No, the US military did not mobilize its ‘doomsday planes’ in response to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis

Image
US Navy Boeing E-6B Mercury of Strategic Communications Wing One refuelling high over Colorado. U.S. Air Force photo/Greg L. Davis
  • The appearance of E-6B Mercury aircraft, sometimes called “doomsday planes,” on a flight-tracking system around the same time President Donald 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 the flights were “pre-planned” and that “any timing to the President’s announcement is purely coincidental.”
  • “There’s been no change to DoD alert levels. The US military stands ready to defend our country and interests,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Just before President Donald Trump announced that he and the first lady had tested positive for COVID-19, two E-6B Mercury aircraft were detected flying along both the East and West coasts, triggering speculation that the armed forces were preparing for a crisis, but the military said that was 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 nuclear ballistic missile force.

Shortly after Trump tweeted that he and Melania were awaiting test results, but before he confirmed that they were positive,Tim Hogan, an open-source-intelligence practitioner, tweeted that E-6Bs were suddenly visible 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.”

Several reports linking the flights and the president’s announcement followed, but experts and aviation reporters were quick to say that E-6Bs are regularly in the air for one reason or another and can be found on flight-tracking sites.

“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 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,” the 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,” adding that “any timing to the President’s announcement is purely coincidental.”

“There’s been no change to DoD alert levels. The US military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

The Pentagon added that there were no plans to have Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, who is travelling overseas, return to the US early.

A senior defence official told Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson there has so far been “no change to the posture” and that “the President remains the commander in chief.”