A HISTORY OF THE POST ATTACK COMMAND AND CONTROL SYSTEM (PACCS)
SAC ACCA Historian
SAC ACCA Historian
Strategic Air Command (SAC) first tested the practical application of an airborne counterpart to its underground command post in July 1960. The concept was proven valid and continuous airborne alerts, flown by the 34th Air Refueling Squadron (AREFS) stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, commenced on 3 February 1961. The aircraft used for this mission was a modified KC-135A.
On 20 July 1962, SAC organized four support squadrons at other strategic locations: the 4362d Post Attack Command and Control Squadron (PACCS) at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska; the 4363d PACCS at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio; the 4364th PACCS at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; and the 4365th PACCS at Plattsburgh AFB, New York. These units, equipped with EB-47 radio relay aircraft, were activated in 1963.
In March 1963, the 34th AREFS received eight newly- configured KC-135As to support a growing command, control and communications (C3) mission at Offutt. In August of the following year, these were replaced with KC-135B aircraft that had turbofan engines, advanced electronics equipment and both tanker and receiver capabilities for air-to-air refueling operations. These new aircraft were soon redesignated as EC-135Cs. Offutt was not the only base to receive the new EC-135Cs. They were simultaneously delivered to other bases as well, expanding the airborne C3 network considerably.
The SAC Airborne Command Post (ABNCP), called "LOOKING GLASS", was supported by the addition of auxiliary command post aircraft stationed at the bases supporting the three Numbered Air Force (NAF) headquarters: the Central Auxiliary Command Post (AUX) at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana (913th AREFS)); the East AUX at Westover AFB, Massachusetts (99th AREFS); and the West AUX at March AFB; California (22d AREFS). This network of airborne command posts was soon designated the Post Attack Command and Control System (PACCS). This new definition of "PACCS" was not a problem because the introduction of the EC-135C aircraft resulted in the inactivation of the 4362d and 4365th Post Attack Command and Control Squadrons that same year (1964) and the inactivation of the 4363d and 4364th PACCS on 25 March 1965. Inactivation of these four units made the PACCS fleet "135 pure". The missions of the EB-47 units were soon assumed by aircraft assigned to air refueling squadrons at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota (28th AREFS) and Minot AFB, North Dakota (906th AREFS). Thus, by 1966, PACCS consisted of the ABNCP (LOOKING GLASS), EAUX (Achieve), WAUX (Stepmother), CAUX (Greyson) and RELAY aircraft to include A, C, G and L models of the EC-135.
On 1 July 1966, the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (55SRW) based at Forbes AFB, KS, assumed responsibility for LOOKING GLASS from the 34th Air Refueling Squadron (34AREFS). Detachment 1 of the 55SRW based at Offutt AFB, NE, actually conducted flight operations for the Glass. About a month later, the wing headquarters was moved to Offutt. At that time LOOKING GLASS operations were transferred to the 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (38SRS), whose responsibility was to fly the five EC-135C's in support of the SAC ABNCP mission. (Editor’s note: The 38SRS also continued to conduct certain specialized reconnaissance missions, which had been performed by the 34AREFS, using three KC-135A aircraft, which were modified for receiver refueling and for the reconnaissance functions. These were designated as KC-135R's, not to be confused with the re-engined tankers of the 1980's, which are currently known as KC-135Rls.)
By the mid-1960's, improved accuracy of Soviet ballistic missiles was increasing the vulnerability of buried Minuteman launch control centers (LCC), so the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) was created to provide a survivable launch capability for our country's ICBM force. The first attempted launch of an ICBM (Minuteman II) by means of ALCS was successfully conducted at Vandenberg AFB on 17 April 1967. Initial operational capability was achieved on 31 May 1967 and the ALCS was eventually installed aboard all PACCS aircraft assigned to Ellsworth AFB and Minot AFB, as well as on LOOKING GLASS. Full operational capability was reached in June 1968. The ALCS crews at Ellsworth were assigned to the 68th Strategic Missile Squadron and the crews at Minot were under the 91st Strategic Missile Wing. On 1 February 1974, the first SELM (Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman) (Giant Pace 74-1) was completed. Eleven SELM configured Minuteman II ICBM's at Ellsworth AFB underwent successful simulated launch on command by the two test LCCs, as well as from the ALCC. The ALCS was modified in the early 1970's to incorporate increased safeguards against unauthorized ICBM launch or accidental compromise of launch codes. The improved weapon system was called the "Phase II" ALCS.
The PACCS was again reorganized on 1 April 1970. The EC-135's were moved out of Westover, Barksdale and March AFB's to reduce their vulnerability to short notice attack warning. In this reorganization, all EC-135's were assigned to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Airborne Command and Control Squadrons (ACCS), which were activated at Offutt, Grissom and Ellsworth AFB's respectively. At this same time, PACCS crews, and aircraft, assigned to Minot, also moved to Ellsworth...although, two Ellsworth sorties deployed to Minot for alert duty on a rotational basis. Although PACCS aircraft were now stationed in the central United States, rather than around the periphery, the basic function of PACCS remained unchanged. LOOKING GLASS continued to remain airborne in the vicinity of Offutt. The auxiliary airborne command posts, ALCC and relay aircraft remained on round-the-clock ground alert, ready for immediate launch. To consolidate resources, SAC reorganized PACCS again in 1975. The 3rd ACCS was inactivated after its functions had been assumed by the 70th AREFS at Grissom and the 2nd ACCS at Offutt.
During the 1970s, plans were made to replace the EC-135C model aircraft with a modified Boeing 747, called the E-4. The aircraft, initially called the Advanced Airborne Command Post, was soon deemed appropriate for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP, often referred to as KNEECAP). After the first E-4B entered the inventory (The first three aircraft were E-4As and were used strictly for NEACP missions.), both the NEACP and the LOOKING GLASS missions were combined aboard the aircraft on a trial basis. This first Double occurred on 4 March 1980 and was deemed a provisional success. The E-4B was equipped with the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) and the first ICBM launch conducted from this platform occurred on 1 April 1981 when the 2nd Airborne Command Control Squadron (2ACCS) crew, flying aboard the E-48, launched a Minuteman missile from Vandenberg AFB as part of the Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) program. Although the LOOKING GLASS capability remained for a while, Doubles were infrequent and, eventually, the ALCS equipment was removed and the E-4B reverted solely to its NEACP role. (The NEACP was re-designated the National Airborne Operations Center —NAOC— in 1994).
In June 1987, the first Common/ Pacerlink—modified EC-135 was placed on alert. This aircraft has a completely renovated interior that is both more functional and more attractive (a matter of opinion). It contains the'very latest communications equipment and state-of-the-art ALCC components. The new Common ALCS weapon system introduces increased flexibility into the Single Integrated Operations Plan (STOP) by providing airborne missile crews with the capability to remotely target and interrogate Peacekeeper missiles. Other capabilities are common to both the Minuteman and Peacekeeper weapon systems— hence its name.
On 24 July 1990, after 29 years of continuous airborne operations, the LOOKING GLASS completed its last continuous airborne alert sortie. General John T. Chain (CINCSAC) announced the implementation of a new modified alert concept. This new posture marked the beginning of random LOOKING GLASS flights on a regular basis, with the aircraft being on ground alert the remainder of the time. Although 24-hour airborne alert operations had ceased, the basic mission of LOOKING GLASS remained unchanged. It continued to act as an alternate command and control element for SAC forces.
The year 1991 saw many significant changes for PACCS and ALCS. The 4th Airborne Command Control Squadron discontinued deployed alerts to Minot AFB, ND, in August and began making preparations for inactivation the following year. The auxiliary command post and ALCC aircraft ceased alert operations shortly after President Bush unilaterally took our entire nuclear bomber force and half of our ICBM force off of strategic alert at the end of September. The last ALCS Operational Readiness Training (ORT) class to graduate Operations Controllers (DOCOs¬now called Battlestaff Directors) was conducted at Ellsworth AFB, SD. ORT was then moved to the 2ACCS at Offutt AFB, NE. The elimination of all PACCS alert sorties, except for LOOKING GLASS, resulted in the retiring of all EC-135A, G and L model aircraft from the PACCS fleet, leaving only the C model. The Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS) at Whiteman AFB, MO, was decommissioned and its related components aboard PACCS aircraft were switched off permanently. The combined effect of all of these changes was an 85 percent reduction on the number ALCS-qualified aircrew members.
With the stand down of SAC and consolidation of its nuclear forces with those of the U. S. Navy under the new U. S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) on 1 June 1992, the vital role of LOOKING GLASS became even more apparent. Manned with a joint Battlestaff under the command of a flag officer (general or admiral), LOOKING GLASS still provides the capability to direct surviving elements of strategic nuclear forces in the event that USSTRATCOM headquarters and other ground-based command centers are destroyed or incapacitated. It continued to help deter aggression because of the extreme difficulty of destroying it during an attack. The year 1992 also saw the end of an era for ALCS: the Phase II weapon system was retired on December 31, after more than 25 years of service.
In 1993, nominal changes followed the more substantial changes of the previous two years. After more than 30 years of use, the term PACCS was replaced by SCA CS—for STRATCOM Command and Control System. Furthermore, the term LOOKING GLASS was officially replaced by ABNCP (pronounced ab-un-cop), although LOOKING GLASS continues to be used unofficially (Editors note: and affectionately) by the old-timers. The year of 1994 brought even more changes. On January 1, ORT became the ALCS Combat Crew Training School (CCTS) and, on April 1, its faculty was transferred from the 2nd ACCS (which by this time had become an Air Combat Command unit) to the Headquarters Staff of the Air Force Space Command. On 20 July 1994, the 2nd ACCS was redesignated as the 7th ACCS as its mission in the conventional command control and communications (C3) arena continues to expand. In spite of restructuring, reorganizations and redesignations, the bottom line has not changed.
(Addendum by Jim Bostick)
The Air Force continued to perform the LOOKING GLASS mission under USTRATCOM until October 1, 1998, when the U.S. Navy’s fleet of TACAMO (“Take Charge and Move Out”) E-6Bs replaced the EC-135. A newer platform, the E-6B offered consolidation of related missions (Navy and STRATCOM nuclear command and control) and a significant reduction in operational costs. LOOKING GLASS-specific equipment was installed on the E-6Bs and the aircraft now stand alert and fly with a multi-service Battle staff headed by a flag officer (general/admiral).
With the transfer of the mission to the Navy, the Air Force’s EC-135C aircraft went in a variety of directions. Most were declared excess to Air Force requirements and transferred to the Aviation Maintenance and Reclamation Center (AMARC), located at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. Others were donated to museums or converted to other configurations.
In the EC-135C’s history, two aircraft were lost to accident, both while performing non-SAC/STRATCOM missions. On May 29, 1992, EC-135J (converted from the EC-135C configuration) Tail Number 62-3584 landed long at Pope AFB. The aircraft overran the runway, the gear collapsed, and the fuselage broke in two. There were 14 people on board at the time, but no one was seriously injured. (As some may remember, 584 was the testbed aircraft used for the Airborne Data Automation (ADA) project in the mid 1970s. ADA was severely limited by available technology, so the project never progressed beyond the prototype phase. (It was a bit unnerving to have the drum memory spin up in the space to the right of the comm oficcer.) The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and the remains were removed to AMARC. On September 2, 1997, EC-135C Tail Number 63-8053, again at Pope AFB, experienced a collapse of the nose gear on landing. There were 11 people on board, but no one was seriously injured. The aircraft was declared damaged beyond economical repair and was destroyed at Pope.
The success of the LOOKING GLASS mission and all it required is a tribute and high praise for the men and women that made it happen. SAC won the Cold War for America and LOOKING GLASS was a key component of that victory.