September 11, 2015 (by Maj. Tony Wickman) - On the combat frontier in Afghanistan, the ability to disrupt or exploit enemy command and control communication is vital to protecting the lives of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface and special operations forces.
Airmen assigned to the 41st EECS talk next to EC-130H #64-14862 Compass Call final mission meeting on the flight line at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on September 6, 2015. The Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system using a heavily modified version of the C-130 Hercules airframe. [USAF photo by TSgt. Joseph Swafford]
A big part of that mission is entrusted to the Airmen of the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron who fly the EC-130H Compass Call, which executes airborne electronic warfare to limit adversary coordination to attack friendly forces in the Combined Joint Operation Area-Afghanistan.
“The EC-130 is the only airborne electronic attack asset not only in Afghanistan, but also the Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Karl Weinbrecht, 41st EECS commander who redeployed this week. “If we went away, there would be a gap in capability that couldn’t easily be filled. Without the EC-130H capability, you lose a lot of the things special operations forces and other tactical units have come to rely on. It’s not sexy like dropping a bomb or shooting a gun, but it’s a uniquely important asset.”
The EC-130 flies with an aircrew that handles the flying and navigation of the aircraft, as well as several Airmen who operate and employ offensive counter-information and electronic attack equipment that is permanently integrated in the cargo compartment.
According to Capt. Christina Lakey, EC-130H pilot, the mission they perform is important because it keeps troops on the ground safe.
“If we weren’t here, the enemy would have better communications and could possibly be more aggressive against our forces. Everyone has a specific job on the aircraft, and teamwork is vital to what we do,” said Lakey.
Capt Satchell Bachar, EC-130H copilot, agreed that it takes teamwork to deny and disrupt enemy communication.
“Each member of the crew has a specific duty. We have a flight deck and a mission crew, but we all work together to get the mission done,” said Bachar. “I like flying and protecting the guys on the grounds; it’s nice to come back to base and run across guys who you supported and know what you did to assist them.”
1st Lt. Alan Yuen, EC-130H mission crew commander, said communication and coordination is vital to delivering the capabilities the aircraft brings to the fight.
“The mission crew commander is in charge of all aspects of the mission not related to the flying of the aircraft. My job is to manage the crew in the back as they perform the counter-information and electronic attack mission, and I do the coordination between the ground forces and the aircraft,” said Yuen. “We really feel like we’re part of the team when we’re tipping off ground forces about enemy activities or denying the enemy the ability to communicate.”
Someone who helps the mission crew commander is the mission crew supervisor, who is an experienced cryptologic linguist.
“I help the mission crew commander use our information to aid the forces on the ground do their job,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Berry, EC-130H mission crew supervisor. “We make it easier for our forces to do their job; we give them the security of knowing that what we’re doing is making it safer for them to do their operations.”
For Staff Sgt. Derrick Johnson, EC-130H analysis operator, the Compass Call is the only platform that can do what it does in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
“I listen to enemy communications, and then translate and analyze them for intelligence we can use. Stopping or disrupting enemy communications is essential to what we do; we’re the only platform that can do what we do,” said Johnson. “We can operate across different frequencies and go where the enemy goes to disrupt their operations. If we can find it, we can listen or jam it.”