Airborne Launch Control System

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Airborne Launch Control System
Role Survivable LGM-30G ICBM Command & Control
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
Introduction May 31, 1967
Status In service
Primary user Air Force Global Strike Command
United States Strategic Command
625th Strategic Operations Squadron

The Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) provides a survivable launch capability for the United States Air Force's LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force. The ALCS is operated by airborne missileers from Air Force Global Strike Command's (AFGSC) 625th Strategic Operations Squadron (STOS) and United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). The system is located on board the United States Navy's E-6B Mercury, which serves as USSTRATCOM's "Looking Glass" Airborne Command Post (ABNCP). The ALCS crew is integrated into the ABNCP battle staff and is on alert around the clock.[1]


In the mid-1960s, United States civilian and military leadership became concerned about the possibility of a decapitating attack from the Soviets, destroying any land-based communication links to the nuclear forces of the Strategic Air Command. One solution to the communication problem was placing radio equipment on board an aircraft, and allow it to fly over the United States and use radio broadcasts to pass along information. This concept would allow communication to missile launch crews to pass along Emergency Action Messages (EAMs), but would not duplicate the missile combat crew's function of actually launching the missiles. The key characteristic added to ALCS (versus other communication methods such as ERCS) was giving the airborne crews the same degree of access to the launch facilities as the underground missile crews.[2]

Minuteman launch facilities contained an ultra high frequency (UHF) receiver that would pick up commands from the ALCS; the destruction of the launch control center or the hardened intersite cable system would not prevent retaliation.[3]


ALCS' first generation equipment was declared operational on 31 May 1967.[3]

Train-mobile Minuteman ICBM testing underway
EC-135G at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota
ALCS Crewmember from 2 ACCS
Legacy ALCS equipment
Common ALCS equipment came online in 1987 so that the ALCS could be compatible with the new Peacekeeper ICBM. The Common ALCS equipment is still in use today.
E-6B Mercury—current ALCS equipped aircraft
USSTRATCOM Airborne Command Post crew members responding to their aircraft during an alert response exercise

Operational information[edit]

ALCS-configured aircraft[edit]

The ALCS mission has been held by multiple aircraft during the last 50 years:

ICBMs remotely controlled[edit]


Units with ALCS crewmembers assigned[edit]

Units with ALCS-equipped aircraft[edit]

ALCS personnel[edit]

The Airborne Launch Control System Flight of the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron provides training and crewmembers for two ALCS positions on board the E-6B Mercury.

ALCS-assisted launches[edit]

A test of the ALCS, both ground and air components, is called a GIANT BALL.

This list does not contain any launches after the initial Test and Evaluation phase of the system.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ USSTRATCOM ABNCP Fact Sheet
  2. ^ George Washington University's "USAF Ballistic Missile Programs 1967-1968", September 1969, pg 17
  3. ^ a b George Washington University: "United States Ballistic Missile Programs: 1964-1966", March 1967, pg 7
  4. ^ a b c "2 ACCS Part 1" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-13. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  5. ^ a b "A History of PACCS, ACCS and ALCS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-13. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i [Hopkins III, Robert S. 1997. Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker: More Than Just a Tanker. Leicester, England: Midland Publishing Limited]
  7. ^ a b "4th ACCS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-14. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  8. ^ a b "2 ACCS Part 2" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  9. ^ a b "625th STOS Fact Sheet"

External links[edit]