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The Navy’s dual role aircraft for C3 and Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) to launch the nuclear missiles—Boeing’s E-6B Mercury

21 November 2016

Boeing’s E-6B Mercury aircraft, evolved from the E-6A Hermes, is flown by the U.S. Navy from Tinker AFB and replaces the EC-135 aircraft employed for Looking Glass missions. The Navy Air Systems Command web site has the following information about this powerful aircraft:

Aircrew members from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis AFB, California refuel a Navy E6 B Mercury somewhere over the Nevada California border, Aug. 5,2014. (Released - U.S. Air Force Photograph/Heide Couch)

A U.S. Navy Boeing E-6B Mercury, somewhere over the Nevada/CA border, during August 2016 moving in to refuel from a USAF KC-10 tanker aircraft—U.S. Air Force photograph/Heide Couch

Mission

Communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft. Provides survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority (NCA) and U.S. strategic and non-strategic forces. Two squadrons, the “Ironmen” of VQ-3 and the “Shadows” of VQ-4 deploy more than 20 aircrews from Tinker Air Force Base OK to meet these requirements.

Boeing derived the E-6A from its commercial 707 to replace the aging EC-130Q in the performance of the Navy’s TACAMO (“Take Charge and Move Out”) mission. TACAMO links the NCA with naval ballistic missile forces during times of crisis. The aircraft carries a very low frequency communication system with dual trailing wire antennas. The Navy accepted the first E-6A in August 1989.

The E-6B was conceived as a replacement for the Air Force’s Airborne Command Post due to the age of the EC-135 fleet. The E-6B is an improved E-6A by way of adding battlestaff positions and other specialized equipment. The E-6B is a dual-mission aircraft capable of fulfilling either the E-6A mission or the airborne strategic command post mission and is equipped with an airborne launch control system (ALCS) which can launch the U.S. land based intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well. The first E-6B aircraft was accepted in December 1997 and the E-6B assumed its dual operational mission in October 1998. The entire E-6 fleet was completely modified to the E-6B configuration in 2003.

141115-N-ZZ999-113 SOLOMONS ISLAND, Md. (Nov. 15, 2015) A U.S. Navy P-8 Mercury airborne command post flies over Solomons Island, Md. The aircraft provides airborne command, control, and communications. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

A U.S. Navy Boeing E-6B Mercury airborne command post aircraft provides airborne command, control, and communications as well as ALCS—U.S. Navy photo

Characteristics 

Primary Function: Communications relay for fleet ballistic missile submarines (A and B models) and airborne command post for U.S. Strategic forces (B model).
Contractor: The Boeing Company.
Date Deployed: October 1998.
Unit Cost: 141.7 million.
Propulsion: Four CFM-56-2A-2 High bypass turbofans.
Length: 150 feet, 4 inches (45.8 meters).
Height: 42 feet 5 inches (12.9 meters).
Wingspan: 148 feet, 4 inches (45.2 meters).
Weight: Max gross, take-off. 342,000 lbs (154,400 kg).
Airspeed: 522 knots, 600 miles (960 km) per hour.
Ceiling: Above 40,000 feet.
Range: 6,600 nautical miles (7,590 statute miles, 12,144 km) with 6 hours loiter time.
Crew: 22

030429-N-9999Z-001 Cecil Field, Fla. (Apr. 29, 2003) -- An E-6B Mercury is being moved into a Hanger at the Boeing Aerospace Support Center, Cecil Field Fla., to be retrofitted with a new cockpit and an advanced communications package. The E-6B is a dual-mission aircraft capable of fulfilling either the E-6A mission or the airborne strategic command post mission and is equipped with an airborne launch control system (ALCS). The ALCS is capable of launching U.S. land based intercontinental ballistic missiles. U.S. Navy photo. (RELEASED)

An E-6B Mercury being moved into a hangar at the Boeing Aerospace Support Center/Cecil Field FL to be retrofitted with a new cockpit and an advanced communications package. The E-6B is a dual-mission aircraft capable of fulfilling either the E-6A mission or the airborne strategic command post mission and is equipped with an airborne launch control system (ALCS) to control the launching of U.S. land based intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as the Navy’s—U.S. Navy photo

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A Boeing E-6B Mercury taxis for another mission—U.S. Navy image

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