US Air Force Orders New $13 Billion ‘Doomsday Plane’

Photo Credit: C.v. Grinsven / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images
Photo Credit: C.v. Grinsven / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

The US Air Force has given Sierra Nevada a $13 billion contract to develop a new “Doomsday plane” – essentially, a successor to the Boeing E-4B. The Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) project will replace the aging aircraft fleet, which entered service in the 1970s.

Doomsday plane refueling mid-air from a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker
Photo Credit: USAF / Getty Images

Development on the new Doomsday plane will take place in Nevada, Ohio and Colorado, with Sierra Nevada scheduled to finish work by 2036. Similar to the E-4B, which is a modified Boeing 747-200B, this new iteration will be a derivative of a commercial jet that’s been modified to meet the requirements set out by the US Air Force.

The Air Force currently operates four E-4Bs, with one always at the ready. As technology has advanced and parts become more difficult to come by, the cost of maintaining the fleet has become impractical.

“Replacement of the E-4B fleet is necessary because of aging 1970s-era aircraft approaching end of service life,” a summary by the US government explained.

As Reuters reports, while the E-4B is primarily used to transport the US secretary of defense, it’s designed to serve as an aerial mobile command post in the event of a nuclear attack, with its exterior capable of withstanding atomic blasts. With conference and briefing rooms, as well as communications equipment, also onboard, the government can still run the country and spread information, even when typical means have been destroyed.

Leon Panetta waving from the door of a Doomsday plane parked on the tarmac
Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

To ensure work on the new Doomsday plane can begin as soon as possible, the US Air Force will be providing $59 million for R&D, testing and evaluation. The service hopes to acquire between eight and 10 new aircraft for the SAOC program.

In an email to Defense News, a spokesperson for the service detailed, “The development of this critical national security weapon system ensures the department’s nuclear command, control, and communications capability is operationally relevant and secure for decades to come.”

Along with the actual aircraft itself, the Doomsday plane will require a variety of support personnel, such as an aircrew, those tasked with maintenance and a mission crew, as well as equipment and other systems.

Doomsday plane parked on the runway at night
Photo Credit: HUM Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Sierra Nevada has said of the contract, “SNC is building the airborne command center of the future! SAOC is a highly specialized aircraft that ensures continued critical command, control and communication during national emergencies for POTUS, Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff. We’re honored to support this important mission.”

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The US Department of Defense has revealed that the $13 billion contract includes a fixed-price incentive, a cost-plus-incentive fee and cost-plus-fixed fee components. Both Sierra Nevada and Boeing were in the running to develop the new aircraft, but the latter dropped out after learning there would be cost limitations.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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