The EC-130H Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system with a primary mission to disrupt enemy command and control infrastructures limiting adversary coordination and force management.
The aircraft is a heavily modified variant C-130 Hercules, one of the most important and longest flying airframes in Air Force history.
From the outside the aircraft may look like a normal Hercules, but internally the advanced electronic warfare and electronic attack computer systems enables the Air Force to locate, listen and jam enemy communications.
The effect of the non-kinetic denial is not permanent, but it provides the desired result of blocking the enemy across the electromagnetic spectrum.
The effectiveness of the Compass Call is in creating a fog of war for enemy fighters making them easier targets for U.S. ground forces.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Frank Von Heiland, 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron co-pilot, checks his oxygen mask on an EC-130H Compass Call aircraft at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 12, 2014. (Photo by Evelyn Chavez)
The Air Force is the only operator of the EC-130H and the Compass Call has been providing air space superiority over its 35-year operational life. The aircraft has demonstrated a powerful effect on enemy command and control networks in multiple military operations including Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Serbia, and Afghanistan.
Development and design
The EC-130H had its first flight in 1981, was delivered to the Air Force in 1982 and reached initial operating capability in 1983.
The aircraft's EC identifier stands for special electronic installation transport.
A weapon of the Cold War it was original designed to provide suppression of enemy air defenses and spent its early years monitoring integrated air defense systems under the Warsaw Pact.
The aircraft is powered by four turboprop engines and has a flight speed of 300 mph and a flight range of nearly 2,300 miles.
The airborne tactical weapon system has been modified through the years with each update providing stronger avionics systems, radars and a more powerful digital signal analysis computers and subsystems.
The EC-130H aircraft carries a combat crew of 13 people. Four members are responsible for aircraft flight and navigation, while nine members operate and employ the EA mission equipment permanently integrated in the cargo/mission compartment.
The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft.
Tech. Sgt. Shane Kerns, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron expediter, walks the wing of an EC-130 Compass Call aircraft while conducting a pre-flight check at an air base in Southwest Asia. (Photo by Raheem Moore)
The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology.
Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a "fifth generation electronic attack capability," providing improved aircraft performance and survivability.
A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capabilities.
In 2017 the Air Force announced plans for a Compass Call replacement platform based off the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft. The new platform has been designated EC-X.
Operation and deployment
All 14 Compass Call aircraft are assigned to Air Combat Command. The 55th Electronic Combat Group consisting of two operational squadrons, the 41st and the 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron operates the EC-130H. The 55th ECG is a tenant unit of the 355 Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, which reports to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
U.S. Air Force Airmen repair engine one of an EC-130H Compass Call during Exercise BUSHWACKER on the flightline at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 26, 2014.(Photo by Chris Massey)
The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict.
Did you know
- Since it's introduction in 1954 there have been 54 modified variants of the C-130
- The EC-130H was introduced in 1983 and began providing airborne attack capabilities in 1989 supporting U.S. Army Rangers during Operation Just Cause in Panama.
- The EC-130H is one of four main U.S. electronic warfare aircraft, along with the EA-18G Growler, EA-6B Prowler and the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, which form the Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) triad.
EC-130H Compass Call fact sheet:
Primary function: electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses and offensive counter information
Four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines
4,910 prop shaft horsepower
132 feet, 7 inches (40.4 meters)
97 feet, 9 inches (29.8 meters)
38 feet, 3 inches (11.4 meters)
300 mph (Mach .4)
25,000 feet (7,576 meters)
Maximum takeoff weight:
155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms)
non-kinetic energy waveforms
13 (two pilots, navigator, flight engineer, two electronic warfare officers, mission crew supervisor, four cryptologic linguists, acquisition operator and an airborne maintenance technician)
Initial operation capability:
Active force, 14
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
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