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US Navy receives first upgraded E-6B Mercury aircraft

Photo: US Navy

Northrop Grumman Corporation delivered the first modified E-6B Mercury aircraft to the US Navy on June 6.

The E-6B, which serves as an airborne command post and communications relay for US nuclear forces, underwent the upgrades under a contract awarded to Northrop Grumman in February 2022.

Following the award of the Integrated Modification and Maintenance Contract (IMMC), the first airframe went under the integration of five kits, including implementing efficiencies and improving aircraft command, control, and communications functions.

All integrations were completed in approximately one year, reducing the span of future modifications to six months.

The second aircraft for modifications is already in Lake Charles, where Northrop Grumman says it will initiate capability upgrades, integrations, and testing.

These enhancements are aimed to improve command, control, and communications functions that facilitate connectivity between the National Command Authority (NCA) and the United States’ nuclear triad.

Additionally, the company will establish a centralized production line to address core modifications outlined in the $111 million contract.

Scott Pfeiffer, vice president, platform sustainment and mission readiness, Northrop Grumman said “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 US strategic and nonstrategic forces for persistent mission readiness.”

In July 1989, the US Navy introduced the initial E-6A aircraft, produced by Boeing’s defense division, as a replacement for the EC-130Q.

Initially deployed in the TACAMO (“Take Charge And Move Out”) mission, this platform, after upgrades to the E-6B standard, plays a key role in transmitting instructions from the National Command Authority to fleet ballistic missile submarines, facilitating secure and non-secure voice and data transmissions.