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TACAMO

TACAMO is a US military term literally meaning "Take Charge and Move Out". TACAMO actually refers to a system of survivable communications links designed to be used in nuclear war to maintain communications between the decision-makers (the National Command Authority) and the triad of strategic nuclear weapon delivery systems.

There are several components to the current TACAMO system. The main part is the airborne portion, the US Navy Strategic Communications Wing One based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma which flies three Fleet Air Reconnaissance squadrons (VQ-3, VQ-4 and VQ-7) equipped with Boeing E-6 Mercury TACAMO aircraft. There are sixteen aircraft in the wing. As well as the main base there is a west coast alert base at Travis AFB, California and a east coast alert base at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The aircraft fly from these bases to predetermined orbit points over the respective oceans and hold there in a series of slow 25-40 banks for six to ten hour missions; with in-flight refueling mission times can be extended. Until 1992 there were always two TACAMO aircraft on station, one over the Pacific and one over the Atlantic. The aircraft remain on fifteen minute ground alert.

The acronym was coined in 1961 and the first aircraft modified for TACAMO testing was a Lockheed KC-130 Hercules which in 1962 was fitted with a VLF transmitter and trailing wire antenna to test communications with the fleet ballistic missile submarines. The Naval Air Development Center developed the required technique of 'stalling' the trailing antenna to achieve the long vertical antenna needed. The VLF system is currently known as VERDIN, Very low frequency digital information network. The program was expanded from 1966 using nine modified C-130s designated EC-130Q carrying a VLF system built by Collins Radio Company. The first two squadrons were established in 1968, intially operating from Patuxent River, Maryland and Barbers Point, Hawaii. The VLF system was repeatedly upgraded to improve signal strength, by 1971 TACAMO IV incorporated a 200 Kw transmitter and dual antenna. Airborne ELF was tested but considered unfeasible. The aircraft were upgraded to the E-6 Mercury from 1990 (after a contract had been agreed in 1983) and the E-6 was upgraded to the dual-role E-6B from 1998. The E-6B aircraft with the addition of an Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) took over the Looking Glass (ABNCP) mission of the USAF. The E-6C upgrade is currently under consideration.

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