Monday, December 22, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Navy at Travis quietly keeps communications open with subs

TACAMO_1_9_13

Lt. Cmdr. Jason Anstead gestures toward a E-6 Mercury communications plane used by the Navy VQ-3 detachment unit based at Travis Air Force Base. The plane trails a five-mile-long antenna out of its rear, in order to communicate with submarines on missions in the Pacific. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | January 15, 2013 |

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Whenever the Pentagon wants to call one of its nuclear subs in the Pacific, the call goes through the quiet Navy professionals whose E-6B Mercury communication aircraft fly out of their unobtrusive alert facility on Travis’ south side.

Like fishermen, the aircrew of Travis’ VQ-3 detachment spends long hours out over the Pacific, catching messages with a five-mile trailing antenna that will then be sent to the subs cruising safely and silently under water within 1,000 miles of the aircraft.

“We are one big relay platform,” said VQ-3 Detachment Officer in Charge Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Anstead.

The unit’s unofficial name, TACAMO, stands for Take Charge and Move Out. It was born in July 1963 when the director of naval communications for the chief of naval operations used those words to start work on coming up with a better way to communicate with the Navy’s nuclear submarines.

This system had to be capable of surviving any hostile military action, something ground-based communications sites were incapable of doing, according to Anstead.

The result was the creation of Strategic Communications Wing 1, which is headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and oversees three fleet air reconnaissance squadrons. One of those, VQ-3, has the detachment, which is stationed on the south side of Travis Air Force Base’s runway. It’s sister unit, VQ-4, has a detachment that is stationed on the East Coast at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Initially, the wing was equipped with modified C-130 Hercules aircraft. They were replaced with the E-6 Mercury, which is a heavily modified Boeing 707 packed with high-tech communications gear.

The E-6 gives the wing “extended legs” to allow the Navy fliers to stay in the air longer, up to 72 hours if needed, thanks to the E-6’s refueling capability.

During much of the Cold War, the Navy detachment was stationed in trailers at Moffett Field in Mountain View. It was moved to Travis in 1988, to a facility that early Navy VQ-3 members said they liked much better.

At Travis, the TACAMO detachment is located in what was once a Strategic Air Command Alert facility that was built in 1953 and housed the aircrews for the SAC bombers and air refuelers when they were on standby.

It is now Navy aircrew who are now on standing on alert around the clock, either on the ground or in the air.

An average mission involves taking off to a location somewhere over the Pacific Ocean for between four and 10 hours, and then flying in a tight circle just above stall speed while the five-mile-long antenna is reeled out as near to vertical as possible to become a relay point for any messages to the submarines.

Up until 1991, the unit’s primary job was to serve as an airborne communications link between the Navy leadership and its fleet of submerged nuclear submarines. Then it took over the Air Force’s Looking Glass missions, which involved relaying communications between the president and the secretary of defense to the nation’s strategic nuclear forces of submarines, bombers and missile silos.

During the war in Iraq, the E-6s and their aircrew deployed to southwest Asia to provide a better, quicker communications link between coalition convoys on the ground dealing with roadside bombs and either their higher command or medical support.

“We made more than 16,000 tactical support calls and were a vital link for the medivac helos,” said Anstead, who spent two tours over there flying those missions.

“It was one of the most rewarding tours I had,” Anstead said. “We got a lot of ‘glad you guys are up there’ calls.”

The detachment is pretty self-sustaining, with its own galley, gym, communications and mission preparation rooms, security and a maintenance facility that is capable of keeping the E-6B ready for flight whenever the call for a mission comes.

“And if we do need something, it is only a phone call away,” Anstead said of the great support they get from the rest of Travis.

With the exception of a handful of Navy personnel who are involved with the base’s construction needs, the VQ-3 detachment makes up nearly all of the 150 Navy people on Travis. And with the closure of the Bay Area’s network of Navy bases in the 1990s, “we are also the largest single naval detachment in the Bay Area,” Anstead said.

Life at the TACAMO facility can be pretty isolated, since it is located in a relatively secluded part of the base, but the liaison with the Air Force has been very good.

“Not whole lot of the Air Force people know what we are doing here, but the Air Force works with us very well,” Anstead said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 5 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • rich giddensJanuary 15, 2013 - 5:16 pm

    That facility used to be the old SAC alert facility back in the 50's, 60's and 70's. It looks like something out of a Hollywood movie like Fail Safe or Strategic Air Command. I suspect that satellite technology will one day replace the TACAMO mission.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JESTJanuary 19, 2013 - 6:19 pm

    Not likely, as satellite comms would be the first to be targeted in any major conflict. That was the whole purpose of having a multi-use platform that could communicate throughout the whole spectrum.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • BobJanuary 20, 2013 - 2:14 pm

    Since the subs want to stay undetected and do not want to come to the surface or raise an antenna to the surface they cannot normally use satellites to communicate. The aircraft transmit at low frequencies which are able to penetrate the deep water to get to the subs.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • john santiagoMarch 20, 2013 - 5:45 pm

    Wow, ths does bring back vivid memories of TACAMO operations and author very knowlegeable of all aspects of mission. Travis Alert Faclity was very isolated. I recall many alert cycles, even at the mentioned Moffett NAS double-wide trailers that we were spending alerts at, prior to that, alerts were spent in hangar spaces at Barbers Pt, ahhh, memories.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • old brown shoeAugust 22, 2014 - 8:24 pm

    I occassionally see these do touch-n-go's at a former SAC base in coyote and rocket country. One needed a plane captain to wash the dirty side.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Christmas comes early to San Marco Street park

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Travis squadron delivers Christmas gifts to East Tabor

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Multiple car accident blocks I-80 in Vacaville

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
 
 
Last-minute shopping at Vacaville Premium Outlets

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4, 1 Comment | Gallery

Kitchen fire dislocates family for Christmas

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Famous Creations’ toy drive and cupcake sale

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Fairfield police log: Dec. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Suisun City police log: Dec. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Weather for Dec. 22, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B10

 
.

US / World

Killer of 2 NYC officers had long criminal history

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
Killings of 2 New York officers trigger backlash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 6 Comments

California puzzles over safety of driverless cars

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Timeline of events before and after NY cop deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

A look at the 2 NYC officers killed in ambush

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Exit poll: Ex-regime official is Tunisia’s new president

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Pakistan makes arrests in Taliban school carnage

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Tent city sprouts in shadow of downtown Detroit

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

US mulls putting NKorea on terrorism sponsor list

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Satanic Temple puts up display at Michigan Capitol

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

Australian woman charged with murder of 8 children

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
.

Opinion

Faust and the 2015 federal budget

By Mike Kirchubel | From Page: A8, 8 Comments

 
Obama, surgeon general still losing to NRA

By Francis Wilkinson | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

Let the music begin

By Colleen Britton | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Editorial Cartoon: Dec. 22, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Dec. 22, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Dec. 22, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Dec. 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Dec. 22, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

 
.

Entertainment

TVGrid Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
‘Hobbit’ goes out on top with $90.6 million 5-day debut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Good news from Tom Brokaw: His cancer is in remission

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Review: ‘The Interview’ deserves to be seen

By Jake Coyle | From Page: B7

Happy day: Elton John, David Furnish marry in England

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
TVGrid Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

.

Sports

Steelers, Packers win, move into playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Raiders knock Bills out of playoffs with 26-24 win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Kings snap 5-game losing skid, beat Lakers 108-101

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Burns gives Sharks late-night win over Blues in OT

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

The Week Ahead: Not much of a break for Christmas

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1

 
Super-G crash makes Vonn wait in bid for record

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NFL Roundup: Cowboys end 4-year drought, make playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
7 hurt when lightning strikes near Tampa Bay game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

India’s Arjun Atwal wins Dubai Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Documents: FSU QB Winston cleared in conduct hearing

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

Survey: US gas prices fall 25 cents per gallon

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
US companies eager to embrace Cuba face hurdles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Obituaries

Marian Kay Zutz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Bart Ferro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

B.C. Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Sally Forth Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Bridge Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Rose is Rose Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Frank and Ernest Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Blondie Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Beetle Bailey Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Garfield Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

B.C. Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

For Better or Worse Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Get Fuzzy Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baby Blues Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Baldo Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Zits Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Dilbert Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Sally Forth Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Pickles Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Bridge Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Word Sleuth Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Crossword Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Sudoku Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Cryptoquote Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7