Missile monitors

The US Air Force takes the missile threat emanating from North Korea extremely seriously. Former strategic reconnaissance pilot Robert S Hopkins III examines the potentially hazardous work of airborne intelligence-gatherers in the region.

RC/WC-135 missions

RC-135S 62-4128 shows the addition of the multichannel emitter locating system (MUCELS) antennas and ‘cheeks’. The RC-135S cheeks cover TELINT antennas and are not part of the Automatic ELINT Emitter Locating System (AEELS) found on the Rivet Joint. Five small sensor windows above the cheeks are on both sides of the fuselage.

Demand for ongoing intelligence about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DRPK) remains unchanged despite the potential relaxation of global concerns over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to deliver them. Any future agreement that would limit or prohibit testing of North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons will still require verification. Although satellites, ground stations and other aircraft, including U-2s and EP-3Es, contribute to these assessments, two variants of C-135 are regular monitors of the North’s nuclear weapon and ICBM programmes: the RC-135S Cobra Ball and the WC-135C/W Constant Phoenix. Both of these have a well-established legacy of conducting reconnaissance missions around North Korea, and not without some risk.

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