The AN/DRC-8 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 (ICBM).
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 01 October 1992. However, Headquarters Strategic Air Command (SAC) believed it was inefficient and unnecessary to support ERCS past fiscal year 1991, and kept the accelerated deactivation schedule.
Refer to Dead Hand.
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.
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).
ERCS was deactivated and taken out of the inventory as other means of emergency communication (i.e. ISST and Milstar) came online.
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; while the Minuteman system may have been designated LEM-70A.
The Blue Scout version of ERCS (Programme 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:
- The five 510th Strategic Missile Squadron Launch Control Centres, which exercised primary control over the ERCS
- The Minuteman missiles configured with ERCS payloads that were capable of accepting a voice recorded message of up to 90 seconds in length
- The SAC airborne command post (ABNCP) ALCC-equipped aircraft which served as an alternate ERCS control agency.
Interface with ERCS hardware was provided by three modes:
- A land line through ground grouping points (North Bend, Nebraska and Red Oak, Iowa) allowed the airborne command post interface with 494L equipment.
- A UHF radio link through the Launch Control Centre to the Launch Facility.
- A direct radio interface to the Launch Facility, through the Airborne Launch Control System.
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.
Material and Support
The Ogden Air Materiel Area at Hill AFB, Utah was made the Systems Support Manager in August 1963.
- 29 September 1961 – HQ USAF issues Specific Operational Requirement (SOR) 192, for ERCS (designated Programme 279).
- 27 December 1961 – Interim configuration finalised 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 Programme 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 – Programme 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 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 Programme 494L payload arrives at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
- 10 October 1967 – First two Programme 494L ERCS payloads put on alert at Whiteman AFB, Missouri; IOC obtained for Programme 494L ERCS.
- 1 January 1968 – Full Operational Capability (FOC) obtained for Programme 494L ERCS; Programme 279 ERCS inactivated by SAC.
- 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.
- 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.
ERCS is mentioned in Arc Light by Eric Harry.