The E-6B Mercury is a communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft. It provides survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) for the president, secretary of defense and U.S. Strategic Command. Two operational squadrons (“Ironmen” of VQ-3 and “Shadows” of VQ-4) deploy from their main Operating Base at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, supported by the TACAMO Weapons School and the fleet replacement squadron (the “Roughnecks” of VQ-7). They deploy aircrews to Forward Operating Bases at Travis Air Force Base, California; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.; and other locations, as directed.
Boeing derived the E-6A from its commercial 707 to replace the aging EC-130Q in the performance of the Navy's TACAMO mission. TACAMO links the National Command Authority (NCA) with naval ballistic missile forces during times of crisis. The aircraft carries a Very Low Frequency communication system with dual trailing wire antennas. The Navy accepted the first E-6A in August 1989.
The E-6B was conceived as a replacement for the Air Force's Airborne Command Post due to the age of the EC-135 fleet. The E-6B modified an E-6A by adding battlestaff positions and other specialized equipment. The E-6B is a dual-mission aircraft capable of fulfilling either the no-fail TACAMO mission or the Looking Glass mission, which facilitates the launch of U.S. land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles using an airborne launch control system (ALCS). The Navy accepted the first E-6B aircraft in December 1997 and the E-6B assumed its dual operational mission in October 1998. The E-6 fleet was completely modified to the E-6B configuration in 2003.
Primary Function: Communications relay for fleet ballistic missile submarines (A and B models) and airborne command post for U.S. Strategic forces (B model)
Contractor: The Boeing Company
Date Deployed: October 1998
Unit Cost: $141.7 million
Propulsion: Four CFM-56-2A-2 high-bypass turbofans
Length: 150 feet, 4 inches (45.8 meters)
Height: 42 feet, 5 inches (12.9 meters)
Wingspan: 148 feet, 4 inches (45.2 meters)
Weight: 342,000 lbs (155,129 kg) maximum gross takeoff
The TACAMO Recapitalization Program (E-XX) will replace the aging E-6B Mercury and transition the Nation’s Airborne Strategic NC3 capability between aircraft with no break in operational coverage. The E-6B has been in service for more than three decades and continues to meet mission requirements, but is an aging airframe and, to ensure mission coverage, must be replaced. E-XX mission equipment will be integrated into a militarized Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft, bringing an updated capability to the warfighter using a proven, affordable, and efficient acquisition strategy. E-XX will execute the TACAMO mission, providing a survivable communication link between the NCA and the nuclear triad.