Lockheed EC-130H Compass Call History

The EC-130H "Compass Call" is a dedicated Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) platform based on the hugely successful Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport airframe. The modified aircraft retains the basic appearance of the original but is stocked with state-of-the-art technology that enables the United States Air Force (USAF) to jam or disrupt enemy communications. In addition to the basic EWA functions, the EC-130 can also be utilized to suppress enemy air defense networks and supply "counter-information" as needed. The end effect is to strongly limit enemy communications infrastructure and severely debilitate coordinated actions against friendly forces, in effect removing the advantage an enemy may perceive to have. Modernization programs have continually branched out the capabilities of the base EC-130 system to keep pace with the requirements of the modern battlefield. The EC-130H can be clearly identified by the masses of antenna fixtures and wiring found along the fuselage sides, roof and tail planes.

The EC-30H completed her first flight in 1981 and was entered into USAF service in 1982 at a cost of $65 million USD per aircraft with operational capability being reached in 1983. To date, only fourteen of these very specialized airframes have seen service and all maintain an active status in the inventory of the USAF. They are fielded out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base but serve under the 55th Wing out of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Lockheed is the notable chief contractor of the EC-130, BAe Systems supplies the prime mission equipment while L-3 Communications is responsible for aircraft integration and depot maintenance.

Design of the EC-130H naturally followed that of the original C-130. The fuselage was of a stout, somewhat cylindrical design with the C-130's identifiable high-set monoplane wings. Each wing was fitted with two underslung nacelles mounting powerful turboprop engines giving the airframe a Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) quality already inherent in the original C-130. Optional underwing equipment pods could be fitted between each engine nacelle or outboard of them when needed. The cockpit flight deck was held well-forward in the design with the mission area within the fuselage itself. The empennage was dominated by a large vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal tail planes. The aircraft is crewed by no fewer than 13 personnel made up of two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator, two dedicated electronic warfare specialist officers, a mission crew supervisor, and acquisition operator, a maintenance technician and four crypto-logic linguists. While not serving any conventional weapons for offensive or defensive attacks per se, the EC-130H manages "non-kinetic energy waveforms" as its primary armament.

Power continues to be supplied by an effective arrangement of 4 x Allison T56-A-15 series turboprop engines delivering up to 4,910 horsepower to four-bladed propeller systems. Maximum speed is listed at approximately 300 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. Internal fuel capacity is 62,000lbs offering a range of 2,295 miles. Maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is listed at 155,000lbs and the aircraft maintains a wingspan of 132 feet, 7 inches.

The EC-130H has since been upgraded through the Block 30 and Block 35 initiatives. The former introduced a new, revised mission area along with an upgraded operating system. The latter has extended the power and reach of the onboard Early Warning and Acquisition Radar suites as well as introducing improved navigation and digital signal processing.

The EC-130H has been purposely designed as a highly flexible combat element allowing it to serve anywhere in the world and at all operational levels as needed while working against very short delivery timeframes. The EC-130H works in conjunction with other existing USAF specialty aircraft such as the Northrop Grumman EA-6B "Prowler" and General Dynamics F-16CJ "Fighting Falcon" to form a powerful triangle of suppression and jamming services to help give whatever possible advantage to American air power and friendly forces throughout a given operation.

To date, the EC-130H Compass Call platform has seen active military service over Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan, proving her worth time and again.

Lockheed EC-130H Compass Call Specification


Active, Limited Service


[ 14 Units ]:
Lockheed; L-3 Communications - USA / BAe Systems - UK


- Electronic Warfare (EW)



96.13 ft (29.3 m)


130.25 ft (39.7 m)


37.40 ft (11.4 m)


Empty Weight:

101,000 lb (45,813 kg)


153,772 lb (69,750 kg)

(Diff: +52,772lb)


4 x Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines developing 4,591 horsepower each.


Maximum Speed:

300 mph (483 kph; 261 kts)

Service Ceiling:

25,000 feet (7,620 m; 4.73 miles)

Maximum Range:

2,295 miles (3,694 km; 1,995 nm)


No conventional weapons nor munitions carried.


EC-130H - Base Series Designation; 14 examples produced in all with all serving actively in the inventory of the USAF.

EC-130H Block 30 - Program Upgrade; revised mission area; upgraded software.

EC-130H Block 35 - Program Upgrade; Additional jamming capability; improved Early Warning and Acquisition systems; extended frequency ranges; digital signal processing.


Lockheed EC-130H Compass Call
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