C-130 TACAMO is back!

The US Navy decided to acquire the C-130J-30 Super Hercules as a platform for communicating with its deployed ballistic-missile submarine force as Admiral Charles Richard, commander, US Strategic Command, revealed during a webinar on 5 January 2021.

Some forty years ago, the US Navy was using the C-130G/EC-130G (four aircraft) and EC-130Q (eight aircraft) for the same Take Charge and Move Out mission from 1963. These Hercules were replaced by the Boeing E-6 Mercury. After the Cold War, the Airborne National Command Post role previously performed by Air Force EC-135 “Looking Glass” was incorporated into the E-6 with the installation of the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS), combining the TACAMO and ALCS in one platform.

The sixteen E-6s are assigned to the Commander Strategic Communications Wing (CSCW) 1, based at Tinker AFB (OK). The wing is operating three squadrons of E-6Bs, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 3 Ironman, VQ-4 Shadows and VQ-7 Roughnecks. VQ-3 keeps detachments at Travis AFB (CA) and Offut AFB (NB) while VQ-4 keeps a detachment at NAS Patuxent River (MD). The latter is assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 Force

The TACAMO aircraft are equipped with a long trailing wire antenna used to relay very-low-frequency radio messages to submerged ballistic-missile submarines. The airframes go through considerable stress as they maintain high angle of bank for long periods to maintain tight orbits to wind the trailing-wire antenna into a vertical position, needed for the radio waves to penetrate the water most effectively. 

On 18 December 2020, the US Naval Air Systems Command TACAMO Program Office (PMA-271) issued a Request for Information to industries. That was followed by an announcement that the US Navy “intends to negotiate and award sole-source contracts to Lockheed Martin Corporation, Marietta (GA). This lead to the procurement of three C-130J-30 airframes in fiscal 2022/2023 for testing and analysis. The rugged C-130J is able to operate world-wide from airstrips to airfields and is in such way built, that they are able to suffer the aforementioned stress.

If the C-130J appeared to be the right choise after evaluation, more TACAMO Super Hercules' will be purchased. These will eventually replace the Mercury.

Photo by Don Gilham, kindly provided by AirHistory.net (check this nice collection of TACAMO Hercules)

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