Tag Archives: Boeing E-6 Mercury

Here Is How A U.S. Pre-Emptive Strike On North Korea Could Unfold

Forget the B-1s: TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) and B-2s would probably start an eventual pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang.

Although they have been involved in several “show of force” missions over the Korean peninsula, the B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews), that have been supporting the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission since Aug. 6, 2016, would probably not be involved in the very first stages of an eventual U.S. attack on North Korea.

Indeed, should Washington decide to launch a (conventional) pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang, it would be a pretty standard air campaign, opened by cruise missiles, most (if not all) shot by warships or submarines, followed by strategic and tacair (tactical airplanes).

A North Korean war would probably include four phases:

1) Build-up & intelligence gathering phase (underway)

2) Rain of cruise missiles

3) Strategic bomber strikes

4) Tacair involvement to go after all DPKR batteries and artillery that could fire towards Seoul

Phase 1 involves moving required assets in place and collect the data needed for proper targeting. This phase has already started. Satellites and spyplanes have already been watching North Korea for months; if they really decide to strike, such intelligence activity will only be intensified, to support identification of targets to be hit in the first stages of the air war, especially since NK has already started moving TELs across the country.

Phase 2 would probably see the involvement of the destroyers in the 7th fleet area of operations, each theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles (actually less, because these warships usually carry a mix of attack and air defense missiles). Submarines could also be used to launch the TLAMs.

Some U.S. strategic bombers would probably be launched in global strike round-trip missions from the US (as well as from Guam) to attack specific targets such as bunkers and underground sites (Phase 3): few B-2 Spirit stealth sorties (possibly using the 30,000-lb GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs) to be followed by some more B-1 and possibly B-52 ones.

Phase 4 would see the involvement of tactical aircraft (from land bases or aircraft carriers) involved in the hunt for road-mobile ballistic missiles and any other artillery target required to prevent a retaliatory attack (even a nuclear one) by Pyongyang: not an easy task, considered that many of these could be hidden underground or dispersed. Anyway, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, or THAAD, along with Aegis warships, would have the role to destroy incoming missiles in case of missile launches towards South Korea.

High flying RQ-4 Global Hawk drones flying from Yokota AB, Japan, would perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Some sorties would also be flown by U-2s.

Among the (many) supporting assets, the U.S. Navy E-6 Mercury jets would probably play a major role in a U.S. air war on North Korea.

The 16 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 they can direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages): that’s why they are dubbed “doomsday planes.”

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.

They can perform the so-called Looking Glass mission (mirroring the ground-based C3 center at Offutt AFB and relaying orders), they can 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.

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) are used to provide command and control support to the B-2s.

Several E-6 are flying at any given time: in spite of their important role, E-6Bs are among the few military planes advertising their position on the Web using full ADS-B. However, whilst some of them are involved in training activities, others may be supporting actual operations, hence it would be extremely difficult to guess something big is about to happen in North Korea even if tracking on Planefinder.net or Flightradar24.com.

Top image credit: Christopher Ebdon

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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.

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“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.

mystery_plane_circles-fr24

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.

e-6b_mercury_flies_over_solomons_island_in_november_2014

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

 

Let’s have a look at the Russian Air Force Il-80 Maxdome, Putin’s “doomsday plane”

The next generation Il-80 airborne command post is about to enter active service with the Russian Air Force.

The Russian Air Force will soon operate an upgraded Il-80 Maxdome airborne command post.

In fact, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, a “new” version of the Russian “doomsday plane” has recently successfully completed the testing campaign and is ready to enter into active service by the end of the year.

The aircraft is one of the four Il-80 aircraft, heavily modified Il-86 airliners, used as airborne command center in a role similar to that of the U.S. Boeing E-4B since the mid-1980s.

In service with the 8th Special Purpose Aviation Division, at Chkalovsky Airport, near Moscow, the Il-80 is meant to keep the top Russian officials, including the President, alive and safe in case of nuclear war: for this reason, the Maxdome does not feature any external windows (other than the cockpit windshield) and it is equipped with domes, bulges and antennas meant to block EMP, RF pulse, and to shield against nuclear blasts while ensuring the ability to communicate with other assets including ballistic missile submarines when the ground infrastructure is heavily damaged or destroyed.

The extent of the modifications is unclear.

“The new generation airborne command post has improved survivability, functionality and reliability, and the  electronics on board have reduced mass-dimensional characteristics and power consumption, its producer claims,” according to RT.

As said, the American counterpart of the Il-80, is the U.S. Air Force E-4B, a modified B747-200 that serves as National Airborne Operations Center. Four such aircraft (based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska) are responsible to keep the U.S. Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top personalities alive in the event of Armageddon (a nuclear war, a terrorist attack, a zombie revolution or an alien invasion).

The E-4B is an airborne command, control and communications center to direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages). Its backup is the U.S. Navy E-6B TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out): the E-6 “Mercury” relay instructions to the fleet ballistic missile submarines in case of nuclear war but can also act as ABNCP (Airborne Command Post) platforms as E-4B back-ups.

Image credit: Kirill Naumenko via Wikimedia Commons

 

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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