How the E-6B Mercury Provides Vital Communications in the Event of a Nuclear War

The E-6B Mercury is surely the aircraft with the most destructive potential ever created!
U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury in flight

This is one of the most impressive aircraft in the US military. The E-68B Mercury seems harmless but doesn’t be fooled by its appearance. Although it has no weapons, it’s still one of the deadliest aircraft since its mission is to order the launch of nuclear missiles.

Its goal is to keep the communication link between the national command authorities (NCA), especially the US president, and the US nuclear forces if an enemy nuclear attack eliminates ground command centers. This aircraft would be the president’s last resort.

What’s the E-6B?

Boeing E 6B Mercury
Boeing E-6B Mercury by Alan Wilson Blue. Licensed under CC by 2.0

The Boeing E-6B Mercury is the military version of the Boeing 707-320B and airborne command post and communications relay. The aircraft can endure nuclear bombs, enabling US military commanders to communicate with the nuclear ballistic missile force on the US Navy submarines.

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The US Navy employs a fleet of 16 E-6B Mercury aircraft from 4 airbases in the continental United States.

The immediate mission of the E-6A is known as ‘Take Charge and Move Out’ (TACAMO). So, in the event of an all-out nuclear war, the U.S. Navy is commissioning its last line of defense to the E-6B Mercury, which can serve as the U.S. military’s airborne command platform in case of a total communications failure.

They are up to date

E 6B Landing
E-6B Landing by Jacob Skovo-Lane. Public Domain.

From 1997 to 2006, the Pentagon boosted the whole fleet of E-6B. The capacities of the new E-6B Mercury were greatly extended.

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The E-6B’s missile launch control system has ultra-high frequency (UHF) radios that let it remotely order the launch of the ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles from their underground silos.

With these updates, the aircraft will stay in service until 2038. So, this strategic aircraft will keep flying for the next 2 decades until a better option emerges. However, the replacement doesn’t yet exist, and it’s even possible that the E-6B Mercury will continue to fly for even longer.

How does it work?

E 6B
E-6B Landing by Jacob Skovo-Lane, Public Domain

The E-6B Mercury has a very low frequency (VLF) multi-band communications system consisting of 2 trailing antennas, which allow the aircraft to effectively communicate with submarines and ICBM missile silos.

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The aircraft is fitted with an airborne Military Strategic Tactical and Relay satellite communications system terminal, which delivers a wide range of frequencies and a developed computer system to allow strategic nuclear strikes… and it’s normally in flight to guarantee that the US can respond to a nuclear threat quickly regardless of the state of ground-based communications.

Specs

E 6 Mercury
E-6 Mercury by Balon Greyjoy. Licensed under CC by 1.0

The E-6B Mercury reaches a top speed of 522 knots (960 km/h or 610 mph), its operational ceiling is 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and the estimated unit cost of an is E-6B is $141.7 million, which is not that much considering all the damage it can provoke to the entire planet.

  • Length: 152 feet 11 inches (46.61 meters)
  • Wingspan: 148 ft 2 inches (45.16 meters)
  • Height: 42 ft 5 inches (12.93 meters)
  • Empty weight: 172,795 pounds (78,378 kilograms)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 342,000 pounds (155,129 kilograms)
  • Crew: 22
  • Combat range: 6,350 nautical miles (7,310 miles, 11,760 kilometers)

This aircraft is a powerful nuclear deterrent!

With a few of these aircraft in the air, the US could react to a nuclear attack, even if the president and the other political appointees were incapacitated.

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This aircraft ensures that no first strike on the US can stop a retaliatory response in return, which makes it one of the best nuclear deterrents in the US military’s arsenal.

Feature image credit: U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury in-flight, Greg L. Davis. Public domain