EC-130H Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses the C-130H Hercules airframe as a platform.
Considered one of the most dangerous electronic attack aircraft in the world, the features of EC-130H Compass Call have always been a US secret. The main role of Compass Call is to break the communication system, restrict or prevent the enemy from cooperating. EC-130H can carry out electronic attacks to support the United States and its allied tactical aviation, ground forces or special forces.
Compass Call underwent an upgrade program that allowed to expand its mission by adding secondary electronic warfare capabilities to counter early warning radars, which could be coordinated with EA-6B or EA-18G and F-16CJ to deploy Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses formation. EC-130H Compass Call has been continually tested for new capabilities and tactics to cope with future threats.
The crew of this electronic warfare plane consists of 13 people, of which 4 members are responsible for flight and navigation (main pilot, copilot, navigator and aviation engineer). The remaining 9 members will control and use electronic warfare devices integrated in the cargo compartment. The squad consisted of electronic warfare officers, weapons systems officers, mission monitoring officers, 4 intelligence analysis officers (linguists), 1 executive officer who received information and 1 maintenance technician.
EC-130H Compass Call includes 2 upgrades: Baseline 1 and Baseline 2. Block 35 Baseline 1 provides the US Air Force with the ability to jamming communications, early warning radars and enemy positioning systems through higher radiation power, widening the frequency range and digital signal processing techniques. Baseline 2 upgraded a few features to reduce the operating workload as well as improve operational efficiency. The improved communication system allows the crew to maintain situational awareness and stay connected in an electronic warfare environment. Most of the improvements on the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline 2 are secrets for improving accuracy and increasing the effectiveness of electronic attacks. Furthermore, modifying the airframe in Baseline 2 also provides higher performance and survivability.
A total of 14 EC-130H have been produced so far, with an estimated cost of $165 million. All Compass Call aircraft are currently used by the Air Combat Command. EC-130H is operated by 55th Electronic Combat Group, consisting of three Electronic Combat Squadron No. 41st, 42nd and 43rd. Compass Call made its first flight in 1981, officially handed over to the US Air Force in 1982 and entered combat in 1983. During her more than 30-year life cycle, the EC-130H Compass Call has been involved in many military conflicts including Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan, and she has proven valuable.
In September 2017, the Air Force announced that L3 Technologies will serve as the lead systems integrator for a future Compass Call aircraft based on the Gulfstream 550 business jet. The new Compass Call platform has been designated EC-X.