As tensions over North Korea's nuclear program mount, the United States Air Force has deployed a WC-135 (a.k.a. the "Nuclear Sniffer"), an aircraft that specializes in detecting radioactive debris after the detonation of a nuclear device, to Okinawa, Japan to assist with monitoring for potential nuclear tests in the region. The aircraft was deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, as confirmed by the Nikkei media outlet reported based on talks with a senior Japan Self Defense Forces official.
According to The Aviationist, the WC-135 can be used to capture atmospheric samples and analyze the fallout residue in real-time to help confirm the characteristics of any nuclear warhead used.
Constant Phoenix flies in direct support of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System, a global network of nuclear detection sensors that monitor underground, underwater, space-based or atmospheric events. As the sole agency in the Department of Defense tasked with this mission, AFTAC’s role in nuclear event detection is critical to senior decision makers in the U.S. government, says the Air Force.
“Our aircraft is equipped with external flow devices that allow us to collect airborne particulate on filter paper and a compressor system for whole air samples,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Wilkens, a 9S100 and airborne operations section chief in a recent release. “The particulate samples are collected using a device that works like an old Wurlitzer jukebox. An arm grabs the paper from its slot and moves it to the exterior of the fuselage. After exposure, it is returned to the filter magazine where a new paper is selected for use. It’s a simple, yet very effective, concept.”
Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters. The mission crews have the ability to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.
The aircraft was supposed to arrive at its Forward Operating Base last month but it was forced to perform an emergency landing at Sultan Iskandar Muda airport in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on its way to Japan, on Mar. 24, following an engine failure.
There are two WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft in service today which are operated by the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, with mission crews staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center.
Of course, this latest news follows an order revealed earlier this week from Pacific Command to turn the USS Carl Vinson strike group toward waters near the Korean peninsula for the second time in recent months, rather than onward to Australia for planned port visits.
Moreover, as we noted this morning, it also follows an unexpected call from Trump to Chinese President Xi this morning to discuss the rapidly developing situation on the peninsula.
“China insists on realizing the denuclearization of the peninsula, insists on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means,” Xi was quoted as saying in the call according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, who said Trump had initiated the call, urged everyone to lower the tension. "We hope that the relevant parties do not adopt irresponsible actions. Under the current circumstances, this is very dangerous," Lu told reporters at a regular press briefing. Kang also said Wednesday at a regular briefing in Beijing that it was a “good thing” that the two leaders were in touch again days after meeting in Florida.
Translation: Trump is strongly urged not to launch a unilateral strike on North Korea as he did on Syria without express Chinese prior approval.