Aviation enthusiasts online pointed out that a pair of Boeing E-6B Mercurys were launched early Friday at around the time that President Trump’s announced that he and the first lady were diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Pentagon and the United States Strategic Command did not immediately respond to calls and an email from Fox News seeking confirmation, but eagle-eyed trackers on social media reported that one Boeing E-6B Mercury was flying off the eastern coast of the U.S. and that another was in the air above Oregon.
The E-6 is used by the government to convey instructions to the fleet of ballistic submarines the United States has in waters around the world, which can deploy nuclear-tipped Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs.
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The planes are part of Operation Looking Glass – known today as Airborne Command Post, or ABNCP – and are used to provide command and control of U.S. nuclear forces if any ground-based command centers are either destroyed or inoperable.
There was speculation that the airborne command posts were deployed as a warning to any of Washington’s enemies after news broke of Trump’s positive test for the novel coronavirus.
The U.S. Navy, which operates a fleet of 16 E-6Bs, normally has at least one of the planes in the air at all times and it is not uncommon for two of the four-engine planes to be in flight.
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While military planes generally turn off their transponders in order to avoid being tracked, the two E-6Bs in the air early Friday morning had left theirs on, with the assumption being that their crews want to be seen.
“It’s a message to the small group of adversaries with SLBMs and [intercontinental ballistic missiles],” Tim Hogan, a noted open-source intelligence practitioner tweeted.