C-130B-II at Cam Rhan.
The C-130 had barely entered service with TAC's airlift units when the Air Force began finding other uses for it besides airlift. One of the first uses was in the ELINT role, not the battlefield surveillance mission now known as COMPASS CALL, but a highly classified and potentially dangerous mission of which only the barest minimum has been revealed, and that only because of the 30-year limitation on classified materials combined with the end of the Cold War. The mission is briefly described in Francis K. Mason's LOCKHEED HERCULES, published in 1984.
Two squadrons were set up, both overseas. The 7406th Combat Support Squadron was based in Germany, at Rhein-Main Air Base outside Frankfurt and equipped with C-130A-IIs. The designation did not identify the airplane's true role, which was actually electronics intelligence. A similar squadron, originally the 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron, later the 556th RS, flew out of Yokota AB, Japan in C-130B-IIs. The mission of both units was HIGHLY classified throughout the 1960s and 1970s. However, recent declassifications of classified materials have revealed a little of what the two squadrons did. Basically, the mission was a continuation of one that had begun in the early days of the Cold War using RB-29s and continued until the Soviet Union dissolved in the late 1980s. Though C-130s were the primary airplanes used in the mission until the 1970s, other types were also used. Though some authors try to link the missions of these two squadrons to the MC-130 Blackbirds of today's Air Force, there is absolutely no connection between them. The only similarity is that both missions have involved classified operations, though of an entirely different nature.
Not long ago one of the cable channels carried an hour-long program about the fate of the crew of one of the European-based airplanes. The airplane was shot-down by Soviet fighters near the Turkish border in the fall of 1958. At the time of the shoot-down, the airplane was on an operational mission. The fate of the crew was unknown in the United States until the Russian government began declassifying their own records. Recently, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) established a memorial park at Ft. Meade, MD dedicated to the members of that crew.
The Yokota-based squadron flew the same mission as their European-based counterparts in the Pacific. During the Vietnam War a squadron airplane operated out of Cam Rhan Bay, evidently against North Vietnam. The 556th RS airplanes looked like C-130As with oversize tiptanks.
While the Rhein-Main and Yokota squadrons were the most classified of the Sneaky-Petes, there were other units with intelligence gathering missions as well. Several C-130As were reconfigured to become DC-130A drone launchers. The DC-130s from Davis-Monthan were equipped to launch drones, both target drones and intelligence-gathering drones. DC-130s flew drone launching missions throughout the Vietnam War.
Another C-130 Sneaky-Pete mission was more subtle. In the late 1950s 15 C-130As were equipped with high-altitude cameras and other equipment for aerial charting. The RC-130As of MATS 1370th Photomapping Wing overtly mapped most of the free world, and covertly mapped parts of the world that were not exactly free. The photomapping C-130s operated throughout the world, along with RB-57s and other types that were used in the same mission.
In Vietnam modified C-130As, evidently formerly Photomapping birds, were used for Operation POPEYE, a classified mission involving seeding clouds over Southeast Asis to cause flooding in North Vietnam. According to some reports, the seeding had a measurable effect on rainfall.
Electronics warfare has been associated with the C-130 in several forms. In the early sixites the US Strike Command began using TAC troop carrier C-130s equipped with a special communications package to maintain contact with missions deployed throughout the world. A TALKING BIRD C-130 was on duty in the Congo during the Simba rebellion while another accompanied the DRAGON ROUGE rescue mission.
TALKING BIRD led to a new mission, the AB-Triple-C airborne command post (ABCCC.) Iniitally the ABCCC mission was supported by C-130E crews from the 314th TCW but the mission soon became permanent under the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron at Udorn, Thailand. The 7th operated around the clock as its airplanes were continuously airborne to provide command and control of strike aircraft operating throughout Southeast Asia. The mission has since been modified to include other tasks, including battlefield surveillance and electronics counter-measures.
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