Operation Looking Glass

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Boeing EC-135C Looking Glass

Looking Glass (or Operation Looking Glass) is the code name for an airborne command and control center operated by the United States, in more recent years it is now more officially referred to as the ABNCP (airborne command post).[1][2] Which would provide command and control of U.S. nuclear forces in the event that ground-based command centers were destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable. In such an event, the general officer aboard the Looking Glass serves as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO)[3] and by law assumes the authority of the National Command Authority and could command execution of nuclear attacks. The AEAO is supported by a battle staff of approximately 20 people, with another dozen responsible for the operation of the aircraft systems. Although not officially acknowledged, the code name alludes to Lewis Carroll's popular Through the Looking Glass children's novel in which the protagonist enters the Looking-glass world, "and a most curious country it was", where the entire world is a chessboard of land and fought over by the evil "reds and the [good] whites".


The Looking Glass was initiated by the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command in 1961 and operated by the 34th Air Refueling Squadron, Offutt AFB, Nebraska. In August 1966 the mission transferred to the 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, the 2nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron in April 1970, to the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron in July 1994, and to the U.S. Navy in October 1998. [according to whom?][

The Strategic Air Command began the Looking Glass mission on February 3, 1961, using EC-135C[4] airplanes from the Airborne Command Post (ABNCP) based at its headquarters at Offutt AFB, Nebraska backed up by aircraft flying with the Second Air Force / 913th Air Refueling Squadron at Barksdale AFB Louisiana, Eighth Air Force / 99th Air Refueling Squadron at Westover AFB, Massachusetts, and Fifteenth Air Force / 22d Air Refueling Squadron, March AFB, California.

EC-135 Looking Glass aircraft were airborne 24 hours a day for over 29 years,[5] until July 24, 1990, when "The Glass" ceased continuous airborne alert, but remained on ground or airborne alert 24 hours a day. The one break in the schedule occurred March 4, 1980, when a 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron E-4 operated a combined Nightwatch / Looking Glass mission, Scheduled for an eight-hour mission, it ended up flying a double (16 hours) due to bad weather at both Offutt and Ellsworth.

The airborne command post is referred to as Looking Glass because its mission "mirrors" ground-based command, control, and communications located at the USSTRATCOM Global Operations Center (GOC) at Offutt Air Force Base.[6] The Looking Glass was equipped with the Airborne Launch Control System, capable of transmitting launch commands to U.S. ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the event that the ground launch control centers were rendered inoperable. [according to whom?][

At DEFCON 2 or higher, the Looking Glass pilot and co-pilot were both required to wear an eye patch, retrieved from their Emergency War Order (EWO) kit. In the event of a surprise blinding flash from a nuclear detonation, the eye patch would prevent blindness in the covered eye, thus enabling them to see in at least one eye and continue flying. Later, the eye patch was replaced by goggles that would instantaneously turn opaque when exposed to a nuclear flash, then rapidly clear for normal vision. [according to whom?][

The Looking Glass was also designed to help ensure continuity and reconstitution of the US government in the event of a nuclear attack on North America. Although the two types of aircraft are distinct, the Doomsday Plane nickname is also frequently associated with the E-4 "Nightwatch" Advanced Airborne Command Post mission and aircraft.

The Looking Glass was the anchor in what was known as the World Wide Airborne Command Post (WWABNCP) network. This network of specially equipped EC-135 aircraft would launch from ground alert status and establish air-to-air wireless network connections in the event of a U.S. national emergency. Members of the WWABNCP network included:

  1. Operation "Silk Purse" for the Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command (USCINCEUR), based at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom;
  2. Operation "Scope Light" for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Forces (CINCLANT), based at Langley AFB, VA;
  3. Operation "Blue Eagle" for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command (USCINCPAC), based at Hickam AFB, HI; and
  4. Operation "Nightwatch" which supported the President of the United States and were based at Andrews AFB, Maryland. In the early 1970s the E-4B aircraft replaced the EC-135s on this mission. [according to whom?][

The Eastern Auxiliary (EAST Aux) and Western Auxiliary (West Aux) Command Posts were also part of the WWABNCP ("wah-bin-cop") network and were capable of assuming responsibility for Looking Glass as the anchor. The West Aux 906th Air Refueling Squadron was based at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and moved to the 4th Airborne Command & Control Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in April 1970 and the East Aux mission 301st Air Refueling Squadron was based at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, and moved to the 3rd Airborne Command & Control Squadron at Grissom AFB, Indiana, in April 1970. After 1975, East Aux was assumed from the Looking Glass backup ground alert aircraft launched from Offutt AFB. [according to whom?][

Current status[edit]

Further information: TACAMO, Boeing E-6 Mercury, and Boeing E-4

On October 1, 1998 the U.S. Navy's fleet of E-6Bs replaced the EC-135C in performing the "Looking Glass" mission, previously carried out for 37 years by the U.S. Air Force; unlike the original Looking Glass aircraft, the E-6Bs are modified Boeing 707 aircraft, not the military-only KC-135. The E-6B provides the National Command Authority with the same capability as the EC-135 fleet to control the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, land-based nuclear-capable bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). With the assumption of this mission, a battle staff now flies with the TACAMO crew.[7]

If the USSTRATCOM Global Operations Center (GOC) is unable to function in its role, the E-6B Looking Glass can assume command of all U.S. nuclear-capable forces. Flying aboard each ABNCP is a crew of 22, which includes an air crew, an Information Systems Officer and team, an Airborne Emergency Action Officer (an Admiral or General officer), an Intelligence Officer, a Meteorologist, and an Airborne Battle Operations Team. In addition to being able to direct the launch of ICBMs, the E-6B can communicate Emergency Action Messages (EAM) to nuclear submarines running at depth by extending a 2½-mile-long trailing wire antenna (TWA) for use with the Survivable Low Frequency Communications System (SLFCS), as the EC-135C could. [according to whom?][

There was some speculation that the "mystery plane" seen flying over the White House on September 11, 2001, was some newer incarnation of Looking Glass. However, as indicated by retired Major General Donald Shepperd, speaking on CNN on September 12, 2007, the plane circling the White House on 9/11 resembled an E-4B which was likely launched from Nightwatch ground alert at Andrews Air Force Base.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Looking Glass: USSTRATCOM's Airborne Command Post By Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong, Public Affairs / Published September 23, 2016 the Airborne Command Post (ABNCP)...the aircraft and its mission, historically codenamed Looking Glass, came to Minot AFB force (in 2016) to accomplish a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman (SELM),” Lt. Col. Deane Konowicz, 625th Strategic Operations Squadron commander. “The SELM is an end-to-end test, demonstrating the ability to command and control intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot, from the aircraft...According to Konowicz, the ABNCP is dual purposed. While it primarily functions as a communications relay platform for submarines with its two trailing antenna wires, it also serves as an Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS). The ALCS is joint-manned by eight U.S. STRATCOM battle staff mission member...“Our focus is to provide survivable, mobile command and control capability,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Evans III, U.S. STRATCOM acting deputy commander”
  2. ^ EC-135, Looking Glass. Federation of American Scientists
  3. ^ Looking Glass: USSTRATCOM's Airborne Command Post By Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong, Public Affairs / Published September 23, 2016 Evans sits on alert as an Airborne Emergency Action Officer in command of the battle staff. He remembers first visiting Minot AFB was in the fall of 1986. “The mission hasn’t changed much and neither has its importance,” said Evans.
  4. ^ Strategic Air & Space Museum: EC-135: Looking Glass
  5. ^ Flying with the A-Bomb on Board: Looking Glass
  6. ^ "E-6B Airborn Command Post". United States Strategic Command. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  7. ^ TACAMO - Take Charge And Move Out

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "http://www.tacamo.navy.mil/wing/index.asp". This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "http://www.tacamo.navy.mil/factsheets.html". This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "https://www.stratcom.mil/factsheets/1/Airborne_Command_Post/".

External links[edit]

KPTM Story on USSTRATCOM's Looking Glass. youtube.