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USAF Awards Sierra Nevada $13B ‘Doomsday’ Plane Contract

The US Air Force has contracted Sierra Nevada to develop and produce the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) to replace the E-4B.

Sierra Nevada was the award’s sole contender after Boeing bowed out of the competition in December over contract terms.

The $13-billion contract is scheduled for completion by July 2036 and includes associated ground systems, production aircraft, and interim contractor support.

A total of $59 million has already been allocated for research, development, testing, and evaluation for fiscal 2024.

‘Doomsday’ Plane

Dubbed the “doomsday” plane for its ability to survive a nuclear war, the E-4B serves as the airborne operations center for the US President, the US Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a national emergency or destruction of ground command and control centers.

Based on a modified Boeing 747-200, the aircraft has been operational since the 1970s and is nearing the end of its service life. 

Four aircraft are operational, each featuring a command work area, conference room, briefing room, operations team work area, communications area, and rest area.

It is protected against electromagnetic pulses and nuclear and thermal effects, and supports highly survivable advanced electronics and a wide variety of communications equipment.


The SAOC consists of a modern communications subsystem, networks subsystem, and advanced command and control subsystems.

The first replacement is expected to arrive in 2032 and the last in 2036.

It will be based on a hardened and modified commercial aircraft with a modular open systems approach.

“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,” Defense News quoted an US Air Force spokesperson as saying.

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