Northrop Grumman delivers 1st upgraded US Navy 'Doomsday' plane

The United States Navy has officially received the first of twelve modified and upgraded E-6B "Mercury" aircraft from Northrop Grumman.
Christopher McFadden
Northrop Grumman delivers first modified E-6 B "Mercury."

Northrop Grumman/US Navy 

The United States Navy has officially accepted the first upgraded and modernized Northrop Grumman E-6B "Mercury" aircraft. This venerable "Doomsday" aircraft forms the backbone of the Navy's communication network between the Whitehouse and the United States' nuclear submarine fleet. This shipment forms part of the larger $111 million contract with Northrop Grumman to maintain the viability of these aircraft into the foreseeable future.

The Naval Air Systems Command, responsible for acquiring aircraft for the service, announced today that the project was completed over the past year, and the plane was officially accepted this month. “The $111 million contract provides six major modifications — called Block II — to improve the aircraft’s command, control, and communications functions connecting the National Command Authority with U.S. strategic and nonstrategic forces,” according to the Navy statement.

In February 2022, Northrop was awarded the integrated maintenance and modification contract to upgrade the E-6B fleet, a variant of the commercial Boeing 707. The upgrades are taking place at Northrop's Lake Charles, Louisiana facilities. Also, according to the Navy's statement, the company has been contracted to overhaul several E-6B "Mercury" aircraft by 2027. Per a service spokeswoman informing Breaking Defense today, Northrop will upgrade 12 E-6Bs.

“Northrop Grumman is leveraging cutting-edge technology in modernization, supporting the Navy’s mission to provide survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority (NCA) and U.S. strategic and nonstrategic forces for persistent mission readiness,” Scott Pfeiffer, vice president of platform sustainment and mission readiness at Northrop Grumman, said in a company statement today.

According to the company's statement, the second aircraft set for upgrades has arrived at their Lake Charles facility, and the work is already underway. The aircraft is designed with specialized equipment that enables its operators to communicate with the Navy's submarine fleet, even underwater. This equipment can be utilized to transmit directives from the President in case the submarines are required to launch their nuclear weapons.

According to the Navy, the E-6B fleet operates from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma under Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadrons 3 and 4 commands. These squadrons are part of Strategic Communications Wing One. In separate yet related news, Northrop Grumman is also set to compete with Collins Aerospace for the E-XX TACAMO program that is penciled in to replace the E-6B fleet eventually. This program will involve the collaboration of a Lockheed-built aircraft and communication equipment made by Collins Aerospace to create a replacement for the E-6B in the coming decade.

The two companies are vying for the opportunity to integrate the chosen equipment and to design and furnish the remaining parts of the aircraft. The Navy made it known through a public notice in April that they plan on awarding the contract by September 2024.

Northrop has formed a team for the upcoming competition, including business units from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, Crescent Systems, a Texas-based firm specializing in hardware and software systems engineering, and Long Wave Inc., a company from Oklahoma that focuses on strategic communications systems. Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of Raytheon, has also recruited Sierra Nevada Corp., an aerospace firm, to join its team for the competition, but has not disclosed any other partners.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board