Tag Archives: Airborne Launch Control System

We Ran a Simulated ICBM Attack on the United States to Find Out: Could We Stop One?

We Went Inside Northrop Grumman Demonstration of Critical Anti-Ballistic Missile Technology.

Sometime in the future, diplomacy may fail.

An overnight incident in the Pacific between a U.S. Navy vessel and an adversary nation submarine causes a collision. A U.S. Air Force surveillance plane is fired upon as it flies near an international airspace boundary. A rogue nation continues ballistic missile testing.

What happens when it becomes a real world crisis with an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)?

A missile launch indication from U.S. Air Force Space Command surveillance satellites happens at 0234 Hrs local. It is 1734 GMT, 10:34 AM in San Francisco, California in the United States. Sunday morning.

Silent lighted icons flash red on a U.S. early warning display. Red circles appear around them. They are automatically given a series of numerical designations: speed, altitude. Sea based radars add to the intelligence picture. More data becomes available. Algorithms extrapolate trajectory, acceleration, apogee, reentry and deceleration into the atmosphere. They calculate the missile’s potential impact point.

Missile launch (credit: Northrop Grumman)

I sit in a chair watching the arc of the incoming ICBM headed to the United States’ west coast. The missile reaches its apogee, its maximum altitude in near space, and begins its terminal attack phase. It happens fast. I realize I am sweating. This feels very real. As real as today’s headlines. As the missile descends toward its target it begins to slow, but it is still moving faster than a rifle bullet.

The United States homeland is under attack by ICBMs launched from a rogue nation. It is the first time a nation state has attacked the U.S. homeland since WWII. A shooting war has started.

Intelligence analysts know the threat of real damage is moderate, but that doesn’t help. The warhead is likely small, crude by modern standards. It may not even function. The guidance system is not very precise. Chances are just as good that this warhead will land short in the Pacific or go long into the California mountains as it will detonate over the intersection of Market Street and 6th Street in the Financial District of San Francisco. It could spread radioactive material over several city blocks depending on the altitude it detonates at. It may even fail to detonate.

But that is not the point of this attack. The point is for a rogue nation to send a clear signal to the U.S. government: We can reach you. We have the will to attack. You are not safe.

Given recent headlines the ballistic missile threat to the United States is in the spotlight. What is the U.S. doing to counter the intercontinental ballistic missile threat?

Recently The Aviationist visited a secure facility at Northrop Grumman to learn more about the present and future of ballistic missile defense for the continental United States. We participated in a chilling drill to intercept an ICBM fired from somewhere on the Asian continent (Editor’s note: at the request of Northrop Grumman officials, we agreed not to name any potential adversary nation specifically).

Inside Northrop Grumman’s facility. (credit: The Aviationist.)

Northrop Grumman’s Ken Todorov, Director of Global Air and Missile Defense, told TheAviationist.com, “This literally is rocket science.”

Todorov directed us through a simulated ICBM intercept over the northern Pacific using Northrop Grumman’s technology contributions to our nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense Systems. Several new technologies are showcased within Northrop Grumman’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. These systems are not yet operational, but they are must-haves for the nation’s ICBM defense. Given the threat from rogue nations in the Pacific region, Northrop Grumman’s new technologies are not just critical, but essential to our nation’s defense in the immediate term.

Without systems like GMD our west coast is, for the first time in history, under threat of nuclear attack from an ICBM in control of a rogue nation.

A constant stream of data from a wide array of sensors tracks the incoming ICBM. We see the track on our large monitor, nearly the width of the room, and on our individual monitors. It’s eerily quiet.

View to a kill: We run a simulation of an ICBM attack on the U.S. west Coast. (credit: TheAviationist.)

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Ft. Greely, Alaska.” The systems operator tells us. The track of an ascending missile appears on our screen. It arcs upward gaining momentum, curving to match the downward trajectory of the incoming ICBM.

“Ground Based Interceptor launch, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.” A second lighted trajectory traces across the screen, originating from the continental U.S. west coast. Two U.S. missiles are in the air, with new proposed Northrop Grumman technology melding the intercept data and targeting information to help provide mid-course intercept data.

The lines converge silently toward one another, beginning to form a brightly lighted “Y” shape on the displays. We all follow the lighted display across the screen, the ICBM arcing downward, the interceptors arcing to meet them.

“This is a bullet hitting a bullet in the exo-atmosphere” Todorov tells us, gesturing to the three missile tracks as they converge together on the big screen. The projectile we are trying to hit is moving at 10,000 MPH now, and it is about the size of a trashcan.

There are four phases of ICBM flight.

The boost phase is the most difficult to intercept the vehicle in, but is where the launch is detected. The ascent phase is vulnerable to detection by the Aegis weapons system and interception by RIM-156 and RIM-174 Standard Missiles launched from land or at sea from U.S. Navy surface ships like the Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh-Burke class destroyers. In the third phase, the “mid-course” phase, the incoming ICBM could be targeted by the exo-atmospheric THAAD missile system or additional systems still in development.

Northrop Grumman technology has the capability to make all these systems perform better together, and improve the likelihood of intercepting missiles before they reach the United States or any user nation.

The lines on the big display in front of us converge.

They complete the big “Y” shape over the eastern Pacific off the California coast. There is no sound. In an instant all three missile designators disappear. The intercept was successful.

Missile tracking system close-up during ICBM launch simulation (credit: The Aviationist)

Using several new key technologies from Northrop Grumman we killed the incoming ICBM over the pacific before it reached the United States.

Later we see video of a successful, actual test intercept of an ICBM target during a demonstration of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the ballistic missile defense system on May 30, 2017. A ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The “anti-missile” missile was armed with an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle projectile. It successfully intercepted and destroyed a simulated ICBM launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific with a direct collision at re-entry speed and high altitude. The demonstration was widely regarded as impressive proof of the capabilities of the ballistic missile defense system.

Northrop Grumman’s contribution to missile defense is significant. At the beginning of 2017 Ken Todorov told media that, “Members of Congress face a myriad of difficult questions about how to best protect our homeland from a growing number of threats. In this era of declining budgets, it is critical our top national priorities provide those at the “tip of the spear” with the tools to protect our homeland from existing and emerging threats.”

The headlines confirm the ICBM threat from the Pacific region is real, making the need for missile defense perhaps the most urgent defense agenda for the United States.

Note: The Aviationist.com wishes to thank Lauren A. Green, Manager, Branding and External Communications for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and the entire team at Northrop Grumman for their kind assistance with this article.

Salva

“Mysterious” plane circling over Denver was “just” an E-6B Mercury “doomsday” plane

Photos and video of a “mysterious” plane circling over Denver are making the rounds. But the aircraft was “just” a U.S. Navy Doomsday plane.

On Nov. 16 people in the Denver metropolitan area saw a white, four-engined aircraft performing a racetrack for several times over Colorado before heading to Oklahoma. The aircraft could be tracked online on Flightradar24 by means of ADS-B using callsign Iron 99.

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mystery_plane_circles-fr24-over-denver

Even though some media outlets published some funny articles with headlines referring to a “mystery flight” or a “mysterious plane” there is really little mystery around that aircraft: it was an E-6B Mercury.

The use of “Iron 99” is also pretty standard: Iron is one of the radio callsigns of the VQ-3 “Ironmen”, a naval aviation squadron of the United States Navy based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma (incidentally, where the aircraft headed after orbiting over Denver….)

Built on the Boeing 707 airframe and using a B737 cockpit, the E-6B aircraft has a range of 5,500 miles, and accommodates 23 crew members.

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The U.S. Navy has a total fleet of sixteen E-6B Mercury (TACAMO – “TAke Charge And Move Out”) that play an extremely important role for U.S. National Security: they 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 (hence “Doomsday Plane“).

They are often trackable online, while performing various critical missions: the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders); talking to submarines trailing a 26,000 ft wire antenna; launching commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and performing C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theater or to the U.S. strategic bombers flying Global Strike missions.

The Mercury is capable to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band, on commercial satellites and on the Internet, using also a secure VOIP system. This aircraft usually operates flying orbits/circles while trailing their antennas or to exploit a particular geostationary satellite for radio comms.

Noteworthy, on Aug. 27, the E-6B 163918 used the very same callsign Iron 99.

Screenshot from Global ADSB Exchange showing E-6B using callsign Iron 99 on Aug. 27, 2016

Screenshot from Global ADSB Exchange showing E-6B using callsign Iron 99 on Aug. 27, 2016

Interestingly, on Mar. 8, 2016 an E-6B 162784 used the callsign “Trump” for the first time.

Top image credit: screenshot from ABC. Rest of images: screenshots from Flightradar24.com

 

Russia has completed ground tests of its high-energy Airborne combat Laser System

Unlike the now-scrapped US airborne counter-ballistic laser project, Russian airborne laser system is still alive. Although based on a 35 year-old design dating back to the Soviet era…

The Russian airborne laser program dates back to the end of the 1970s when initial plans were made to use a laser-equipped aircraft for testing.

The first test-bed aircraft was a Beriev A-60, a modified Il-76 transport plane that made its first flight in 1981 and was equipped as a flying laboratory in 1983. Another A-60 joined the program in 1991.

Little is known about the achievements of the two A-60s until the early 2000s. Reportedly, in 2003 the project was revived under the name of “Sokol-Eshelon”. In 2009, the 1LK222 laser system developed from the original A-60 program, whose purpose is to blind the sensors of enemy satellites rather than destroy them, was used in a test to lluminate a Japanese satellite which was at an orbital height of 1,500 km.

In 2012 RT reported that the laser would be installed on the only surviving A-60 test-bed (with its characteristic special nose cone with a laser targeting system) that was going to be refurbished and upgraded.

According to the Russian MoD, the A-60 Sokol-Eshelon has eventually completed the ground testing in the new configuration and is ready for flying testing decades after it first flew as a laser-equipped platform.

Cool.

The A-60 project bears resemblance with the American airborne laser project that was based on the YAL-1 Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB). The main difference is that the U.S. project aimed at ballistic missiles interception in the atmosphere whereas the Russian project is designed for “space counter warfare”.

The YAL-1 Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB), that flew for the last time on Feb. 14, 2012, was a modified Boeing 747-400 Freighter (serialled 00-0001/ED) that housed two solid-state lasers and a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser that was intended to direct energy to intercept and destroy enemy ballistic missiles.

The ABL was designed to identify, track and intercept enemy ballistic missiles shortly after missile launch, operating at altitudes above the clouds to locate and track missiles in their boost flight phase, and then accurately point and fire the high-energy laser to intercept enemy missiles near their launch areas.

Although the YAL-1 achieved good results during testing, proving its ability to destroy threat-representative ballistic missiles, a laser up to 30 times more powerful than the chemical laser aboard the test bed was needed to shoot down, from distance, a real enemy missile in the boost phase. For this reason, funding was cut in 2010 and the program cancelled in December 2011.

Actually, airborne laser testing has not ceased since then as proved by NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) issued back in 2012. Moreover, laser-based cannons (and other laser weapons) might equip U.S. Air Force planes by 2030.

Image credit: Oleg Ziminov / Russianplanes.net

 

E-6B Mercury “Doomsday plane” with brand new dome

Several aircraft enthusiasts have pointed out that there is a new dome on the E-6B TACAMO

The U.S. Navy operates a fleet of E-6B TACAMO (“TAke Charge And Move Out”).

The “Mercury” aircraft are extremely important as they 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 (hence “Doomsday Plane“).

On Feb. 14, Military Radio Comms Expert Allan Stern took a photograph of E-6B TACAMO 164407 landing at Patrick Air Force Base and several people noticed that there is a new dome on the aircraft, clearly visible before the tail.

What’s that new dome used for?

Someone on the MilRadioComs group managed by Stern suggested the new dome looks the same size as the WiFi antennas on commercial aircraft.

Maybe.

For sure the E-6B can do many things: it can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders), talk to submarines trailing a 26,000 ft wire antenna, launch commands to ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) via Airborne Launch Control System, and perform C3 (Command Control Communication) operations to forces operating in theatre.

For this reason it is equipped with systems that make it capable to communicate on virtually every radio frequency band, on commercial satellites and on the Internet, using also a secure VOIP system.

Most probably the new dome houses a new communication system.

Image credit: Al Stern/MilRadioComms

 

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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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