Electronic Weapons: April 13, 2004

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One Cold War era electronic warfare aircraft, the U.S. Air Force EC-130H "Compass Call", has unexpectedly made itself very useful during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Originally designed to assist in taking down enemy air defense systems, the first EC-130H entered service in 1974. The mission was to detect enemy communications and radar systems, identify them, and jam them. While the first priority of the EC-130H is systems involved with air defenses, EC-130H's will go after all command and control communications once the enemy air defenses have been destroyed, or crippled. Of the 13 people carried on a EC-130H, four run the aircraft, while the other nine operate the electronic warfare equipment. One of more of those are often linguists, who listen in on enemy radio or cell phone communications and seek out any information on how the enemy communications systems are operating, or coping with U.S. attacks. 

The EC-130H got its first real workout in the 1991 Gulf War. This led to upgrades of its equipment so that by 2001, it was ready to deal with cell phones and just about any radio communications gear an opponent might be using. Soldiers and marines came to rely heavily on air force EC-130Hs to keep an ear on enemy communications. While the EC-130H was originally designed and equipped to jam enemy radars, by the time the Afghanistan campaign came along, the aircraft was well stocked with communications jamming gear. The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan also meant that the EC-130H had to get closer to the action to monitor and jam, and this often brought it close enough for the enemy to shoot at. 

Satellite communications enables the EC-130H to hook up with intelligence operations anywhere in the world, which means that voice or data communications being picked up can be quickly translated, or deciphered, using qualified specialists anywhere in the world. On flight refueling allows EC-130Hs to stay in the hour for 18 hours or more at a time. There are only 14 EC-130Hs, and the unique demands of the war on terror are putting most of them in constant use. The air force is continuing to upgrade the computers and communications gear on their EC-130Hs.

 


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