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Boeing has been officially excluded from the competition to develop the next “Doomsday Plane,” a successor to the E-4B Nightwatch, the company confirmed on Friday.

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This decision by the US Air Force narrows down the competition, leaving Sierra Nevada Corp as the only known contender for the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) contract. This contract aims to replace the fleet that has been operational since the 1970s.

The Air Force, planning to award the SAOC contract in 2024, has yet to disclose if other firms are in the running. An Air Force spokesperson stated, “We cannot discuss an active source selection and detailed program information is classified.”

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Boeing’s exclusion follows disagreements over data rights and contract terms, specifically, Boeing’s reluctance to agree to a fixed-price contract that would limit cost overruns. Boeing’s defense unit has encountered significant financial losses, amounting to $1.3 billion this year, on fixed-price development programs like NASA’s Starliner and the next Air Force One. The company has accumulated losses of $16.3 billion on such programs since 2014.


In a strategic shift, Boeing seeks more favorable contract conditions in future Pentagon deals. Boeing’s CFO, Brian West, emphasized this in October, saying, “Rest assured, we haven’t signed any fixed-price development contracts nor (do we) intend to.”

The Air Force’s planned investment of $889 million in fiscal 2024 for SOAC development and a total of $8.3 billion through fiscal 2028 highlights the importance of this project.


The E-4B aircraft, typically used for transporting the US Secretary of Defense, doubles as a mobile command post capable of enduring nuclear explosions and electromagnetic effects. The Air Force’s current fleet comprises four E-4B aircraft, highly modified Boeing 747-200 jumbo jets from the 1970s. With parts becoming obsolete, these aircraft have become increasingly challenging and costly to maintain, leading to the need for their replacement by the early 2030s.


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