December 14, 2016 (by Capt. Casey Osborne) - Military operations are complex. Attacking an adversary requires significant coordination and communication between a commander and their fighters. The fog and friction of war means that even the best laid plans are often adapted on the fly, and competent leaders need the ability to redirect their forces in real-time in order to react to enemy actions.
USAF EC-130H #64-14862 from 43 ECS Compass Call prepares to taxi on December 5, 2016 at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. [USAF photo by SrA Andrew Park]
If a commander can’t issue orders, his capabilities are severely degraded and his likelihood of success plummets.
Attacking those lines of communication is an effective, innovative way to reduce an enemy’s capability. The U.S. Air Force knows this, and they use that knowledge every day in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant through employment of the EC-130H Compass Call.
“When the Compass Call is up on station supporting our Iraqi allies, we are denying (ISIL’s) ability to command and control their forces, to coordinate attacks,” said Lt. Col. Josh Koslov, the 43rd Expeditionary Electronic Attack Squadron commander. “If you can’t talk, you can’t fight. It’s very simple.”
In order to target and jam those communications, the EC-130H employs roughly a dozen Airmen. This includes a standard C-130 flight crew on the flight deck, in addition to a contingent of electronic warfare officers and linguists in the rear of the aircraft. Each of these individuals is a piece in accomplishing the mission.
“(The linguist’s) weapon is language,” Koslov said. “They help us to efficiently find, prioritize and target (ISIL). They prioritize the signals we’re targeting from the strategic (level) through the tactical level and they also help the electronic warfare officer make jamming decisions in order to provide the effects desired by the ground force commander.”
When used effectively, the EC-130H disorients ISIL fighters, helping make them easy targets for troops on the ground to engage.
“We are inducing massive confusion and friction into their operations that make them ineffective as a fighting force,” Koslov said.
The capabilities of the Compass Call can offer a distinct advantage for American, Iraqi and coalition forces. The aircraft is currently in demand with ground force commanders, but Koslov and his team face significant challenges executing their operations.
There are only 14 EC-130Hs across the entire Air Force. That relatively small number of aircraft, coupled with the sheer volume of mission requirements levied upon it, makes the Compass Call a low density, high demand asset. Additionally, the aircraft themselves are more than 50 years old and require a dedicated crew of maintainers to ensure that it’s capable of carrying out its zero-fail mission.
First Lt. John Karim, the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Compass Call Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, oversees more than 30 Airmen dedicated to ensuring the aircraft are able to meet the needs of commanders on the ground.
“There are a lot of challenges with maintaining an old aircraft like this,” Karim said. “We have a 1964 model out here on the ramp and you run the gamut of issues from old wiring to old structural issues (and) corrosion. You find that many of the items on the aircraft have been on there for well over 20 or 30 years, and parts fail all the time. So the aircraft more often than not come down and they need us to fix it before it can fly again safely.”
Despite the demanding mission his maintainers are required to accomplish, Karim is confident his team will keep the aircraft flying.
“I’m proud to be here and proud to work with all these Airmen from (Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona),” he said. “At the end of the day, every day, we make the mission happen no matter what. There might be a few busted knuckles, we might break a sweat, but we make it happen.”
Koslov, too, attributes his unit’s success to the outstanding Airmen working under his command. He and his team know that what they do is important for the future of Iraq and for stability in the wider Middle East region.
“We’re just a small part in the big Air Force team, a smaller part in the joint team, a part in the coalition team supporting the Iraqis who are going to defeat (ISIL),” he said. “They will destroy (ISIL), and we’re looking forward to the day that those guys are done fighting and their country is peaceful again.”