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EC-130H, 15 years and nearly 42,000 combat hours in support of the Coalition mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rito Smith
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

On a rainy, 40-degree evening at Bagram Airfield, EC-130H Compass Call maintainers and aircrew walk out to the flightline to work on their aircraft. The rain falls harder as the teams begin sealing the aircraft, ensuring it is ready to fly the next mission. The temperature continues to drop, and the Airmen are soaked by the time they finish their inspection. But the dark, wet, cold evening doesn’t bother them; to these Airmen, mission outweighs personal comfort.

After 15 years and nearly 42,000 combat hours in support of the Coalition mission in and around Afghanistan, EC-130H aircraft and crews with the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron are still flying day in and day out.

The Compass Call system disrupts enemy command and control communications and limits adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. The system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.

“All of these aircraft and the Airmen that work on them come from one base,” said Capt. Sid Maru, 41st EECS director of operations and EC-130H navigator. “Because of that we have such a good relationship between our maintenance and operations teams.”

The Airmen are all deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, the only non-deployed location with this particular aircraft model and mission. Because they are a unique asset in high demand, their operations tempo remains high, and their aircraft fly a lot of hours—which means they require a lot of maintenance support.

“We have trust built with our maintainers because they are the same guys working on our systems back home,” Maru said. “When they tell us a system is good, it’s good because nobody knows it better.”  

In November, Compass Calls flew more hours than any other month since 2013. Since the airframe arrived in Bagram in 2003, the EC-130H has racked up more combat hours than any other aircraft at Bagram.

Each night, despite falling temperatures, the Airmen remain in high spirits. Even shivering in the rain, they joke and laugh with each other—but they take their jobs seriously. Their undivided attention to detail is crucial while checking each component of the aircraft to ensure everything is functional.

 “We are a lot like a family,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Davis, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flightline expeditor. “This is my home away from home.”

The aircrew and the maintainers work side by side until the aircraft is declared ready for flight and sealed until needed to fly the next mission. Once the aircraft is sealed, a crew can quickly and effectively hop into the aircraft and get off the ground to provide tactical air operations.

The versatile and flexible nature of the aircraft and its crew enable the power of electronic attack to be brought to bear in virtually any combat situation.

The Compass Call had its first flight in 1981, was delivered to the Air Force in 1982, and reached initial operating capability in 1983. Over its 35-year operational life, the aircraft has demonstrated a powerful effect on enemy command and control networks in multiple military operations including Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan.

“We don’t let the enemy communicate with each other,” Davis said. “When we can communicate and they can’t, then we have the upper hand. It’s a once in a lifetime chance to work on these aircraft, and the job satisfaction is through the roof.”

The 41st EECS is part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing headquartered at Bagram Airfield, with geographically separated units at Kandahar and Jalalabad airfields. One of only two Air Force wings located within Afghanistan, the 455th provides decisive airpower throughout the country in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support mission.