Lockheed Martin unveils the U.S. Navy's next doomsday plane

It will eventually replace the existing E-6B Mercury planes being used currently.
Ameya Paleja
Lockheed Martin's C130J Hercules aircraft.Lockheed Martin

At the Sea-Air-Space Exposition being held by the Navy League near Washington D.C., Lockheed Martin has provided the first glimpse of the Navy's next "Doomsday plane", the EC-130J, The Drive reported.

With geopolitical tensions having the potential to escalate rather quickly, as we have seen in the recent conflict in Ukraine and the threat of a nuclear war imminent, the U.S. needs to be prepared with commanding centers that can remain operational even in extreme circumstances. A "Doomsday Plane" is designed and kept ready at all times for such an eventuality. 

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TACAMO Missions

Recently, we had covered the Illyushin II-80, the Russian doomsday plane, and compared it to the U.S. Air Force's counterpart, the Boeing E-4B. The U.S. Navy also operates a similar command and control aircraft that it refers to as the Take Charge And Move Out or TACAMO mission. 

The Navy is currently using Boeing's E-6B Mercury aircraft for this purpose and currently has 16 such aircraft that can connect and command ballistic missile submarines of the naval fleet. The aircraft has been in service since 1989 and the U.S. Navy has made plans for their eventual replacement operational. 

By choosing the proven airframe of the "Hercules" EC-130J aircraft, the Navy has repeated Cold War-era history, when a previous variant, the EC-130Q served TACAMO missions. 

The EC-130J Aircraft

Powered by four Rolls Royce AE turboprop engines, this almost 100 feet long aircraft has a cruise speed of 400 mph and climbs at 2,100 feet per minute to reach operational altitude in less than 15 minutes. 

Used largely to transport cargo, the aircraft has a load-carrying capacity of 130,000 pounds.  It has a crew capacity of six-plus, which includes five electronic communication system operators. 

While the Lockheed Martin display was only an artist's rendering of the upcoming aircraft, long trailing wires for very-low-frequency (VLF) communication were evident in the images. The Drive reported that the satellite communication gear was visible on the wing tips, rear fuselage as well as landing gear fairings. 

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In a press release, Collins Aerospace, a unit of Raytheon Technologies, has already confirmed that it has been awarded the contract for the VLF equipment that will be integrated into the C-130J aircraft for the Navy's TACAMO mission.  

A spokesperson for the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division told The Drive that the Navy preferred a domestically made small aircraft for the mission. With four engines, the aircraft met mission parameters and continue to be operational even with an engine out. 

The TACAMO mission also requires aircraft to make steep and tight banking turns at slow speeds to maximize communication efficiency and the 130-J offered a highly trusted and proven airframe for operations. 

The testing of the aircraft will begin around 2026.