Launch of E-6 Nuclear Command Plane Not Tied to Trump's COVID-19 Diagnosis: Pentagon

Navy Boeing E-6B Mercury.
United States Navy Boeing E-6B Mercury of Strategic Communications Wing ONE, Task Group 114.2, based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, high over Colorado Aug. 23, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Greg L. Davis)

U.S. Strategic Command's flight early Friday of at least two Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft, known as the "looking glass" planes for airborne control of the nuclear arsenal, was "coincidental" and not in response to President Donald's Trump's positive test for COVID-19, the Defense Department said.

"With regard to reports about E-6B aircraft on alert status, STRATCOM has confirmed these E-6B aircraft were part of pre-planned missions. Any timing to the president's announcement was purely coincidental," Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said in a statement.

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"There's been no change to DoD alert levels, [but the military] stands ready to defend our country and interests," he added. "Our national command and control structure is in no way affected."

Unlike the E-4B Nightwatch aircraft, typically known as the "Doomsday plane" because of its nuclear command-and-control mission from the sky, the E-6B serves as an airborne communications relay between the Defense Department's National Command Authority and U.S. nuclear submarine, bomber and missile forces.

Earlier on Friday, an aircraft spotter observed a pair of E-6 aircraft on both coasts just minutes before the president tweeted that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.

In recent months, other aircraft spotters have seen an uptick in the airborne command posts' flights -- sometimes in rapid sequence. Experts on Twitter also noted that STRATCOM routinely conducts these types of exercises, especially in the fall months.

The combatant command on Thursday tweeted its own photos of various aircraft readying for a series of exercises meant to test units' agility in deploying around the world.

"After #Americans went to sleep last night, command and control aircraft & strategic long-range bombers conducted a global mission that SUCCESSFULLY tested our #readiness & integrated capabilities," STRATCOM said Sept. 30. "Great work by everyone involved! #Deterrence #Assurance #CombatReadyForce."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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