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RC-135S Cobra Ball with New Engines
Initially employed by Strategic Air Command to satisfy nationally tasked reconnaissance requirements, the Boeing RC-135 has participated in every armed conflict involving US assets during its tenure. It has supported operations in Vietnam, the Mediterranean, Grenada, Panama, the Balkans and Southwest Asia. It has maintained a constant presence in Southwest Asia since the early 1990s. All RC-135s are assigned to Air Combat Command. The RC-135 is permanently based at Offutt Air Force Base (AFB), Nebraska and operated by the 55th Wing using various forward operating locations worldwide. RC-135S Cobra Ball is a Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) aircraft which carries infrared telescopes for tracking ballistic-missile tests at long range. Four aircraft are in service, operating out of Offutt AFB and deploying to various locations around the world. Cobra Ball aircraft were originally assigned to Shemya and used to observe ballistic missile tests on the Kamchatka peninsula in conjunction with Cobra Dane and Cobra Judy. The Cobra Ball suite of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and MASINT sensor systems were designed to exploit the enemy electromagnetic spectrum. In war, Cobra Ball could provide rapid recognition of tactical ballistic missile launches following cloud-break and horizon clearance. Within seconds of launch detection, estimates of launch point, intercept point, and impact point are available for transmission over a data link to theater C4I elements. Estimates of increasing accuracy are transmitted during the course of the missile's flight until burnout occurs.
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