The Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post (AACP), the current “Nightwatch” aircraft, is a strategic command and control military aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force recently designated the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) Weapon System (WS) program as an ACAT (Acquisition Category) 1D program.
Following the designation, the acquisition strategy is being updated and coordinated with stakeholders. For ACAT 1D programs, the Milestone Decision Authority (MDA) is Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD(AT&L)).
The Air Force said that as a result of the designation, the Request for Proposal (RFP) originally planned for release in December 2020 is delayed. The service added that the updated schedule will be released in the near future.
Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble was the first to report on the designation.
The Air Force is seeking to replace its Boeing E-4B Nightwatch aircraft under its Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) Weapon System (WS) program.
“Replacement of the E-4B fleet is necessary due to aging 1970s-era aircraft approaching [the] end of service life. In order to satisfy operational requirements, the SAOC WS will be supported on a new, cost-effective, commercial derivative aircraft (CDA)”, said a presolicitation notice issued last December by the Air Force.
The SAOC Mission systems will consist of a modern communications subsystem, networks subsystem, and advanced command and control (C2) subsystems.
Nicknamed the “doomsday plane”, the E-4B serves as a survivable aerial command center for the National Command Authority (NCA), namely the President, the Secretary of Defense, and successors, in case of national emergency or destruction of ground command control centers. An E-4B when in action is denoted a “National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC)”.
The aircraft, based on Boeing 747-200B commercial airliner, provides a “highly survivable command, control and communications center to direct US forces, execute emergency war orders and coordinate actions by civil authorities,” according to the Air Force.
The Air Force has four E-4Bs in active service; all operated by the USAF’s 1st Airborne Command Control Squadron (1 ACCS) which is part of the 595th Command and Control Group at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. Two of these aircraft, which are designed to withstand a nuclear blast, were damaged when a tornado hit near Offutt AFB on June 16, 2017, causing $8.3 million worth of damage. These E-4Bs were out of service for eleven weeks while the repairs took place.