Tag Archives: Boeing EA-18G Growler

A Serious Look at the History of Inappropriate Contrails Made by Pilots

The Social Media Sensation from Last Week’s Penis Drawn in the Sky Isn’t the First.

The opportunity for puns and social media memes from last week’s giant penis drawn in the sky by Navy pilots over Okanogan Highlands in Washington state was massive. But despite the jokes that spread like wildfire on social media and the opportunity for tongue-in-cheek headlines, the U.S. Navy isn’t laughing.

You likely already know from social media feeds that an EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130) “The Zappers”, of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is responsible for the giant phallic contrail executed with remarkable accuracy, and no small measure of masculine embellishment. But the spread of the now famous photos across Facebook, Instagram and every other contributory media comes at a terrible time for the U.S. Navy and for the military in general.

An EA-18G Growler of Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130), “The Zappers” of NAS Whidbey Island who drew the inappropriate contrail. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Media reports indicate the pilots responsible have been grounded from flight operations pending the outcome of an official investigation.

Last week the U.S. Air Force celebrated its 70th birthday at the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB in Nevada. The theme for the expo was “Breaking Barriers since 1947” and showcased the gender inclusive doctrine of the U.S. Air Force across all of its job fields. For the U.S. Navy to suffer this very public embarrassment is contradictory to the official message of inclusion and non-discrimination the other services, like the U.S. Air Force, have spent millions portraying to the public. In effect, one incident by one flight crew sent a sexist message that reached more people via social media than the massive, official public affairs efforts of the other services including the Air Force that espouse gender inclusion.

Social media spread thousands of memes about the incident to millions of viewers. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist from Social Media Outlets)

But this isn’t the first time inappropriate contrails have created an uproar. In November 2014, the Royal Air Force suffered a similar embarrassment when a photo was widely shared that showed phallic-shaped contrails in the sky over RAF Lossiemouth on the western edge of the town of Lossiemouth in Moray, north-east Scotland. The Lossiemouth incident was, in fact, a valid navigational track of a Tornado fighter flying a relatively standard traffic pattern. The incident was more hype than reality and ran in tabloid British newspapers, often known for their sensational content, especially on a slow news day. More recently, in July 2017, a RAF Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby flew what on Flightradar24 seemed to be a phallic route.

The U.S. Navy suffered another, more tangible, embarrassment from sexist misconduct with their Blue Angels demo team in 2014.

The incidents resulted in an official report dated May 16, 2014. The official documents surrounding an investigation of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels, stated that the “Commanding Officer witnessed, accepted and encouraged behavior that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately and in the aggregate, became destructive, toxic and hostile. The Blue Angels’ Ready Room environment under his command ran counter to established Navy standards and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and dramatically weakened good order and discipline in the squadron.”

Any mention of gender-based misconduct in the U.S. Navy ultimately raises conversation about the 1991 Tailhook Scandal.

The Tailhook Scandal resulted in an official investigation that cited over 80 cases of sexual misconduct by U.S. Navy officers and personnel. The scandal became so widespread throughout the Navy that reports indicate the careers of 14 admirals and “almost 300 naval aviators” were compromised by the incidents.

As with every story, however, there are several perspectives that influence the public perception of the Whidbey Island Penis-Pilots. The U.S. is experiencing a noteworthy increase in the number of sexual misconduct allegations in the media against politicians. They include the current U.S. President. A potential danger with the proliferation of both genuine and spurious claims of sexual misconduct is that people become desensitized to the reports. That creates a dangerous environment where serious, genuine misconduct may go undetected.

There is a further potential anomaly to the story of the inappropriate sky-writing pilots. As proved by the memes about the incidents posted on social media, few people have considered the admittedly remote possibility that one or both of the flight crew responsible for the November 16 skywriting incident last week may have been female. The two crew members involved in the incident have not been identified. While the statistical likelihood is that both members are male gender pilots based on what is likely the ratio of male to female aircrew members at Electronic Attack Squadron 130, there does remain the extremely remote possibility, based strictly on the fact that some female EA-18G pilots do exist in the Navy. At least one female EA-18G pilot was at Whidbey Island that we know of in 2013, albeit in another unit; VAQ-129 as opposed to VAQ-130, the unit attributed to the recent sky-penis.

When we tried to find current pilot rosters for Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130), the unit involved in the recent November 16, 2017 incident, we could not locate a current listing to see the number of female pilots in the unit. We were, however, easily able to find record of female EA-18G Growler pilots in the U.S. Navy. One media source, published in July 2013 by the Rapid City Journal and written by staff correspondent Molly Barari cited the career of a (then) Lt. j.g. who said she had not experienced any differential treatment because she’s a woman: “Male or female, you need to have a thick enough skin to accept a lot of criticism.”

Finally, while the official, and practical doctrine of all U.S. military services must be gender equality, this incident perpetuates the lore of the fighter pilot, male and female, as a rule-bending renegade who often flies and fights at the outer limits of acceptable norms. While there is an element of sensation in this image, there is also the history or impropriety and misconduct. To this day, the military services struggle to moderate the extremes of daring-do and wanton sexism unacceptable in any culture.

Top image: The original photo shared widely across social media. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist from Social Media Outlets)

Is Star Wars Canyon, America’s Plane Spotting Jewel, At Risk Of Overuse?

We Visited “Jedi Transition” to Learn If the Best Low-Flying Area in the U.S. Is in Danger.

It is the African big game safari, the Mt. Everest and the Louvre of plane spotting: the “Jedi Transition.” Located in the western United States on the edge of Death Valley and the southern outskirts of the Nellis Range, home of Area 51. It is America’s best place to see combat aircraft training for their dangerous low-level infiltration role.

But is the Jedi Transition at risk of overuse and even possible closure?

The Aviationist.com visited the Jedi Transition this week to find out.

“Approaching Star Wars Canyon. West to East. Cleared hot…” crackles over our scanner from a fighter pilot dropping into the canyon as jet noise echoes up the rock walls like a speaker system announcing the arrival of our first aircraft. My skin goosebumps. The hair on my neck straightens. This is it… our first pass.

“Cleared hot…”

Today there are at least seven countries represented by at least thirty aircraft spotters from around the world in Jedi Transition. We are from England, Japan, Netherlands, Wales, Italy, the U.S. and Switzerland.

The name “Star Wars Canyon”, used interchangeably with Jedi Transition, came from the scene in the movie “Star Wars” where a flight of X-wing fighters led by Luke Skywalker negotiate an artificial canyon on the Death Star to deliver a lethal precision strike.

But Jedi Transition is not an air show. This is realistic training for combat flying. Although many current scenarios involve higher altitudes, fighter pilots still practice here to infiltrate heavily defended targets and to evade from areas protected by sophisticated air defense networks as those employed in Iran, Syria or North Korea. While electronic countermeasures help, the ability to get bombs on target and live to fight again may also depend on the white scarf, stick and rudder flying skills practiced by pilots in the Jedi Transition. This is where pilots learn to “use the force” and escape safely if needed.

Jedi Transition is also one of the few places on earth where you point your camera down to shoot combat aircraft photos (the other famous one being the Mach Loop). The aircraft actually fly beneath you through the canyon. And to say it is breathtaking is an understatement.

I have been on all seven continents, served in the military, seen flight demonstrations, training operations, exercises and simulations of every kind. I have never, ever seen anything as spectacular as aircraft transiting the Jedi Transition. It is so incredibly spectacular it is often difficult to concentrate on photography. After each pass, photographers up and down the canyon vary between excited hoots to hushed amazement as they paw the playback buttons on their Nikons and Canons then gawk in amazement at what they got.

But as spectacular as Jedi Transition is, it is also fragile. Media coverage like this article and hundreds of others along with videos on YouTube bring increasing numbers of people to the canyon in hopes of seeing fighters on combat training missions. Flying schedules in the canyon are closely guarded secrets, and there are no guarantees. Photographers and plane spotters talk of “rolling a donut” on days when the wind and huge black ravens are the only things to move through the canyon.

And then there is the threat of overuse. In one Facebook group devoted to the low-level flying areas around the world, members warn about responsible use of the area. Regulars at the Jedi Transition note that only a few months ago there were no visible trails connecting the best shooting spots along the canyon rim, but now there are visible foot paths worn into the desert cliff edge by hundreds of photographers who make the long, hot, dangerous drive every week in the hopes of catching something special.

Irresponsible visitors to the area leave trash, human waste, used toilet paper and garbage in the rocks along the canyon rim. And those people, still the minority among the primarily responsible and respectful photographers who visit the canyon, threaten the area for everyone.

But on a good day the Jedi Transition is maybe the best aircraft spotting and photography location on earth, and that is what keeps the crowds coming.

A classic Jedi Transition capture of a Navy EA-18G Growler banking hard the canyon exit. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

My co-reporter Jan Mack and I made the drive to the Jedi Transition in eastern California from Nellis AFB where after covering the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB. It was a tough, dark, 187-mile trip on empty roads with few gas stations and long waits for emergency services if anything went wrong. This is one of the most remote areas in the United States. Jedi Transition is just along the southern border of the Nellis Range, a secretive, restricted military operational area where live weapons testing is done and opposing forces aircraft are secretly flown. This is the home of the nation’s biggest secrets.

Leaving Las Vegas at 3:00 AM, we took the advice of ace aviation journalists and photographers Mr. Julian Shen, Carl Wrightson and many others. We met Mr. Shen on top of the Budweiser photo platform at Aviation Nation, where he and his associates gave us important intel on how to get to the Jedi Transition, how to find it in the remote desert (there are no signs) and how to get the best photos. When we asked them about the chances of getting some good fly-throughs of the area the answer was universal, “Nothing is guaranteed”. We could spend a total of ten hours driving through dangerous, remote areas, sit in the desert for hours more and see nothing at all.

Or we could see something incredible. And that is the draw. As it turned out, we were luckier than we ever imagined possible.

To make the drive from Las Vegas to Jedi Transition you need a paper map of the area since most GPS systems on cell phones, including ours, do not work in Death Valley. There is no cell phone service whatsoever in the area. We prepared a paper map with checkpoints drawn onto it in advance. Remember, you will be reading the map in the dark- and it is very, very dark in Death Valley. We used red-light headlights to preserve our night vision both on the long drive in from Las Vegas and to orient ourselves once we arrived as the sun came up.

Jedi Transition is in a National Park, so be alert for animal crossings. We spotted these friendly donkeys just before sunrise.

Buy fuel on the drive from Las Vegas at every opportunity. Consider a half tank as “bingo fuel” during the trip since a road closure, accident or emergency could force a detour of over a hundred miles. There is gas at the base of the climb into the canyon area at Panamint Springs. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge during the summer as this is one of the hottest places in the world and you will be driving up steep gradients. Be sure your brakes are functional too, descents are fast and twisting with steep drop-offs. Keep an eye open for herds of wild donkeys crossing the road as you leave the remote block-long town of Beatty at the southeastern edge of the Nevada National Security Site Nuclear Waste Repository.

Carry a paper map in the Jedi Transition since GPS on cell phones is not available most times.

Bring at least two liters of water per person to the canyon for the day. The closest store is at the base of the canyon, the Panamint Springs Resort, along Highway 190, the only road there is. The diner is excellent, the pizza is great. Ask for Morgan, the waitress, but hurry. She is leaving soon for a trip to Antarctica. There is a convenience store in the gas station next door for replenishing drinks and snacks.

Use sunscreen and a hat. Since the terrain is rocky and there are snakes and scorpions, especially during the summer, long pants and long sleeves are recommended. Remember that there are wild temperatures swings in the desert, from the 20’s at night to among the hottest places on earth, regularly over 105-degrees Fahrenheit, during the day.

Many photographers wait for the next fast jet pass.

We brought two camera bodies each, a 150-600mm zoom lens and several wide-angle lenses for landscapes. The aircraft in the canyon are close, so you are often shooting between 150mm and 250mm in focal length with the aircraft filling your screen. Planes move through canyon quickly, and you generally get one pass per aircraft, so practice your panning, double check your settings and be ready.

Arriving at Jedi Transition you quickly begin to understand the concerns surrounding preservation of the area. The parking areas are small and fill early. There is a larger parking area at the west end of the area called Father Crowley Vista. This is near the entrance for tactical aircraft to the training area as they fly west to east. There are additional turn-offs along the road shoulder for parking a few vehicles before you reach Father Crowley Vista to the east, but these fill early. Nearly the entire parking area was filled shortly after sunrise. We parked in one of these easterly areas at the road shoulder as the sun came up.

To get to the photo locations you will have to carefully cross the road. There are no marked pedestrian crossings. The road is winding here and sight distance is limited. Traffic coming through the area, especially after sunrise, will not expect to see people crossing the road, so use caution.

There are now distinct trails worn into the rocky terrain adjacent to each parking pull-off. Use the trails to minimize impact on the area and avoid getting lost, which would be difficult since it’s a short walk. You walk nearly due north about two-tenths of a mile to the canyon rim. From there the canyon drops off steeply into the ravine below. The most commonly used photo locations are along this ridge.

Perhaps the only problem with the most frequently used locations on the south rim is that everyone’s photos look the same. That said, having your own shots from the Jedi Transition is a trophy on any day, even if they do look similar to what the other photographers got spread out along the canyon rim from the same day.

A guide to the lower section of the canyon. A through F are the most used photography spots.

Use caution at the edge of the canyon rim. Rain and wind loosen even large boulders. The one you choose to lean against, stand or sit on could dislodge and roll into the canyon below. That we know of, there has never been a photographer rescued from the canyon. It is critical we all work to maintain that safety record. If there is an increase in injuries to photographers in the area from falls, rock slides, snake bites or exposure, the U.S. Park Service will likely restrict access to the canyon rim for photographers, or at least regulate and patrol it more strictly.

Aircraft often make a high pass over the canyon to orient themselves and conduct a visual confirmation of conditions and traffic before transitioning to low altitude for entry into the training area.

Observers and photographers with a scanner can set their frequencies to 315.9 for the R-2508 Low Level Training Area, the Jedi Transition, according to the official Air Force briefing from 31 March, 2016 published on the edwards.af.mil website in .pdf format. You will hear radio traffic as the pilots check into the area. Pilots often refer to “entering point Juliet” as the initiation of their run through the canyon.

The official U.S. Air Force guide to the Jedi Transition.

We also had one aircraft, a Navy F/A-18, make repeated passes over the canyon, but not drop into the canyon. He performed an impressive “show of force” pass over us and a roll pulling up, off the canyon rim, before departing.

On the day we visited, aircraft began flying over the canyon at 10:35AM local. We saw an F/A-18 and two A-10s transit the area from east to west at approximately 7,000 feet. At 10:56 AM we picked up radio traffic announcing their drop into the canyon. Pilot transmissions were brief and business-like. The aircraft were visible making the turn to the west of our locations and were easy to hear in advance coming up the canyon. The jet noise changes distinctly once the planes drop down into the canyon, echoing off the canyon walls.

The A-10s from Davis-Monthan AFB passed through the canyon stunningly low. It was easy to see the pilots looking at us as we stood on the rim, in some cases waving as we shot photos of them. Their pass was spectacular.

A navy F/A-18 followed them. Then, throughout the day, we had a succession of EA-18G Growlers, F/A-18s and the A-10s from the first fly through as our first opportunity. The A-10s only made one transit.

An F/A-18F exiting the canyon.

Jedi Transition is not an air show. It is something far better. Rarer, more exclusive, more fleeting and exotic. This is big game hunting for aviation photographers. There is risk, and there are no guarantees. It is also a potentially endangered resource that needs to be preserved and respected by the photographers who visit it. But on a good day, Jedi is incredible.

The authors Tom Demerly and Jan Mack at Panamint Spring Resort at the bottom of Jedi Transition.

The canyon settles thick with sprawling silence in the long wait between aircraft. Photographers whisper about rumors of aircraft departures at Nellis, China Lake, Creech, Miramar and others. Frequencies on scanners are checked, and nervous photographers stand up from their folding camp chairs to stretch, set their cameras and practice panning along the canyon wall one more time. Hours pass.

Then that one radio call:

“Point Juliet, Jedi Transition. One pass. West to east…”

This VAQ-130 Cruise Video Showcases The Air War Against ISIS From The EA-18G Growler Aircrews Point of View

In 2016, VAQ-130 Growler Electronic Attack aircraft worked hard to deny the ISIS militants the ability to communicate.

Islamic State militants rely heavily on COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and DIY radios along with smartphones to communicate, browse the Internet, send emails, exchange messages, dispatch orders, trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) etc.

Various platforms of the US-led coalition that fights ISIS in Syria and Iraq continuously work to snoop into Daesh comms, intercept the signals emitted by their devices and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers or targeting specific high value individuals using cell phones).

“Kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” can be called in by other aircraft (such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplanes which can disseminate data gathered in real-time via tactical data link) or ground forces to prevent ISIS fighters from talking to other militants by jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or by dropping actual ordnance at them.

Last year, among the units waging the Air War on ISIS frequencies, there were also the VAQ-130 Zappers.

Embarked on USS Eisenhower with their Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), the “Zappers” have supported Operation Inherent Resolve carrying out a wide variety of missions.

The badge sported by the VAQ-130’s EA-18G during their 2016 cruise.

Indeed the Growler has the ability to jam the enemy communications or work in combination with other EA-18s to geo-locate a signal source and target it from stand-off distance with air-to-surface missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile).

The following video provides the highlight of VAQ-130’s 2016 cruise. And includes much OIR footage.


H/T Maximilien Pétré for the heads-up

All U.S. Navy Super Hornets and Growlers grounded after incident injured aircrew

The U.S. Navy has temporarily grounded all its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler jets after a ground incident at Whidbey Island.

The U.S. Navy Naval Air Forces commander has suspended flight operations of both Super Hornet and Growler types after a canopy incident involving an EA-18G from the VAQ-132 “Scorpions” caused unspecified injuries to the aircrew on Friday, Dec. 16.

According to a release from the USN the aircraft suffered an “on-deck emergency” shortly before take off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The injured crew was transported to a Medical Center in Seattle for evaluation by a base SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter.

Since the systems used by the Boeing Super Hornet and the Growler, its Electronic Attack variant, are similar, the U.S. Navy has decided to ground both types as a precaution pending further investigation.

It’s not clear whether the EA-18Gs supporting the war on ISIS will be affected by the flight restrictions as well (even though a Navy spokesperson said that exceptions will be authorized on a case-by-case basis) but, depending on its length, the grounding may have an impact on the US ability to conduct “kinetic” EW (Electronic Warfare) missions, a kind of task currently only two other platforms can carry out: U.S. Air Force F-16CJs and U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers.

The grounding of the most advanced Hornet variants comes in a period of serious concern surrounding the crash rate recorded by the U.S. and foreign fleets of “Legacy Hornets” (that is to say the A, B, C and D versions): as reported at the beginning of December, the recent U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C crash that caused the death of a Marine pilot was the 9th major incident involving a “Legacy Hornet” (including a Swiss F/A-18C and the Canadian CF-18 lost on Nov. 28, 2016) in the last 6 months.

In the wake of three Hornet crashes from June through October, the U.S. Marine Corps temporarily grounded its non-deployed Hornets for 24 hours, before losing two more F/A-18Cs few days after the ban was lifted.

Image credit: U.S. Navy



U.S. Air Force RC-135s teaming up with Marine Corps EA-6Bs (and others..) to detect and suppress ISIS comms

In the skies over Iraq, USAF spyplanes, USMC and USN Electronic Attack aircraft work together to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate.

The image above shows a U.S. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, disconnecting from a USAF KC-10 Extender tanker after receiving fuel near Iraq on Dec. 5, 2016.

Here below you can see a similar photograph of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft belonging to VMAQ-2 from MCAS Cherry Point, temporarily deployed to Incirilik Air Base, Turkey preparing for refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, on Nov. 29, 2016.

Although they have a different role and belong to different services both aircraft are often part of the same team, a team whose goal is to shut down Daesh communications.

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da'esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

A Marine EA-6B Prowler peels off after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, Nov. 29, 2016. The 340th EARS extend the fight against Da’esh by delivering 60,000 pounds of fuel to USAF A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles and U.S. Marine EA-6B Prowlers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

Little details are available about the missions these HVAs (High Value Assets) carry out together in theater against the Islamic State even though we have been able to collect some interesting details about the way they team up to conduct their secretive tasks.

First of all, a major role is played by the RC-135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering planes.

In fact, as already pointed out by War Is Boring journalist Joseph Trevithick, not only do the USAF Rivet Joints eavesdrop and pinpoint “enemy” radio signals, but they can also disseminate the details about these targets via tactical data-link to other aircraft, including the Prowlers, whose role is to jam those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone or using portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

Robert Hopkins, III, a former RC-135 aircraft commander who flew the S, U, V, W, and X models in the 1980s and 1990s, and author of a book on the type, says that “RJ (Rivet Joint) can share the intelligence they collect with a wide variety of assets, both aerial and ground, to meet their operational requirements.”

Here are some relevant excerpts from his revised book Boeing KC-135: More Than a Tanker to be released by Crécy in February 2017, that explain how this ability to collect and share information with other aircraft has evolved during the years:

“Among the significant improvements included in the Baseline 7 jets (beginning with 62-4131 in late 2001) were derivatives of the Link 16 Joint Tactical Information Display System (JTIDS), including Tactical Digital Links (TDL), formerly Tactical Digital Information Links (TADIL). These provided narrowband communications with other tactical airborne assets as well as the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), emphasizing the Rivet Joint’s increasing conventional combat support role. […]

The impressive capabilities of the Rivet Joint in operations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere found strong support among combat commands, and led to a broad range of planned enhancements. […]

Baseline 8 jets incorporated improved collection techniques, ‘user friendliness’, and system reliability, as well as automated and faster information dissemination capabilities. They were the first to be extensively ‘connected’ to other airborne and ground-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting assets. RC-135W 62-4126 was the first Baseline 8 Rivet Joint. It included the satellite-based Remote Extended Aircraft Position Enabling Reachback (REAPER—also noted as Narrowband Reachback, or NABRE) and Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) systems.


Baseline 8 is also able to ‘talk’ to the U-2S and the ground-based, tri-service Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) processing and dissemination architecture to connect directly with other ISR airplanes such as the Beechcraft RC-12 Guardrail, Boeing E-8 JointSTARs, and US and allied nation Boeing E-3 AWACS.


A single Rivet Joint, for example, might detect a signal of interest (SOI) but be unable to provide a precise location, especially as the RC-135 moves along its flight path. Using multiple, networked NCCT platforms, however, means that a Rivet Joint, a Guardrail, and a U-2S would all detect the same SOI, and, within seconds, triangulate its precise location and relay that to the CAOC and national targeting agencies.


Among the latest upgrades to the Rivet Joint fleet is the FAB-T, a ‘second-generation terminal’ system capable of passing low-rate data between air and ground assets. […] First tested in 2011 on NC-135W 61-2666, the FAB-T allowed the rivet joint to connect with a MILSTAR satellite and then transmit data and voice communication with a ground facility. Since then, the data transmission rate has increased, allowing a ‘more secure communication capability to deliver much higher quantities of actionable intelligence products into the hands of the warfighter.’”

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

A RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing prepares to move onto the runway before a mission Oct. 21, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The RC-135 Rivet Joint is a reconnaissance aircraft that supports theater and national level consumers with near real-time on-scene electronic warfare support, intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson/Released)

Islamic State fighters rely heavily on commercial radios and cell phones; they use Internet and send emails from their mobile devices, and aircraft from the various services continuously work to intercept all these signals and, if needed, make such communication impossible (by disturbing the comms or attacking the cell towers).

And, sometimes, based on data collected and disseminated by Rivet Joints, “kinetic Electronic Attack platforms” are called in to target high value individuals, preventing them from dispatching orders to other militants. By jamming their cell phones with high-power signals or the old way: by dropping actual ordnance on them (a role that can be fullfilled not only by mission-purpose aircraft or an F-16CJ “Wild Weasel” but also by a more “conventional” bomber.)

As probably done last year by a VAQ-137 Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Electronic Warfare variant of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet (that replaced the EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. Navy service), embarked on USS Theodore Roosevelt supporting OIR that sported the unequivocal High Value Individual cell phone-jamming kill mark.

By the way, VMAQ-2 “Playboys” are currently involved in a 6-month tour of duty started in October, when the unit replaced another Marine Corps squadron, the VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” (that were spotted at Lajes airfield, Portugal, showing some interesting mission markings and insignia on their way back to the U.S.)