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First US doomsday plane completes communications upgrade

E-4B doomsday plane
Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s fleet of E-4B aircraft that serve as an airborne command post in case of a nuclear attack or other large scale conflict is in the process of receiving upgrades designed to revolutionize communication capabilities and effectiveness.

Recently, the first of four E-4B aircraft completed developmental testing, after receiving the Low Frequency Transmit System (LFTS) and Advanced Extremely High Frequency Presidential National Voice Conferencing Integration Program (APIP) modifications.

“These modifications are game changing,” said Lt. Col. Ben Chown, E-4B Materiel Leader for the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate, responsible for leading the modification efforts. “The LFTS mod provides revolutionary single wire low frequency communication capability, while APIP transforms reliability and survivability of the E-4B SATCOM and national leadership command and control systems.”

A key part of the modification effort, was the work done by the Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence, and Networks Directorate, to escort, secure, and transfer crypto materials integral to the evaluation, testing, and operation of the aircraft’s communications systems.

Additionally, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications Integration Directorate acquired the APIP systems via two different programmatic efforts, and served as technical advisors as system performance was verified.

“Superior communication capabilities are essential on the battlefield,” said Brig. Gen. Ryan Britton, Program Executive Officer for the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate. “The revolutionary technology that these modifications provide, delivers the United States an incredible strategic advantage for command and control.”

Boeing and Collins Aerospace are installing the LFTS modification, and Raytheon Technologies is installing the APIP mod on the aircraft.

Commonly known as the “doomsday” plane, the E-4B serves as the National Airborne Operations Center, and is a key component of the National Military Command System. In the event of a national emergency, the aircraft can provide a command, control and communication center to direct US forces and coordinate actions by civil authorities.

The three remaining aircraft in the E-4B fleet will receive the modifications over the next few years during their standard programmed depot maintenance cycles.