December 05, 2019

E-4B Replacement Effort Seeks Industry Input

 By Rachel S. Cohen

Air Force officials will gather more information on a future aircraft fleet to replace the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, also known as the “Nightwatch” or “Doomsday” plane, at an industry day in February 2020.

The service’s fiscal 2020 budget request noted that the Defense Department could choose one airframe to consolidate the capabilities offered by the Air Force’s E-4B and the Navy’s E-6B Mercury into an “optimized fleet” dubbed the “Survivable Airborne Operations Center,” or SAOC. Officials previously considered replacing the VC-25, used as Air Force One, and C-32A executive transport planes as part of the effort.

E-4s have been in service since the 1970s as flying emergency command centers in case of nuclear war or other crises. 

“SAOC … will be a key component of the National Military Command System for the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the Air Force said in a Dec. 4 notice. “In case of national emergency or destruction of ground command control centers, the SAOC aircraft will provide a highly survivable command, control, and communications platform to direct US forces, execute emergency war orders, and coordinate actions by civil authorities.”