Lockheed C-130A-11 / EC-130B-11 / C-130E-II / DC-130E Hercules

C-130 60528 lost 2 Sep 58

Under the ‘Big Safari’ programme of intelligence collection, Detachment 2 was established with E-Systems (now Raytheon) in 1957 to convert ten C-130A aircraft for SIGINT duties under the ‘Sun Valley’ project. These C-130s replaced the RB-50Es which in turn were modified as RB-50Gs and transferred to the Pacific. Later eleven C-130Bs were modified in the ‘Sun Valley II / Rivet Victor’ project and replaced these RB-50Gs completely by 1961.

The ‘Sun Valley’ C-130s often operated in conjunction with another combat aircraft in their intelligence gathering role. The combat aircraft would fly towards Chinese or Russian airspace to trigger their air defence organisation. As the air defence operators went into action, the C-130 would stand-off just out of range and collect data from the electronic emmissions. Later, analysts would piece together an order of battle for the air defence organisation and determine how best to disable it in wartime.

A number of C-130A-II and C-130B-II aircraft were used for SIGINT duties by 7406th Combat Support Squadron from Rhien-Main. C-130E-II aircraft took over the Wiesbaden to Berlin SIGINT task from the EC-97G Stratocruiser. A number of C-130E-II aircraft were operated by the 7407th Operations Squadron from Rhein-Main in Operation Creek Misty.

EC-130 Commando Solo

In 1978 a number of C-130 aircraft were equipped for the psychological warfare and stand-off jamming role under the ‘Rivet Rider’ project. The C-130E is equipped with a large dorsal fin and outsize blade aerials under the outer wing panels. These aircraft are operated by the 193rd Electronic Combat Squadron of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and saw action during the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. The equipment was updated in 1990 to allow the transmission of both radio and television in a format compatible with Middle Eastern broadcast systems. These aircraft were used extensively during ‘Desert Storm’ when the aircraft often sent psychological messages to Iraqi tank crews. The aircraft equipment has recently been transferred to new C-130J ‘Commando Solo’ airframes.

EC-130A Compass Call

In 1980 Lockheed were assigned the ‘Compass Call’ project. This involved the conversion of sixteen C-130 aircraft to enable them to intercept, locate and jam enemy communications. The aircraft are designated EC-130H and are designed primarily to jam communications. During ‘Desert Storm’ these aircraft intercepted communications from Iraqi lookouts who were attempting to report incoming air strikes and jammed them. They also performed deception and psychological missions, this included taunting Iraqi radio operators and harassing them with Heavy Metal music. Specially trained linguists are also carried on these aircraft and they can use the onboard equipment to pass false information to enemy aircraft or between units on the ground.

The US operate a variety of specially modified C-130 Hercules aircraft for various ISTAR tasks, two of these are the EC-130E Commando Solo and the EC-130E Senior Hunter. Because of the specialised nature of these aircraft they are frequently used on deployed operations, particularly since 9/11.

EC-130E Commando Solo

The EC-130E Commando Solo is a unique system which is used for psychological operations (PSYOPS) and evolved from the EC-121 Coronet Solo platform of the mid-1960s and the EC-130A. The EC-130E Commando Solo is equipped with various transmitters allowing it to broadcast in the AM, FM and HF bands as well as the colour TV VHF/UHF bands – it can also broadcast on military communications bands. The EC-130E can also Command & Control Communications Countermeasures (C3CM) and limited intelligence gathering missions.

EC-130E Commando Solo

Typically the EC-130E will operate alone and fly and orbit offset from the desired target and then ‘inject’ broadcasts into the target systems. If done smoothly, say during a natural break in transmissions, the broadcast will appear uninterrupted and the target audience will not even be aware that they are actually listening to or watching the EC-130E, rather than their genuine broadcaster. The EC-130E can either transmit pre-recorded tapes or carry trained linguists to broadcast live and the aircraft have been used in Southeast Asia in 1970, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, the Gulf War I in 1990-1 and Kosovo in 1999 during Operation Allied Force. In 1994, during exactly the kind of operation they were designed for, the EC-130E aircraft broadcasted radio and television messages to the population of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy and helped the orderly transition from military rule to democracy. Only six EC-130E aircraft are in service and all are operated by the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard based at Harrisberg International Airport, Middletown, Pennsylvania.

EC-130E Senior Hunter - photo by Colin Johnson

Although not based alongside the EC-130E Commando Solo’s, four even more unusual Hercules aircraft frequently work in conjunction with the Commando Solo’s. The EC-130E Senior Hunter SIGINT aircraft are equipped with radio signal monitoring equipment known as the Senior Scout system. This pallet mounted system consists of the Airborne Collection Electronic Signals II (ACES II) capsule which accommodates between 4 – 12 system operators who monitor the 2-MHz to VHF (COMINT) or 2-18 GHz (ELINT) bands. The system collects data from external aerials fitted onto removable panels mounted on the undercarriage door and rear cargo compartment passenger door. Installation of the entire suite takes about 12 hours.

EC-130E Senior Hunter sensors - photo by Colin Johnson

The EC-130E Senior Hunter aircraft are used to gather electronic and communications intelligence to support the objectives of the USAF Electronic Security Command. Two EC-130E Senior Hunter aircraft are also operated by the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard based at Nashville International Airport and another two are operated by the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Another EC-130J ready for converstion

However, the EC-130E Compass Call and other specially equipped EC-130s are 'high demand/low density aircraft who's use has increased considerably in recent years and as a result they are rapidly coming towards the end of the service life and will need to be replaced. On 9 Nov 04 Lockheed Martin announced that it had won a contract to modify another C-130J in preparation for its eventual conversion into a EC-130J Commando Solo – the contract also includes options for work on two further aircraft. The first EC-130J flew on 17 Nov 03 and has been already been delivered to the 193rd Special Operations Wing. Although the 193rd SOW will now operate a mix of EC-130E and EC-130J aircraft, it's only a matter of time before the other EC-130Es are replaced. Once this programme is complete there will be pressure to replace the remaining EC-130s with this new and more efficient version of the ubiquitous Hercules.

Italy aand Egypt also operate a number of EC-130s, although the aircraft are rarely seen on operations.

Scathe View C-130

Another little known variant of the ubiquitous Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the C-130H2 Scathe View, is operated by the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152 Airlift Wing based at Reno-Tahoe international airport. The 152 Airlift Wing operates eight of these unique aircraft that are designed to provide Combatant Commanders with reach-back communications and increased awareness of what is actually happening on the battlefield. The aircraft are fitted with an extensive communications fit, including SATCOM. In addition, they carry a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) daylight TV system, a spotter scope and a laser rangerfinder. A particularly important capability carried by this aircraft is the ability to provide a video link to the US Air Force ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) that can provide near real-time sensor fed video footage to laptop based portable ground receivers.

The aircraft that recently visited Mildenhall (79-0474) is also fitted with FLIR sensors above and below the cockpit as well as a AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis DIRCM turrets on the rear fuselage.

Incidents:

A ‘Sun Valley’ SIGINT C-130 was shot down by 5 MiGs over Soviet territory near the Armenian town of Jerevan on 2 Sep 58. It is believed that all of the 17 crew members died in the crash.

On 21 Mar 73 an C-130 was attacked by Libyan F-5s 80 miles from Libyan coast. The pilot managed to evade the bullets and escape into cloud.