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AN/DRC-8 Emergency Rocket Communications System

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Emergency Rocket Communications System
Emergency Rocket Communications System payload.PNG
Emergency Rocket Communications System payload
TypeIntercontinental ballistic missile/Communications System
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1963–1968 (Blue Scout)
1968–1991 (Minuteman II)
Used byUnited States
Production history
Unit cost$7,000,000
Mass78,000 lb (35,300 kg)
Length59 ft 9.5 in (18.2 m)
Diameter5 ft 6 in (1.7 m) (1st stage)
Warhead1KW UHF Transmitter

EngineThree solid-propellant rocket motors; first stage – Thiokol TU-122 (M-55); second stage – Aerojet-General SR-19-AJ-1; third stage – Aerojet/Thiokol SR73-AJ/TC-1
8,100 miles (13,000 km)
Flight altitude700 miles (1,120 kilometers)
Maximum speed Approximately 15,000 mph (Mach 23, or 24,100 km/h, or 7 km/s) (terminal phase)

The Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS) was designed to provide a reliable and survivable emergency communications method for the United States National Command Authority, using a UHF repeater placed atop a Blue Scout rocket or Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile.[1] ERCS was deactivated as a communication means when President George H.W. Bush issued a message to stand down SIOP-committed bombers and Minuteman IIs on 27 September 1991. Headquarters SAC was given approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to deactivate the 494L payloads beginning 1 October 1992.[2] However, Headquarters SAC believed it was inefficient and unnecessary to support ERCS past fiscal year 1991, and kept the accelerated deactivation schedule.


The mission of the Emergency Rocket Communications System was to provide assured communication to United States strategic forces in the event of a nuclear attack. ERCS was a rocket or missile that carried a UHF transmitter as a payload instead of a nuclear warhead. In the event of a nuclear attack, ERCS would launch the UHF transmitter into low space to transmit an Emergency Action Message (EAM) to Strategic Air Command units.[3][4][5][6]

The ERCS sorties had two possible trajectories, East and West, to inform SAC alert forces in the northern tier bases (i.e. Minot AFB, Fairchild AFB, Grand Forks AFB).[7]

ERCS was deactivated and taken out of the inventory as other means of emergency communication (i.e. ISST and Milstar) came online.[8]


ERCS was also known as Project 279 (Blue Scout version) and Project 494L (Minuteman version). Sources report that the Project 279 was also known as Project Beanstalk;[9][10] while the Minuteman system may have been designated LEM-70A.[11]


The Blue Scout version of ERCS (Program 279) was deployed to three sites near Wisner, West Point, and Tekamah, Nebraska. The Program 494L Minuteman version of ERCS was only deployed to Whiteman AFB, Missouri's 351st Strategic Missile Wing, under the direct control of the 510th Strategic Missile Squadron (later the 510th Missile Squadron).

ERCS was a three part communications system composed of the following elements:

  1. The five 510th Strategic Missile Squadron Launch Control Centers, which exercised primary control over the ERCS
  2. The Minuteman missiles configured with ERCS payloads that were capable of accepting a voice recorded message of up to 90 seconds in length
  3. The SAC airborne command post (ABNCP) ALCC-equipped aircraft which served as an alternate ERCS control agency.[12]

Interface with ERCS hardware was provided by three modes:

Headquarters Strategic Air Command had the ability to make inputs directly into the missile. The Numbered Air Forces could direct the missile crew to make the inputs. In the case of the airborne command post, inputs could be made directly into the missile and missile launch could be made from the aircraft.[13]


Operational tests of the 494L Minuteman II ERCS were conducted by Air Force Systems Command and Strategic Air Command under the code name GIANT MOON. Launch Control Facility Oscar-1A (LCF O-1A) and Launch Facility Zero Four (LF-04) at Vandenberg AFB, California were modified in 1977 to perform ERCS-related test functions.

Blue Scout Jr ERCS Test Launches[14]
Date Launch Vehicle Location Apogee Notes
31 May 1962 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
24 July 1962 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
21 November 1962 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
2 February 1963 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
14 March 1963 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
17 May 1963 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, LC-A 1,000 km (600 mi)
17 December 1963 Blue Scout Jr SLV-1C Vandenberg AFB, 4300C 1,000 km (600 mi)
Minuteman II ERCS Test Launches[15]
Date Launch Vehicle Location Apogee Notes
13 December 1966 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) First Minuteman ERCS test
2 February 1967 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) Second Minuteman ERCS test
4 August 1970 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 1, GLORY TRIP 16L
22 October 1971 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 2, GLORY TRIP 40L
22 March 1972 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 3, GLORY TRIP 200L
26 July 1973 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 4
12 March 1974 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 5
22 October 1974 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 6
5 September 1975 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 7
26 October 1976 Minuteman II Vandenberg AFB, LF-05 1,300 km (800 mi) GIANT MOON 8

ERCS sortie location

After the system was declassified, the ten ERCS sorties were powered down and removed from their launch facilities. During these power down operations, the location of the sorties were:

ERCS location map.png
ERCS Sortie Locations
Launch Facility Power Down Date Payload Removal Date Notes
F06 2 October 1991 15 October 1991
F07 2 October 1991 17 October 1991
I06 2 October 1991 22 October 1991
I11 2 October 1991 28 October 1991
M03 28 September 1991 3 October 1991 Missile Guidance System failed; was not replaced
M07 2 October 1991 8 October 1991
N04 2 October 1991 29 October 1991
N08 2 October 1991 31 October 1991
O05 2 October 1991 29 October 1991
O06 2 October 1991 31 October 1991

Material and support

The Ogden Air Materiel Area at Hill AFB, Utah was made the Systems Support Manager in August 1963.[16]


  • 29 September 1961 – HQ USAF issues Specific Operational Requirement (SOR) 192, for ERCS (designated Program 279)
  • 27 December 1961 – Interim configuration finalized of three rockets with 1 KW transmitters, stationed around Omaha, Nebraska; four sites with three rockets each
  • 5 April 1962 – Amendment to SOR 192 to include two east coast ERCS complexes, based on CHROME DOME routes and SAC elements in Europe
  • 21 September 1962 – SAC study recommends use of Minuteman missile, to eliminate Program 279 and its proposed expansion
  • 7 June 1962 – SAC proposes changes to SOR 192, such as using six Minuteman missiles selected from among the flights of an operational wing; this was envisioned not to impair the alternative capability of substituting nuclear warheads should future circumstances warrant.
  • 11 July 1962 – Program 279 attains Initial Operating Capability (IOC); UHF transmitter payloads attached to three MER-6A Blue Scout rockets at three sites near Wisner, West Point, and Tekamah, Nebraska
  • 13 December 1966 – A Minuteman II launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. carried the first Minuteman ERCS payload into space for testing and evaluation[17]
  • 17 April 1967 – Third, and last, test of the ERCS using a Minuteman booster; Emergency Action Message was inserted into the transmitter from an ALCS aircraft.
  • 15 August 1967 – First Program 494L payload arrives at Whiteman AFB, Missouri[18]
  • 10 October 1967 – First two Program 494L ERCS payloads put on alert at Whiteman AFB, Missouri; IOC obtained for Program 494L ERCS[17]
  • 1 January 1968 – Full Operational Capability (FOC) obtained for Program 494L ERCS; Program 279 ERCS inactivated by SAC[18]
  • 23 October 1974 – ERCS test, designated GIANT MOON 6, launched from Vandenberg AFB. Test was monitored on two frequencies by ground facilities. PACOM at Hickam AFB maintained valid reception of the JCS WHITE DOT ONE message for 22 minutes and another message for 14 minutes[19]
  • 27 September 1991 – President George H. W. Bush terminated SAC's alert force operations, which included taking Minuteman II ICBMs (including ERCS sorties) off-alert.


In popular culture

ERCS is mentioned in The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David Hoffman.[20]

ERCS is mentioned in Arc Light by Eric Harry.

See also


  1. ^ "LtC Phillip K. Heacock: "The Viability of Centralized Command and Control (C2)", Air University Review, January–February 1979". Archived from the original on 13 January 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  2. ^ "RE: Emergency Rocket Communications System Deactivation". Strategic Air Command History, 1 Jan – 31 December 1991. 30 April 1991. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  3. ^ Monitoring Times: "What is an EAM?", 4 Apr 2005
  4. ^ "National Museum of the United States Air Force: Emergency Rocket Communications System factsheet". Archived from the original on 2 March 2009. Retrieved 3 October 2009.
  5. ^ a b Department of the Air Force: "Strategic Air Command Weapon Systems Acquisition 1964–1979", 28 April 1980
  6. ^ Federation of American Scientists: Emergency Rocket Communications System
  7. ^ SAC Regulation 55-45, Vol X
  8. ^ "ERCS Deactivation Plan Input". Strategic Air Command History, 1 Jan – 31 December 1991. Department of the Air Force. 11 March 1991. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  9. ^ "Jonathan's Space Report, No. 533, 27 Aug 2004". Archived from the original on 2 August 2009. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  10. ^ Dr. Howard Tamashiro: "The Danger of Nuclear Diplomatic Decapitation", Air University Review, September–October 1984
  11. ^ Parsch, Andreas (2002). "Boeing LEM-70 Minuteman ERCS". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Archived from the original on 15 December 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  12. ^ Department of the Air Force: SAC Regulation 55-45, Vol 10, 28 June 1982
  13. ^ a b c d IRIS #010808041 – Post Attack Command and Control System overview
  14. ^ Encyclopedia Astronautica: Scout Space Launch Vehicle
  15. ^ Encyclopedia Astronautica: Vandenberg AFB Launch Facility 05
  16. ^ Hill AFB: Allied Signal Emergency Rocket Communications System (ASERC) Archived 4 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b U.S. Air Force: History Milestones Archived 16 July 2012 at
  18. ^ a b Space and Missile Center: Space and Missile Systems Organization History (Volume 2), 1 Jul 1967 – 30 Jun 1969
  19. ^ Nautilus Institute Nuclear Policy Project: CINCPAC Command History, 1974, Volume I
  20. ^ "The Dead Hand" by David Hoffman

External links

This page was last edited on 22 April 2022, at 03:34
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