
According to Naval historians, the VPU-1 and VQ-2 squadrons monitored Soviet operations during the Cold War and served in the Persian Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The VPU-1 Old Buzzards squadron also participated in operations in Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haiti and the U.S., after the Sept. 11, attacks. VQ-2, meanwhile, flew missions during the Vietnam War, the 1986 U.S. raid on Tripoli and the Balkan wars in the 1990s. VQ-2 also flew observation missions during the 1973 war between Israel and a coalition of Arab countries.
Though based in Brunswick and Jacksonville for much of its history, the VPU-1 flew modified Lockheed P-3A, B and C Orions from bases in Key West, Fla.; Cherry Point, N.C.; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; Keflavik, Iceland; Sigonella, Sicily; and Mombasa, Kenya.
VQ-2 has flown Martin P4M-1 Mercators, Douglas A-3D-1Q and A-3D-2Q (EA-3A, UA-3A and UA-3B) Skywarriors, Lockheed EC-121M Constellations, and Lockheed EP-3E Aries and EP-3E Aries IIs and P-3C and UP-3A Orions.
With the VQ squadron consolidation, 220 personnel billets were cut and four EP-3 aircraft will be retired by end of fiscal 2014, the Navy said. The VPU consolidation cut 54 personnel billets, with one P-3 SPA airplane to be retired by the end of fiscal year 2013.