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High flying command post
Lt. Col. Lance Ribordy, Airborne Command Post crew member, briefs a group prior to touring the aircraft. The ABNCP crew visited Malmstrom Nov. 9 to 11 and gave tours of the aircraft at Holman Aviation at the Great Falls International Airport Nov. 10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Emerald Ralston)
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America's airborne command post visits Great Falls

Posted 11/15/2007   Updated 11/15/2007 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Emerald Ralston
341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office

11/15/2007 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Members of the United States Strategic Command's Airborne Command Post, which controls strategic deterrent capabilities from the sky, visited Malmstrom Nov. 9 to 11. 

The ABNCP crew toured a missile alert facility, launch facility and various areas of Malmstrom. The crew then offered a tour of their Boeing 707 at Holman Aviation at the Great Falls International Airport Nov. 10. 

The ABNCP has been flying high since February 1961, providing a secondary launch capability and serving as a back-up for ground forces capabilities in the event anything should deter ability to launch, if needed, from underground control centers. 

Due to its launch capabilities, the Air Force EC-135 was nicknamed the "looking glass," as the mission aboard the aircraft is identical to underground operations in a launch control center. 

"Our primary mission is emergency, alternate command and control for Strategic Command," said Lt. Col. Lance Ribordy, a member of the ABNCP team. "We mirror the command center at STRATCOM. We also provide continuity of operations for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his role as advisor to the president." 

The ABNCP is a joint-force operation that includes Navy personnel as well as Air Force members. The Navy provides the aircraft and there are usually 22 people from all branches of the military who make up the crew when the aircraft takes on its full-fledged ABNCP mission. 

"There are usually three pilots, two flight engineers, five communications personnel, in-flight technicians and airborne launch control system operators aboard the aircraft," Colonel Ribordy said. 

The ALCS officer is the missile launch team leader, and along with the operations officer, operates the ALCS. This system allows the "looking glass" to transmit launch codes to the intercontinental ballistic missiles in their underground silos should launch control centers become disabled, according to the ABNCP fact sheet at ALCS qualifies the aircraft as a weapons system even though the "looking glass" itself cannot fire a bullet or drop a bomb. 

Along with the ALCS mission, the ABNCP's diverse capabilities include other operations. 

"In day-to-day operations, ABNCP is used mainly for the Navy's 'take charge' and 'move out' missions," Colonel Ribordy said. "TACMO" is a system of communication links designed for use in nuclear war to maintain communications between the decision-makers and the war-fighters. 

"The ABNCP mission is very important," Colonel Ribordy said. "We are the primary back-up so we provide immediate response to the primary strategic deterrent war-fighter. We are designed to be the last option in the event of a crisis. If we're actually doing what we're trained to do, it's a bad day. Although this capability began in the Cold War, there is still a viable threat and the ABNCP is one of the few capabilities that is still on full alert." 

Of course, that "bad day" has not come. 

"On a routine shift, crew members are on alert for a week at a time in an alert facility at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.," Colonel Ribordy said. "It's very similar to being at a missile alert facility here at Malmstrom." 

The ABNCP crew flies missions periodically to ensure communications with ground forces are always operational and therefore the ABNCP is integrally tied to Malmstrom, Colonel Ribordy said. "Either we're initiating things for the capsule crew or relaying things from them." 

For 29 years, the "looking glass" flew at all times until 1990 when continuous flying capabilities were ceased. Although 24-hour flying operations are a thing of the past, the new ABNCP is on alert at all times while grounded. 

Along with the flying schedule, the aircraft also changed. The E-6 Boeing 707 replaced the EC-135 in 1998. 

The aircraft is modified with special equipment and has many different sections including reel operations area, battle staff area and an area that enables the crew to perform the same tasks as a launch control center. The Navy has 17 of these aircrafts and they were the last Boeing 707s ever made. 

According to, the E-6B has the ability to communicate directly with the nation's ballistic submarine fleet. Its battle staff, when airborne, is under the command of a flag officer - an Air Force general officer or Navy admiral. 

Select O-6s fly with the ABNCP and are trained to do duties of a flag officer as well. One of these O-6s is the 341st Space Wing's Vice Commander, Col. Paul Gydesen, who was nominated by the 20th Air Force commander and approved by the Air Force Space Command vice commander. He is one of four O-6s approved for this duty Air Force-wide and one of only two colonels in AFSPC. 

"Flying on the ABNCP is both an honor and a privilege," he said. 

Although he is not able to act as a flag officer in a time of crisis, Colonel Gydesen is trained to the same standards. 

"In a time of crisis, I would become a primary advisor to an Airborne Emergency Action Officer," Colonel Gydesen said. "My peacetime role is to augment the ABNCP AEAO and help fulfill the crew's training requirements and provide an ICBM perspective to ABNCP operations. 

"Some training for this type of responsibility is held in a classroom but primarily it is held onboard the aircraft," Colonel Gydesen said. 

During flight operations, the crew will exercise their wartime procedures against various scenarios. Colonel Gydesen anticipates flying two or three times each quarter. 

"With this training, I will have greater insight into the war plan and the command and control of our strategic forces," Colonel Gydesen said. "I can bring this information back to Malmstrom to help educate and grow our future leaders."

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