E-6B Mercury: America’s most lethal aircraft ever

The Boeing E-6B Mercury is a command and control redundancy aircraft based on Boeing 707-320, which was deployed in October 1998. The E-6 Mercury (previously E-6 Hermes) is an airborne command post and communications relay capable of launching land-based and sea-based nuclear ballistic missiles. The US Navy’s imperturbable E-6 Mercury maintains the survivable and reliable communication links between the National Command Authority and the US nuclear forces in the event of full-blown nuclear war.

After nuclear weapons became a reality, E-6B Mercury evolved to serve its mission strictly as America’s absolute last line of defense in the face of nuclear war. War and its consequences are horrible. E-6B Mercury lives up to its objectives of defending the nation, keeping the public safe, and enabling officials to respond to nuclear attacks in an entire region cut off from landline infrastructures.

FAIRFORD, UK – JUL 13, 2018: US Navy Boeing E-6 Mercury airborne command and control plane of VQ-4 on the tarmac of RAF Fairford airbase. Photo from DepositPhotos.com

The US Navy is the last force you want to mess with, thanks to these doomsday planes that are retrofitted with more fuel-efficient 4x CFM International CFM56-2A-2 turbofan engines and send commands to nuclear triad via an Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS).

E-6B Mercury aircraft is the backup to relay information to the submarine and perform critical command and control communications in the loss of all normal ground infrastructures. The E-6B Mercury’s abundant communications gear enables it to perform nonclear Command, Control, and Communication (C3)operation that allows seamless integration of modern metro operation and augments the cognitive functions of the individual engaged in command and control, and complements the needs of the commander.

Boeing E-6B Mercury Model is the upgraded version of E-6A that conveys instructions from the National Command Authority to the fleet ballistic submarine, a survivable communication link mission known as Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO). TACAMO is a dedicated communication post critical in the deterrence and management of a large-scale nuclear conflict, serving as a signal relay in nuclear warfare to maintain communications between decision-makers and a triad of strategic nuclear weapon delivery systems on virtually every radio frequency band.

Performance of E-6B Mercury Aircraft

E-6B Mercury aircraft can easily accommodate 22 people to launch sea and land-based nuclear missiles. The top-tier E-6B Mercury crews and aviators perform four distinct mission sets. ALCS, running all ICBM and ALCS-related tests, Strategic Command and Control System, and Plans & Targeting.

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E-6B can fly at the maximum speed of 980km/hour at the range of 6,600 nmi and operate for three days straight (i.e., 72 hours) at a time with in-flight refueling. The TACAMO-E-6B airplanes are equipped with advanced avionics such as off-the-shelf 737 Next Generation Cockpit, LTN-211 VLF Omega, Smiths SFM 02 digital/analog flight management system, AN/APS-133 color weather radar, etc. They also have dual trailing wires as transmitters and antennas to carry very low-frequency communication systems, battle staff positions, and other specialized equipment.

Boeing E-6B Mercury
E-6B Mercury. Photo from Touch and Go aviation Fans page

To defend itself from being shot down by anti-aircraft, its systems are shielded to survive a nuclear blast and an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from nuclear weapons detonating below. It has ultra-high frequency radio to provide access to a survivable MILSTAR satellite communication network.

The E-6 Mercury, as a strategic airborne command post aircraft, provides instructions to America’s nuclear forces in a crisis, with a low-frequency band antenna just over 5 miles long. These instructions could encompass orders to release Trident D-5 submarined and launch an intercontinental-range ballistic missile against any adversary that could permanently extinguish everything one holds dear.

Background of E-6B Mercury

The US Navy awarded the US aerospace manufacturer Boeing a full-scale development contract for the militarized version of commercial 707 civilian airliners in 1983. Assembled on the same production line as E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, the prototype E-6A rolled out on 18 December 1986 and commenced its maiden flight on 19 February 1987. 16 such aircraft were built and delivered to the Navy from 1989 to 1992. All 19 E-6A aircraft were modified to E-6B standard as a replacement for the Air Force’s Airborne Command Post due to the age of the EC-135 fleet. With the acceptance of the first E-6B Mercury aircraft in December 1997, it was set up for the dual mission of fulfilling either the E-6A mission or the airborne strategic command post mission in October 1998. The modification of the E-6 fleet was completed in 2003, and the final E-6B was delivered on 1 December 2006.

The essence of E-6B Mercury

The last Boeing 707 derivative, the E-6B Mercury aircraft, is an incredible control and command center airplane that flies aerobatic-like maneuvers to send messages to the US fleet of nuclear-powered submarines hiding below and patrolling around the world. The United States has a highly trained team to operate E-6B Mercuries to connect with submarines lurking in the planet’s vast undersea environment with its VLF communication system during a nuclear exchange.

E-6B Mercury provides the backbone of the US nuclear deterrent, with its capability to remotely control Minuteman ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that can hit multiple targets), nuclear-capable bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Only US, Russia, China, France, and India have operational ICBMs for nuclear weapons delivery that could be ready to fight on short notice.

Boeing E-6B Mercury
e-6b-mercury Photo by MAtt Hensarling

There is a portion of 16 E-6B Mercury aircraft airborne or sitting alert in the event of a surprise attack. They rapidly spring into action to ensure the US government can retain control of its nuclear forces after a nuclear strike and provide many important capabilities without even leaving the ground.

E-6B Mercury is a fascinating aircraft that can hold the world in its hands and facilitate the end of the world if called upon. The thought of Boeing E-6B Mercury in action during the execution of nuclear attacks conjures up horrific visions of mass casualties, war, end of humanity. Still, these aircraft are tasked to act in the event of a catastrophe to protect the country from imminent doom and adversaries. Each aircraft that are airborne all over the country 24/7 maintain proximity to others to create a connection to one another and people on the ground. The airborne command centers and their multiple advisors and officials assist the US president with informed and insightful wartime decisions by providing connectivity to US officials anywhere on the planet.

Role of E-6B Mercury

The E-6B Mercury TACAMO replaced Boeing EC-135 aircraft to perform the Looking Glass mission of being airborne 24 hours a day to serve as a flying command post for the Strategic Air Command in the event of nuclear war. In certain circumstances where ground-based command centers have been destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable, the E-6B Mercury directs bombers and missiles from the air as the US President dictates. This iconic plane is US Navy’s ultimate friend to defend the US and its interest, enforcing and evoking confidence among them, as each vessel is armed with 24 nuclear-tipped SLBMs.

The United States Navy, the largest and most powerful Navy in the world, operates the fleet of E-6 fleet at Tinker Air Force Base to enable communication between the US President/Secretary of Defense to US submarines, bombers, and missile silos during the nuclear war.

Cost of E-6B Mercury aircraft

E-6B Mercury is an expensive aircraft that costs the Department of Defense about $223,000,000 for each unit. As of 2009, the price of one E-6 aircraft was valued at $142 million. The Navy’s Doomsday plane serving as an airborne command post requires high operational costs, and its upkeep is prohibitively expensive due to parts no longer being built for the Boeing 707.

Where does E-6B fly?

E-6Bs have flown to Europe and the Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Qatar, etc., to relay information such as IED blast reports, medical evacuation requests, etc. They fly independent random operations to various deployed sites such as Travis AFB in California, NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, and other far less predictable locales over the world.

Boeing E-6B Mercury
e-6b-mercury Photo from TXAVGEEK

In 2020, E-6B Mercury planes were spotted flying off the coast of Washington, DC. Which was speculated to have been deployed to warn America’s adversaries after learning that the President had contracted the virus, but then the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs issued the statement saying these planes were part of the pre-planned mission coincidental to the timing of the President’s announcement.

Future of E-6B

The Navy’s fleet of 16 E-6B aircraft has an average age of 21 years and is aging and requires an overall nuclear modernization push. The continual tweaks to its systems and service-extension program can get the E-6B fleets out to 2040, pushing the airframes’ limits. Although the command and control infrastructure works for today, the cost of refurbishing it over the next decade can culminate in billions. The US Navy must commence planning an eventual replacement for the E-6B fleet to host its TACAMO nuclear communications mission at the best cost to the American taxpayer. In June 2021, the navy expedited TACAMO nuclear communications recap plan to procure the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules for the Boeing E-6B Mercury aircraft replacement program.

As long as E-6B remains operational, it will be the most lethal and extremely important aircraft in the US military as nuclear deterrence and communication platform and the ultimate protector of the US skies.

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