- The appearance of E-6B Mercury aircraft, sometimes called “Doomsday Planes,” on a flight tracking system around the same time President Trump announced that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19 sparked speculation that the US military was preparing for a crisis.
- US Strategic Command told Insider that the flights were “pre-planned” and that “any timing to the President’s announcement is purely coincidental.”
- The Joint Staff told another reporter that “there’s been no change to our alert levels” and that “the US military stands ready to defend our country and its citizens.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Just before President Donald Trump announced that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19, a pair of E-6B Mercury aircraft were detected flying along both the East and West Coast, sparking speculation that the armed forces were bracing for a crisis, but the military says that is not the case.
These aircraft, sometimes referred to as “Doomsday Planes,” serve as airborne command and communication planes tasked with carrying out the “Take Charge and Move Out” mission, which involves relaying National Command Authority instructions to the US ballistic missile force that controls nuclear weapons .
Shortly after Trump tweeted that he and the first lady were awaiting test results but before he confirmed that they were positive, Tim Hogan, an open-source intelligence practitioner, tweeted that E-6Bs were flying along both coasts.
His tweet, which drew the interest of thousands of users, said: “I would expect them to pop up if he tests positive. It’s a message to the small group of adversaries with SLBMs and ICBMs.”
“It is very routine to have E-6s up. Do not read anything into this, it isn’t a message to anyone,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at MIT and a nuclear weapons expert, tweeted, adding, “In terms of nuclear command and control, the concern isn’t communication but chain of command in case of POTUS incapacitation, but we are nowhere near there yet.”
“E-6B TACAMOs showing up on ADS-B tracking sites means nothing. They are up all the time,” Tyler Rogoway, the editor of The War Zone, tweeted.
“Tim doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and there is nothing unusual about any E-6 movements,” open-source analyst Steffan Watkins tweeted.
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US strategic nuclear forces, told Insider in a statement that “these flights were pre-planned missions,” further explaining that “any timing to the President’s announcement is purely coincidental.”
“There’s been no change to our alert levels. The US military stands ready to defend our country and its citizens. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces,” a Joint Staff spokesman told Politico’s Laura Seligman.
US officials told Reuters’ Idrees Ali that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is traveling overseas, is not expected to change his travel plans or return to the US ahead of schedule.
And, a senior defense official told Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson that there has so far been “no change to the posture” and that “the President remains the commander-in-chief.”