The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.

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. Is the U.S. in the midst of a quiet buildup of forces in preparations for an attack against North Korea? Well, perhaps you should read this from the NY Times:

    Military Quietly Prepares for a Last Resort: War With North Korea

    “But unlike the very public buildup of forces in the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 2003 Iraq war, which sought to pressure President Saddam Hussein of Iraq into a diplomatic settlement, the Pentagon is seeking to avoid making public all its preparations for fear of inadvertently provoking a response by Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader.”

    War now would be bad. War later will be catastrophic. We have no choice but to act, and this President and Secretary of Defense, and in particular National Security Advisor Gen. McMaster, well understand this. Give up your nuclear weapons Mr. Kim, or face complete and utter –
    total – destruction. Fire and fury like you cannot imagine! Time grows short, but you still have time to choose wisely the correct chalice.

    • We’re all waiting for the assault to begin leroy, especially you. Not sure though.. if the NY Times writes about it, is it really a “quiet” buildup or just more of your senseless verbal diarrhea?

    • Once the people of the North learn how much better their relatives live down South, the cult of the Kims will take a large hit. Perhaps before you go into a hot war, we could try some more direct propaganda campaigns to let the good folks of the North learn that they’re missing out. A Soviet style collapse is a lot cheaper and less damaging than a hot war. You wouldn’t want your, or others future home buying variables to include your prospective new homes proximity to a fallout zone do you? Nor would you want to go visit and pay homage at the monuments to the 100’s of thousands or more war dead from another Korean War.

      • What I and I believe the world wants Andrew, is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a peace treaty signed between both nations. What the U.S. requires is that Kim be denuded of his nuclear weapons stockpile. If it takes war to do that, then so be it. Certainly a prospect I don’t relish or wish for.

  2. The State Department is issuing an ominous warning to Americans living in or visiting South Korea – Get out! Ordering an evacuation without making it mandatory:

    Visiting North Korea? Draft a will and make funeral plans, State Department says

    “Americans can travel to North Korea, if they wish — but it may just be a death wish, the U.S. State Department cautioned.

    The State Department last week issued a stark warning to people setting out for the Hermit Kingdom, cautioning that anyone heading to the dangerous dictatorship should prepare for the possibility of not returning.

    “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney; discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.,” according to the recommendations.”

    This isn’t psyops, this is preparation for military action. The game is afoot. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

    • Yep, crying havoc will be what the USMC cannon fodder “beerfund4lyfe” storm troopers will be doing. I wonder when we’ll see Leroy & co on the front lines?? Oh yeah, we won’t.. Leroy fights his wars from a basement behind a computer screen.

  3. When Kim told the South Koreans not to worry, that his nukes are all aimed at the U.S., you better believe that got the White House and Pentagon’s attention. There can be only one response.

  4. What’s blatantly apparently is Leroy’s need for attention and validation in his posts. You write such meaninglessly long and eloquent posts Leroy, are you writing for someone’s approval or just talking to yourself. You know maybe if you had actually served in the military or been in a war you’d realise the error of your ways but I guess not. Keep broadcasting and trolling from that dark empty basement of yours.

Comments are closed.