The US Navy’s fleet of 'Doomsday' planes is getting a major upgrade

The US Navy has begun to revamp their E-6B 'Doomsday' planes.
Christopher McFadden

The first E-6B "Mercury", also known as the Navy's "Doomsday" plane, landed at Northrop Grumman Corporation's Aircraft Maintenance and Fabrication Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on May 9, 2022, for Block II modification, according to the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division.

The Boeing E-6B "Mercury" fleet serves as an airborne command post and communications relay network for the U.S. Navy in case of a nuclear attack. 

The work is part of an Integrated Modification and Maintenance Contract (IMMC), which was granted in February and focuses on getting better airborne strategic communications to the field faster.

“This is an important event because it’s the first time a single company will be responsible for executing the entire installation,” said Bob Stailey, Airborne Strategic Command, Control, and Communications Program Office (PMA-271) E-6B deputy program manager. “NGC Lake Charles built an integrated modification schedule that implements efficiencies and lessons learned from previous efforts.”

The Block II upgrade includes six changes to the aircraft's command, control, and communications systems, which connect the National Command Authority with both strategic and non-strategic troops in the United States.

With a 19-month average turnaround time, the prior modification contract was completed by two different commercial operations and one organic activity. The team hopes to eventually achieve a six-month modification turnaround time with this new IMMC.

“This contract streamlines how we are fielding our capability upgrades,” Stailey said. “We are fully engaged with the fleet and our partners as we reduce the time required for aircraft modifications.”

The efficiency drive to deliver the work has been a team effort with a partnership between the program, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, Defense Contract Management Agency, Strategic Communications Wing One (SCW-1), Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 4, Navy liaison officers and program representative’s onsite in Lake Charles.

“I’m very proud of the entire team and all the work they’ve done to get to this point,” said Capt. Adam Scott, PMA-271 program manager. “It’s taken a big effort and they are constantly looking for ways to identify and overcome any challenges,” he added.

With the enhancements, there will be more aircraft accessible with greater capabilities for the warfighter in a shorter amount of time.

“Our number one priority is ensuring SCW-1 accomplishes its mission providing assured airborne strategic communications and that the president is always connected to his nuclear forces,” Scott said.

PMA-271’s mission is to deliver and support survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications for the President, Secretary of Defense, and U.S. Strategic Command.

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