Wanna know if a strike on Syria is about to take place? Look for this large white plane

Whereas some media outlets are trying to find signs of an imminent air strike on Syria in some alleged (and unconfirmed) unusual movements in the UK base in Cyprus (Akrotiri) that probably have nothing to do with the current situation in the region, the sighting that more than any other could give a hint that something is about to happen would be that of one or two E-6B Mercury operating somewhere between the Syria and the U.S.

Even if it will be a quick cruise missiles, stealth bombers-only campaign, E-6s will probably play a role in a U.S. air war in Syria.

The 16 U.S. Navy E-6B TACAMO (“TAke Charge And Move Out”) are among the most important assets in the U.S. inventory. They are capable to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band, on commercial satellites and on the Internet, using also a secure VOIP system.

E-6s are used to relay instructions to the fleet ballistic missile submarines in case of nuclear war but also act as back ups of the four E-4Bs NAOC (National Alternate Operations Center), working as ABNCP (Airborne Command Post) platforms: in other words, in case of war, terrorist attack, armageddon etc (that’s why they are dubbed “doomsday planes”) they can direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages).

Similar to the civilian Boeing 707 but with a 737 cockpit, E-6s have a range of 5,500 miles, and accommodate 23 crew members.

It can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders), it can talk to submarines trailing a 26,000 ft wire antenna, it can launch commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and can perform C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theatre.

When stealth bombers are launched on a round-trip, Global Strike mission across the globe, an E-6 or two (with the second acting as back up) is used to provide command and control support to the B-2s.

Several E-6 are flying at any given time: some of them are involved in training activities, whereas others may be supporting actual operations, hence it would be extremely difficult to guess something big is about to happen in Syria, unless one or two start circiling over the UK or elsewhere, as a Mercury did while the Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden.

This would be the sign they are about to relay some important orders to the submarines, warships and bombers in the Mediterranean Sea or surrounding areas.

Noteworthy, in spite of their important role, E-6Bs are among the few military planes advertising their position on the Web using full ADS-B.

This means they can be tracked on Planefinder.net or Flightradar24.com flying around the world using the bogus callsign “GOTO FMS”.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. People need to understand these things before they get hot for war:

    Here is the Britam Defense email that was published on the Daily Mail:

    ‘Phil… We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose
    an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.

    ‘We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have.

    ‘They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.

    ‘Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?

    ‘Kind regards, David.’


    and this:

    Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent International Commission
    of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete
    suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to
    oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.

    But she said her panel had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian
    government forces using chemical weapons (CW), according to the BBC, she
    added that more investigation was needed.


  2. The ignorance of the civilian community entertains me. Being someone who
    previously flew aboard this aircraft for 6 years, I can’t help but
    chuckle at the inaccuracy here. Just know that this plane flying is a good thing, but will have nothing to do with the events currently taking place in Syria.This platform acts for nuclear deterrence, not on some petty fight such as the one taking place. The day these planes have to do their job to the utmost potential, it will already be to late for the rest of the general society.


  3. Well having flown on this aircraft for over 4 years….there is no opsec that was broken here….everything that was written can be found if one looks hard enough. The really cool thing is what this crew is really capable of doing…….and that I can never talk about,and I will take that to the grave with me. I will say that the people that fly on these aircraft are the most professional aircrewman I ever had the priveledge of flying with in 20 years of Naval Service, and I spent the entire 20 years flying.

  4. I just saw this E-6 here at Joint Base Lewis Mcchord about 1 month ago before the V-22’s showed up. Cool plane it ends up here a few times a year for the past couple of years.

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