Released: 5 Aug 1998
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- As dawn crept into the skies above Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., June 24, U.S. Strategic Command officers aboard the Navy's E-6B Take-Charge-and-Move-Out, or TACAMO, command-and-control aircraft simultaneously turned the keys that launched a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile toward a target hundreds of miles away in the Marshall Islands.
It was the first time in history the launch of a Minuteman was controlled from the TACAMO, which officially replaces the Air Force's aging EC-135 in the "Looking Glass" mission of command and control of the nation's strategic nuclear forces Oct. 1.
The TACAMO combines the EC-135's tried and true Airborne Launch Control System with the E-6B's capability of communicating with submarines. The on-board battlestaff is made up of members of the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps, making it one of the few truly joint airborne command-and-control platforms.
"It was spectacular." said USSTRATCOM's Maj. Maurice Kilpatrick, ICBM operations officer for the launch. "It broke through the clouds, and the sun glinted off of it as it got higher. You could actually see the booster stage drop off. The crew had never seen anything like it and their reaction was incredible. It was truly spectacular to see that missile race off like that and know you were part of it. I thought to myself, 'what better glory than to maintain the greater peace for America.'"
The annual test firing of a Minuteman III missile from Vandenberg, referred to by participants as "Glory Trips," is a very significant milestone in the career of a missileer. Kilpatrick said that fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of all ICBM launch officers will ever have the opportunity to conduct such a test, yet alone a first for the record books. Also, the mission itself has ramifications that go far beyond the individuals involved.
"I believe the Looking Glass mission is the linchpin of deterrence," said Kilpatrick. "There's just a few ground-based command centers and those can be taken out fairly easily. The beauty of our system is that if they take them all out, we're still here. We really complicate things for the bad guys."
* Minuteman III
* Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
* U.S. Army
* U.S. Marine Corps
* U.S. Navy
* U.S. Strategic Command
* Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.