Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS)
Survivable and enduring communications were the “heart and soul” of ensuring that the ground, airborne, and ICBM alert forces received transmitted execution orders if and when initiated. SAC command and control systems took many forms. A number of systems, utilizing different transmission media, were used to provide optimal connectivity between the National Command Authority, SAC command posts, and the aircraft and missile wing commanders and crews.
These systems include the Air Force Satellite Communications System (AFSATCOM), line of sight and emergency rocket communications system(ERCS) UHF systems, a high-frequency radio net (Giant Talk), and the Survivable Low Frequency Communications System (SLFCS). In additionto these military owned and maintained systems, SAC used a number of systems which were dependent on leased equipment and circuits. These systems included the Primary Alerting System (PAS), the SAC Operations Conference System (SOCS), the SAC Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), and ground entry points for the Post Attack Command and Control System (PACCS).
On 29 September 1961 SAC issued a Specific Operation Requirement [SOR] for a UHF Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS) to provide a reliable and survivable command, control, and communications connectivity between command posts and launch control centers. The ERCS UHF transmitters carried prerecorded force execution messages that could were transmitted to all units within line of sight of a rockets's apogee flight.
The first test launch of an ERCS was on a Blue Scout Junior rocket from Vandenberg AFB, California on 31 May 1962. SAC declared ERCS operational with three Blue Scout Junior launch sites at Wisner, West Point, and Tekamah, Nebraska on 11 July 1963. The Air Force accepted and declared operational the launch sites at Wisner, West Point, and Tekamah for the Emergency Rocket Communication System (ERCS). SAC established ERCS as a backup method to launch a counterstrike in the event a Soviet attack destroyed other communication systems. A trailer containing a Blue Scout Jr. missile and a manned trailer hosting the launch controls were placed at each of the three sites. Blue Scout’s small rockets, equipped with ultra high frequency (UHF) recorder-transmitters, would be launched to high altitudes for broadcasting authenticated execution messages to SAC forces. Once launched [not into orbit, as some sources suggest] the ERCS satellite could initiate a "go" signal to launch any remaining ICBMs. This interim system was inactivated on 01 December 1967.
The objective ERCS became operational on 10 October 1967 with the installation of the system on a Minuteman II missile at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. In October 1967, the 510th Strategic Missile Squadron received responsibilities for the Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS), which was mounted on Minuteman F missiles. Successful testing of this replacement for the Blue Scout Jr. rockets stationed in Nebraska had been completed at Vandenberg during the previous year. The ERCS mission involved the transmission of emergency action messages to United States nuclear forces in the event of an attack. ERCS vastly improved SAC's ability to transmit command and control messages to its forces.
By the end of the 1960s, the general consensus was that the unified and specified commands possessed an adequate C2 capability, and that their systemswere appropriately linked to the highest authority -- the NCA -- through the Joint Chiefs of Staff by way of the NMCS network. The significant improvement to the already existing nerve nodes of the system was the interconnecting of the Air Force-Navy LF-VLF communications net with SAC's Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS) to form the highly concentrated Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network (MEECN). The need for such minimum essential linkage between primary and alternate facilities had been initially recognized in early 1963 when the Secretary of Defense directed a study on how to use the Low Frequency-Very Low Frequency spectrum to meet such requirement. But it was not until 1968 that a procedural plan was developed, and mid-1969 that a centralized direction was established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Finally, the MEECN System Engineer was not designated until May 1970 -- seven years after the original study request.
If the SAC commander and the NCA were forced to take to the air, upon warning of an impending attack, as called for in current planning, then this situation would appear to differ little from, for instance, the TACAMO airborne system for communicating with submarines. By 1981 some observors e suggested the creation of a survivable Emergency Rocket Communication System for the SLBM force, in which a certain number of launch tubes throughout the force would be dedicated to launching emergency conunication satellites, or the creation of special subs for this purpose. If there are uncertainties concerning the "connectivity" of the nuclear deterrent force to the NCA in wartime, this would appear to be a far more sensible way of dealing with the problem than burying thousands of miles of fiber optic cable in the western desert so that thousands of concrete bunkers might communicate with each other and the NCA after "absorbing" a nuclear attack.
During the late 1970s, Gen Richard H. Ellis , SAC commander, became increasingly concerned about the survivability of the critical communications links that would be necessary in the event of a nuclear attack. Test results from atmospheric detonation of nuclear weapons in the Pacific clearly showed that most existing communications systems were vulnerable to blackout periods lasting from minutes to hours. Since detonation of an antiballistic (ABM) warhead in the atmosphere could “knock out” communications over the United States, General Ellis initiated a comprehensive study of the various effects on command and control communications during deployments of strategic forces in wartime. The results of the study prompted the JCS to create the Joint Strategic Connectivity Staff (JSCS). By 1982 data on scintillation of signals from very high frequency (VHF) through super high frequency (SHF) were obtained through the DNA Wideband Satellite experiment and more recently in an equatorial campaign which included rocket, radar and satellite measurements. These latter measurements successfully determined the structure of naturally occurring equatorial striations which form by mechanisms believed to dominate in late time nuclear environments.
High altitude barium releases create striations similar to nuclear environments. The Position Location Communications Effects Simulation (PLACES) experiment tested spread spectrum systems used for navigation and antijam communication in the propagation environment of barium releases. This experiment also resolved the last remaining uncertainties in the radio propagation algorithms used in DNA satellite communication systems codes. Environment uncertainties now dominate overall prediction uncertainties in satellite communication. Simulators which scintillate satellite radio signals as they would be in nuclear environments were developed. The Emergency Rocket Communication System (ERCS), the Integrated Operational Nuclear Detection System (IONDS), and the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) AN/USC-28 receiver were tested while receiving scintillated signals.
ERCS would send an Emergency Action Message such as the nuclear go-code by radio, thus bypassing ionospheric disruptions. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration approved creation of the Milstar satellite communications system, which was nuclear-hardened so as to send the Emergency Action Message to American nuclear forces around the world during a nuclear war. The squadron maintained the Minuteman II missiles and the ERCS system were inactivated in 1991.
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