As the threat of Soviet nuclear weapons grew in the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force needed a way to ensure that its strategic forces could be controlled after a Soviet attack. The Emergency Rocket Communications System (ERCS) made sure that national and military leaders could send pre-recorded attack orders to Strategic Air Command bombers and missiles if land-based and airborne command and control systems were destroyed.
Each ERCS unit comprised two powerful UHF transmitters and was to be launched at a very high trajectory in place of a nuclear warhead on a Minuteman missile. ERCS could transmit nuclear orders or "go codes" to receivers within its line of sight -- bombers in flight and ground-based nuclear forces in the US and around the world -- for up to 30 minutes.
Allied Signal Aerospace Communications Systems produced the ERCS system. Planning for ERCS began in 1961, with the first successful test flight the following year on a small Blue Scout Junior rocket. An interim system using these rockets remained in place until late 1967, when ERCS became operational on six Minuteman II missiles at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. By the mid 1980s, the ERCS system included up to 12 Minuteman II missiles of Whiteman's 351st Strategic Missile Wing, 510th Strategic Missile Squadron. With the introduction of secure communications satellites, ERCS became unnecessary and was inactivated in 1991.