Tag Archives: Commando Solo

Rare look inside the elusive EC-130J Commando Solo, the U.S. Air Force PSYOPS plane

An EC-130J Commando Solo (00-1934/STEEL74) of the 193 SOS, operating out of Sigonella, in Italy, became particularly famous in 2011, during the Libya Air War.

The aircraft broadcast  messages both English and Arab language  inviting sailors and naval officers of a Libyan ship to leave the vessel and return to their families, that were often intercepted by radio hams from all around the world and published almost everywhere, from Audioboo to Youtube.

The EC-130J is a particular version of the EC-130 flying with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard that is used for PSYchological OPerationS (PSYOPS) and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio messages on all bands.

Images taken inside the Commando Solo are quite rare.

However, the U.S. Air Force has recently published some interesting photographs taken aboard an EC-130J involved in Exercise Emerald Warrior 2013, at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 1.

EC130J_1

Electronic communication systems operator and medium frequency operator stations are clearly visible.

EC130J_2

Some displays show the frequencies used to broadcast messages.

EC130J_3

The primary purpose of Emerald Warrior is to exercise special operations components in urban and irregular warfare settings to support combatant commanders.

EC130J_4

Emerald Warrior leverages lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and other historical lessons to provide better trained and ready forces to combatant commanders.

EC130J_5

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Rissmiller

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Why NATO, French and US AWACS have been constantly monitoring the Libyan airspace well before the No-Fly Zone was voted

In the last few days I have often had the opportunity to talk with journalists, spotters and enthusiasts about the Libyan uprising that was also the subject of an interview I gave to Pieter Johnson for the Across The Pond segment of the Episode 139 of Airplane Geeks (click here to listen to the podcast).

Among the most debated topics there was the AWACS presence at the southern borders of the Malta FIR: NATO, French, British and US E-3 AWACS constantly monitoring the Libyan airspace. The presence of such a large deployment of AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms in the area and the fact that at least one E-3 (usually 2) has been flying day and night to ensure the surveillance of the airspace on a H24 basis raised some questions, the most of common of which was: “why are there so many AWACS up if no No-Fly Zone has been enforced yet (hence no fighter has to be controlled)?”

The answer is more or less the same I gave in a previous post titled “Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy“: in these days there are many SIGINT aircraft operating at the border between the Maltese and Libyan airspace to assess the inventory of both the LARAF (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force) and of the recently born rebel’s FLAF (Free Libya Air Force). US EC-130Hs Compass Call and EC-130J Commando Solo, EP-3s, RC-135 Rivet Joint, C-160G, British Nimrods R1 (whose operative life was extended as a consequence of the Libyan crisis) that have been eavesdropping into Libyan Communications and Signals to have an in-depth understanding of the situation in Libya, to know where forces are located and to build up the an Electronic Order of Battle as well as a priority target list.

Most of these information gathering platforms are turboprop that could not easily escape to fast jets sent to intercept them. Even if it is extremely unlikely, the possibility of a LARAF or FLAF (Free Libya Air Force) fighter, either intentionally or in the act defecting, getting dangerously close to one of these aircraft, in such a hot and fast changing scenario, can’t be completely ruled out. That’s why so many flyng hours were already spent by AWACS to monitor the Libyan airspace even if a NFZ was not established yet.

On Mar. 17, Gaddafi said that any foreign military intervention in Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack in the short-term and also in the long-term.

I think that the risk of LARAF fighters harassing both military traffic (evacuating nationals from Libya or monitoring the situation) and civil airlines crossing the Tripoli FIR or connecting the Libyan airports with the rest of the world, was what was scaring NATO, France and EU when they decided, well before the NFZ was voted, to keep a constant watch on Libyan airspace.

Libyan airspace most interesting movements of last week

At least two Internet resources have been providing a comprehensive set of tools to monitor on a 24 hours basis the traffic that has been operating in the airspaces between Malta and Tripoli FIR: Flightradar24 and LiveATC.net. The first gives you a sort of “radar picture” built thanks to the ADS-B messages broadcasted by the planes while the latter provides live air traffic control (ATC) broadcasts from air traffic control towers and radar facilities around the world and also from Malta. Information gathered by means of this two freely available resources are then spread by aircraft enthusiasts (and not only) using Twitter with the result that as soon as a particular aircraft appear above the Mediterranean sea, something strange happen or a particular communication is heard, almost instantly, the news reaches every place of the world. As an expert in military aviation I’ve been closely watching this “information flow” and, as I was often asked by Twitter followers, blog readers and journalists which was the most unexpect or unusual traffic that was heard or seen operating in the airspaces to the south of Malta, I think that it may be useful to summarize here some of the most interesting stuff that was monitored in the last week even if it has already been published on Twitter and on other online magazines and media which created Live Blogs (like Malta Today) or built up Twitter Live pages (like La Repubblica.it in Italy) by importing through the Twitter APIs those tweets containing a particular hashtag (i.e. #Libya or #Tripoli). In fact, those media don’t always give an explaination of the reasons why a traffic is interesting.
Anyway, don’t miss the chance to follow user FMCNL on Twitter if you want to be updated on latest movements.

Mar. 5, 2011

Before 09.30Z French Air Force Transall C-160G tail F216, call sign COTAM 2096
09.30Z a NATO AWACS controlling the Libyan airspace for any suspect activity using the front end callsign “NATO 07″ requested to Malta ACC if it had “any information on aircraft with squawk 2017, position about 85 miles east of our”. The answer from Malta was that “it should be a Falcon 900, at FL340, with destination Mitiga, according to Flight Plan”. A few minutes later, the Libyan Government 5A-DCN contacted Malta ACC on its way from Amman to Mitiga. The news was reported by all media that speculated of a “Libyan aircraft challenging a NATO AWACS”. Read here what was really weird in that episode….
14:35Z RA 519 EP 3 from Moron in contact with Malta
17:21Z Lion 491 US C-130 involved in the Tunis airlift with Malta
21:30Z SUM 9071 Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations Il-76TD RA-76429 showing on flightradar to Tunis FIR
23:46Z Apex 17 RAF Nimrod R1 returning to Akrotiri handed over to Athinai Cntrl. This kind of aircraft due to have been retired at the end of March are now to be kept in service for at least another three months, as it was reported by the BBC, most probably due to the need to use this strategic platform during the Libyan crisis.

Mar. 8, 2011

23.30Z AXIS 10 US EC-130H Compass Call with Malta ACC. The EC-130H performs electronic/information warfare tasks.

Mar. 9, 2011

Around 00:00z USAF EC-130J of the 193d Special Operations Wing (193 SOW) of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard using c/s RCH1024 was monitored using Mode-S most probably deploying to Souda Bay. The Commando Solo is a particular version of the EC-130 that is used for psychological operations (PSYOP) and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio on all bands. Last version should be able to provide WiFi access by dropping Access Points to the ground (has to be confirmed).
Around 00:20Z Malta ACC warned Air Malta 7489 that a previous flight reported an unknown traffic W of Gozo that didn’t show up on radar.
Beginning around 08:30Z three Libyan Government aircraft departed Tripoli for various destinations:

  • 5A-UAC Bombardier BD-700 went to Lisbon Purtugal (via Luqa Malta)
  • 5A-UAA Bombardier BD-100 Challenger 300 went to Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 5A-DCN the Falcon DA-900 went to Cairo

Mar. 10, 2011

10:10Z Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 5A-ONF out of Tripoli east bound as AAW430 appeared shortly on FL390
13:45Z 5A-ONH AAW220 east bound from Tripoli. It was returning to Libya as AAW241 at 19:28Z
17:13Z USAF RC-135W Rivet Joint c/s OLIVE 24 in Maltese airspace
20:45Z Unusual comm heard on LiveATC. NATO 02 to Malta ACC: “we have a traffic behind us 9 miles. Can you confirm the level?”. Malta: “FL340”

Mar. 11, 2011

04:40Z Hellenic Air Force C-130 tail 743 flying as HAF356T arrived in Athens after departure from Tripoli with released crew of Dutch Navy helicopter NRN277 from frigate Tromp captured by the Army of Gaddafi on Feb. 27.

Information Warfare per la lotta al terrorismo

Nel novembre 2001 scrissi un articolo per Aeronautica & Difesa dal titolo “La Guerra Parallela” (a questo indirizzo è disponibile la versione integrale: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/works/la-guerra-parallela/), in cui descrivevo anche altre forme di Information Warfare oltre a quelle già introdotte nel post http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/information-warfare/, che prevedono azioni di oscuramento delle informazioni (se non proprio di  disinformazione), di intercettazione delle comunicazioni e di guerra psicologica mediante trasmissione di messaggi espliciti e/o subliminali:

A proposito di Internet va detto che il Department of Defence, principale riferimento per la stampa specializzata di tutto il mondo, che durante l’Allied Force sul suo sito rendeva disponibili le immagini dal satellite pre e post-strike, è stato sottoposto ad una sorta di censura che ha portato alla pubblicazione di poche, scarne, informazioni. Sono stati inoltre disabilitati, per motivi di sicurezza, i siti che permettevano di visualizzare la posizione delle portaerei della Navy e delle portaeromobili dei Marines, mentre auto-censura è stata quella che si è imposta la Federation of American Scientists (FAS). La Federazione, che gestisce uno dei siti più autorevoli di analisi politico-militare, in passato è stata protagonista di alcuni “scoop” sensazionali come la pubblicazione dell’Orbat (Order of Battle, Ordine di Battaglia) delle forze impegnate nell’Allied Force o le foto dal satellite delle basi nucleari israeliane, delle basi aeree cinesi e dell’Area 51. Le ragioni di questo cambio di tendenza nella gestione delle informazioni sono da ricercare nel fatto che l’obiettivo, per la prima volta dalla 2a Guerra Mondiale, non era quello di “mostrare i muscoli” all’avversario nella speranza di evitare il confitto armato.

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E’ interessante notare che gli U-2 nel nuovo scenario strategico siano utilizzati in missioni SIGINT più che di ricognizione fotografica vera e propria, per intercettare le comunicazioni telefoniche dei telefoni GSM dei membri di al-Qaeda. Nel campo dell’intercettazione telefonica vengono usati dei voice-recognition scanner che servono per identificare e localizzare le voci di Bin Laden e dei suoi più stretti collaboratori.

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…sono stati inviati nel teatro di operazioni, probabilmente operanti da Incirlik (in Turchia), un imprecisato numero di EC-130E “Commando Solo”, dei velivoli che fungono da vere e proprie stazioni radio e TV volanti, che grazie a potentissime antenne VHF, UHF e HF, prima “jammano” o oscurano del tutto le trasmissioni dei media locali, e poi le sostituiscono con quelle americane, emesse in banda AM, FM, HF e televisiva contenenti messaggi, espliciti o subliminali, a ribellarsi al regime talebano, a non supportare i terroristi, a fornire informazioni utili su al-Qaeda, a consegnarsi agli americani ecc.