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The Air Force has awarded a $13 billion contract to Sierra Nevada Corp. to replace the United States aging E-4B Nightwatch “doomsday” planes that are used to transport the Secretary of Defense and would be used in the event of a nuclear war. 

The Department of the Air Force revealed that Sierra Nevada Corp. is set to develop and produce the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC). This new aircraft will replace the E-4B Nightwatch. The completion of this project is targeted for July 10, 2036, with an immediate allocation of $59 million from the Air Force for research, development, testing, and evaluation.

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According to an Air Force spokesman, “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.”

Historically, the E-4B has served as the National Airborne Operations Center, designed to enable presidential command over military forces in dire scenarios. These aircraft have been operational since the 1970s, thus nearing the end of their functional lifespan. According to the Pentagon’s announcement, Sierra Nevada’s efforts will include not only the aircraft themselves but also the associated ground systems, interim contract support, and engineering and manufacturing development aircraft.


The work on the SAOC will be conducted across multiple states, including Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, and others, utilizing a modified version of a commercial derivative aircraft equipped with modern, secure communication and planning capabilities. 


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