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The U.S. Air Force knows that in order to succeed in warfare, one needs to be able to adjust his plans on the fly. They use that knowledge every day in the fight against the Islamic State through the employment of the EC-130H Compass Call electronic attack aircraft.
The EC-130H Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system using a heavily modified version of the C-130 Hercules airframe. The system disrupts enemy command and control communications and limits adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.
“When the Compass Call is up on station supporting our Iraqi allies, it doesn’t let ISIS 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”.
In order to target and jam 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 has a key role in accomplishing the mission.
“(The linguist’s) weapon is language,” Koslov said. “They help us to efficiently find, prioritize and target. 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.”
According to the U.S Air Force’s website, 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 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.
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.”