GEAR & TECH

This Navy plane is designed to Take Charge and Move Out on Doomsday

The E-6 Mercury is arguably the deadliest aircraft in the arsenal of the United States Navy. Its lethality is extreme, even though it doesn't carry any weapons. Sounds odd? Well, when you look at what the E-6 does, then seeing it as the Navy's deadliest plane isn't a stretch.


According to a Navy fact sheet, the E-6 is a "communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft" that is tasked with providing "survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority (NCA) and U.S. strategic and non-strategic forces." The nickname they have is TACAMO – or TAke Charge And Move Out.

U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury at the Mojave Airport. (Wikimedia Commons)

When the plane first entered service in 1989 as the E-6A, it was designed solely for the communications replay role. This meant it passed on messages from the President and Secretary of Defense to the force of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The 14 Ohio-class submarines can each carry 24 UGM-133 Trident II missiles – and each of those have the ability to carry up to 14 warheads, either a 100-kiloton W76 or a 475-kiloton W88.

That said, in the 1990s, the DOD was dealing with a cold, hard fact: Their force of EC-135C Looking Glass airborne command posts were getting old. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the "peace dividend," new airframes were out of the question.

An E-6B Mercury is being moved into a Hanger at the Boeing Aerospace Support Center, Cecil Field Fla., to be retrofitted with a new cockpit and an advanced communications package in April 2003. (US Navy photo)

The E-6As soon were upgraded to add the "Looking Glass" mission to their TACAMO role, and were re-designated as E-6Bs. This now made them capable of running America's strategic nuclear deterrence in the event of Doomsday. The Navy has two squadrons with this plane VQ-3 and VQ-4, both of which are based at Tinker Air Force Base.

So that is why the E-6B Mercury, a plane with no weapons of its own, and which may never leave American airspace, is the deadliest plane in the Navy's arsenal.

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