02/03 – Looking Glass

A USAF EC-130B ABCNP “Looking Glass” aircraft. (Airliners.net)

On this day in 1961, the US Air Force launched Looking Glass, a command centre tasked with coordinating the deployment of America’s nuclear weapons. The command centre was located on a number of heavily-modified KC-130 aircraft; the ABNCPs (Airborne Command Post), armed with powerful communications systems, rotated in and out of the air constantly so that one “Looking Glass” was constantly airborne.

The primary function of these ABNCPs was to coordinate a retaliatory nuclear strike on America’s enemies in the event that ground-based command centres (like the Pentagon or Offutt AFB in Nebraska) were knocked out by an atomic strike. If the President – and all other members in the nuclear chain of command – were to be killed, the ranking officer aboard the ABNCP had authority to launch a revenge attack. For the next 29 years – from 1961 till the end of the Cold War – Looking Glass remained airborne, circling the skies above the United States, prepared to exact nuclear revenge for an attack that never materialized – and hopefully never will.

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