Category Archives: Iraq

Close Air Support Debate: We Go Inside an AC-130 to See if the Gunship is Still Relevant

The AC-130 Spectre Gunship Still Plays a Critical Role in America’s Close Air Support Capability.

It is large, slow and vulnerable to air defense systems including increasingly effective man-portable SAMs. It can also deliver withering fire support with an impressive degree of accuracy and an ever-expanding variety of munitions if the battlespace is permissive enough. It’s the AC-130 Spectre gunship.

But is the large, slow gunship still relevant?

With the role of the A-10 in question, the emergence of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the recent Light Attack Experiment and even armed, remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) the question becomes: where does the AC-130 Spectre gunship fit into the mix of assets in the Air Force order of battle?

The term “gunship” entered the air combat vocabulary mostly during the Vietnam war with Project Tailchaser, the experimental test of a minigun-equipped twin-engine Convair C-131B turboprop cargo plane carrying a single GAU-2/A minigun. The GAU-2A minigun is a belt-fed, multi-barrel Gatling gun that can sustain a very high rate of fire without overheating its multiple gun barrels.

Interestingly, the development of the gunship concept in the early 1960s could be considered roughly analogous to today’s modern Light Attack Experiment. Gunship development in the early days of the Vietnam conflict used entirely off-the-shelf equipment and aircraft. Gunships were developed to fill a need resulting from asymmetrical guerilla warfare fought by a largely insurgent adversary. Both of these attributes are present in the Light Attack Experiment.

The Project Tailchaser experiment led to the famous AC-47 gunships used in Vietnam. These are largely regarded as the first modern “gunships”.

Using the call sign “Puff” for Puff the Magic Dragon, the AC-47 was used in combat for the first time on Dec. 15, 1964. Because of its success, the AC-47 was soon joined over Vietnam by the AC-119G Shadow and AC-119K Stinger gunships. The AC-119K Stinger has the distinction of being the only combined turboprop and jet powered gunship with the addition of a pair of underwing-mounted General Electric J-85 jet engines. Following the success of these gunship platforms the AC-130A Project Gunship II was developed in 1967 at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio and deployed to Vietnam soon after.

The unusual AC-119K Stinger gunship used a combination of propellers and jet engines. (Photo: USAF via Wikipedia)

Prior to the Vietnam conflict there had been several experiments with aircraft modified to carry multiple guns for both air-to-ground and air-to-air targets. These included versions of the B-25 Mitchell with up to eight cannons mounted in a solid nose for ground attack and an experimental B-17 Flying Fortress converted to an air-to-air gunship called the YB-40. The YB-40 gunship actually flew 48 operational missions over Germany in WWII. It was armed with 18 Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns for protection of bomber formations from fighter attack. The YB-40 could accompany the bomber formation during the entire mission when fuel restrictions meant single engine fighter planes such as the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt could not escort the bombers for the entire mission.

An indication that gunships have maintained their relevance even in the modern tactical airspace alongside RPAs, A-10 Thunderbolt II jets and the F-35 joint strike fighter is the use of the gunship in private militaries. Author Robert Pelton chronicled an apparently successful experiment by private military contracting pioneer Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, Inc. (renamed “Xe” in 2009 and now known as “Academi”). According to Young’s account, Prince used the CASA 212 twin-engine turboprop with two A12 .50 caliber machine guns capable of 4,200 rounds per minute sustained rate of fire. Young wrote, “Seventy bullets per second creates a steady stream of red tracer fire that with depleted uranium shells can easily turn armored vehicles into Swiss cheese.” Prince has gone on to propose additional private military gunship assets to prospective clients with no news about any takers on his proposals.

The vulnerability of the gunship was underscored in the early morning of Jan. 31, 1991 over Khafji, Iraq during Operation Desert Storm: an AC-130H Spectre gunship from the 16th Special Operations Squadron, callsign “Spirit 03”, was supporting U.S. Marines during the Battle of Khafji. The Marines had called for an air strike on an Iraqi “missile battery”. There were three AC-130H Spectre gunships on station that night in support of the U.S. Marine operation in Khafji. But as sunrise approached the AC-130H gunships would become increasingly vulnerable to visual acquisition from ground gunners and missile crews as twilight appeared. As sunlight became visible over the horizon the AC-130H successfully struck the targets designated by the U.S. Marines. But minutes later an Iraqi SA-7 “Grail” man-portable surface-to-air missile hit the last remaining AC-130H, “Spirit 03”. Although the aircraft survived the initial hit from the SA-7 and managed to fly out over water, the plane and its entire 14-man crew were lost. The incident underscored the vulnerability of the large, relatively low altitude, slow-moving gunship to modern man-portable anti-aircraft weapons.

Gunship operations continued in the most recent years of the Global War on Terror, but one of their latest operational uses underscored the need for enhanced ground intelligence and gunship integration. On Oct. 3, 2015, an AC-130U gunship launched a precision air strike on a target in Kunduz, Afghanistan at the Kunduz Trauma Center. The target was thought to be harboring Taliban militants. During the 30-minute airstrike the international aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières said that, “at least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured”. The organization claimed that many of the casualties were non-combatants. While the incident was disastrous from a political and humanitarian perspective, it underscored the lethal effectiveness of the AC-130 gunship platform.

There are very few details about the gunship operations in Iraq. Among the things that we know is that two AC-130s along with some A-10 Warthogs were involved in a quite famous airstrike during which 116 ISIS-controlled fuel trucks were destroyed near Abu Kamal, Syria, on Nov. 15, 2015 as part of the coalition’s Operation Tidal Wave II.

Today the gunship legacy continues with the September 2017 delivery of the first six AC-130J Ghostrider gunships, the latest and most advanced version of the AC-130. The new AC-130J is a massive upgrade over previous versions: according to Air Force Times writer Stephen Losey, “The most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.”

Stephen Losey also reports in an October 2016 article in the “Air Force Times” that the performance of the new AC-130J Ghostrider is greatly enhanced over previous AC-130 versions. “It’s lighter, faster and more efficient.” Losey quoted USAF Maj. Jarrod Beers, a weapons system officer on the new AC-130J. According to Losey, Maj. Beers told him, “[It] burns 25 to 30 percent less gas than legacy aircraft. It flies at a top speed of about 362 knots, or 416 miles per hour – well above the roughly 300 mph top speed of the AC-130U. The AC-130J can fly a maximum range of 3,000 miles and up to 28,000 feet in the air – about twice as far, and roughly 3,000 feet higher than the AC-130U.”

Tech. Sgt. Jarred Huseman, left, and Tech. Sgt. Oscar Garcia, special missions aviators with the 1st Special Operations Group, Detachment 2, operate a 105 mm cannon on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, “Angry Annie,” during a training mission over Eglin Range, Fla., Jan. 23, 2017. The 105 mm cannon recoils back 49 inches, with 14,000 pounds of force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson)

There is even discussion of installing a laser weapon on the AC-130U. An April 2017 report in “National Defense” by reporter Yasmin Tadjdeh said that the Air Force is going to test “streamlined electrical lasers” as opposed to heavy chemical lasers for use onboard the AC-130U. The primary challenges remaining are insulation from airframe vibration and turbulence to maintain a suitably focused beam. But when you consider advances in commercial optical stabilization in everything from GoPro camera mounts to long telephoto lenses on still and video cameras, this problem will be rapidly solved for laser weapon use onboard the AC-130U. In testing, the laser weapon would replace the current location of the 30mm gun and add the installation of a special clear optical “window” the laser could shoot through to eliminate movement of the weapon from the boundary layer of air entering the fuselage.

Future AC-130s may be equipped with stabilized laser weapons. (Photo: USAF)

Although there is no current (unclassified) plan to install a laser weapon operationally on the AC-130U Ghostrider, that is subject to change pending the outcome of the weapon evaluation. But one thing that is absolutely guaranteed, especially according to AC-130 gunship crews we spoke to at the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo 2017 at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The heavy gunship is not going away anytime soon, even with the integration of new strike assets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, remotely piloted aircraft and evaluation programs like the Light Attack Experiment. The heavy gunship will remain relevant, increasingly lethal but significantly less vulnerable for many years to come.

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.

36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

The U.S. Air Force Has Just Released Photos That Prove The MC-130J Commando II Has Joined The Air War On ISIS

Here is the first in theater (Iraq/Syria) picture of an AFSOC MC-130J Commando II.

The top image shows a U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The photograph was taken by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride on May 29, 2017, and it is particularly interesting because, as our friends at @Airwars noticed, this is the first time the multimission combat transport/special operations tanker, assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), is depicted flying in support of OIR against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

A MC-130J Commando II is refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

The MC-130J Commando II, that has replaced the MC-130N/P Combat Shadow II aircraft, is the modern special operations variant of the Hercules, whose primary roles are HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) of SOF helicopters/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of SOF by airdrop or landing on remote airfields. Interestingly, the aircraft can also be used for FARP (Forward Air Refueling Point) operations to perform covert, nighttime refueling operations in deployed locations where fueling stations are not accessible or when air-to-air refueling is not possible.

The MC-130Js mainly operate at low-altitude and at night, conducting clandestine missions with reduced probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the MC-130J features an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics; fully populated Combat Systems Operator (CSO) and auxiliary flight deck stations; 13 color multifunctional liquid crystal displays; head-up displays; fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation system and global positioning system; integrated defensive systems; low-power color radar; digital moving map display. The aircraft is equipped with new turboprop engines with six-bladed, all-composite propellers; digital auto pilot; improved fuel, environmental and ice-protection systems; enhanced cargo-handling system; Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI), air refueling pods, Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) System; dual SATCOM for voice/data; 60/90 KVA generators; increased DC electrical output, loadmaster/scanner restraint system; and LAIRCM provisions.

The MC-130J’s primary missions are Air refueling of SOF helicopter/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of SOF by airdrop or airland (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

As mentioned before, this kind of asset is capable to perform many tasks, therefore it’s difficult to guess what kind of mission it was flying when it was photographed. For the moment, we can just say that the Commando II has joined the air war over Syria and Iraq bringing the ability to support a wide variety of special operations against Daesh.

H/T @Airwars for the heads-up

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U.S. Air Force EC-130H Disrupts ISIL Communications in Iraq

In an uncharacteristic media release by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft have been reported as active in support of anti-ISIL operations in Iraq.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified version of the versatile C-130 platform that was conceived as a transport but has been modified for missions such as search and rescue, gunship and even bomber. The EC-130H version conducts various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption along with additional undisclosed capabilities that may include surveillance and jamming of cellular and other wireless signals.

In an official release published on the U.S. Air Force official website, Lt. Col. Josh Koslov, squadron commander of the 43rd Expeditionary Electronic Attack Squadron, is quoted as saying, “When the Compass Call is up on station supporting our Iraqi allies we are denying ISIL’s ability to command and control their forces.” Koslov emphasized, “If you can’t talk, you can’t fight.”

Published specifications for the EC-130H say the aircraft employs a 13-14 person crew. In the release published by the U.S. Air Force there is mention of linguists on board to “Help us efficiently find, prioritize and target ISIL.” Sources are also quoted as saying onboard linguists “help the electronic warfare officer make jamming decisions in order to provide the effects desired by the ground force commander.”

ISIL insurgent forces rely heavily on cell phones for communication, including the command detonation of improvised explosive devices. According to an article published in January by Fightersweep.com, “The EC-130H can detect all of these, and jam them selectively. ISIL has similar preferences in communications gear and in the midst of combat they have found, like the Taliban, there is no solution to the problems created by a EC-130H overhead.”

Since the EC-130H’s role in combating Daesh through signals intelligence and interdiction is largely non-attributable and non-lethal area commanders can use it with impunity. There is no risk of collateral damage as with bombs and missiles that directly destroy targets.

In October, a top-ranking U.S. Air Force official announced that a small enemy drone controlled by ISIS had been downed by an Electronic Attack aircraft asset: although no specific type was mentioned, few USAF platforms other than the Compass Call are known to have the ability to use Electronic Warfare to disrupt the signal between the UAV and its control station.

The EC-130H’s numbers were briefly threatened prior to 2016 according to a report in the Arizona Daily Independent, a newspaper published near the EC-130H’s home base at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. The report cited “a proposal to retire seven EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack fleet airplanes stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.” According to the ADI news report, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 prevented the retirement of these aircraft citing the critical importance of their mission to “protect our air men and women from sophisticated electronic attacks in conflicts across the Middle East such as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as against potential threats in the Pacific and Europe.”

Few specifics of the EC-130H’s mission are available publicly. It is probable the EC-130H operates partially in support of classified U.S. special operations teams in the region, and that these teams accompany Iraqi forces in the anti-ISIL campaign. These teams’ additional roles likely include targeting for U.S. and coalition airstrikes.

The EC-130H is probably teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The release of information about EC-130H operations by the Air Force, however vague it may be, is significant since the EC-130 overall force is so small, consisting of only 14 aircraft according to the Air Force. Additionally, because of its classified mission and capabilities, little is seen in the media about the EC-130H role, making this information release about the aircraft noteworthy.

 

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