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Ever since the first atomic weapon was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 people have wondered what would happen to themselves, their nation, and their military if another weapon was used. Seeing people quickly turned to dust in an atomic explosion and large swarths of territory destroyed, it was imperative for the military to create a plan to maintain its chain of command and survival/continued existence in the event of an even more powerful nuclear weapon blast. This is especially important as even more nations have joined the nuclear club which currently includes China, France, Russia, The United Kingdom, India, North Korea, and Pakistan and it is widely considered that Israel also has nuclear weapons. 

It was during this dark time of fear that the military created a solution, the Doomsday plane. The Doomsday plane is officially known as the the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center and is also known by its other nickname, the Nightwatch. The goal of the plane and it’s forty-two different wide-ranging and state of the art communication systems is to provide a location for the Secretary of Defense, the secretary in the President’s cabinet in charge of defending America and leading wars, to survive; coordinate and communicate with the military; and keep the chain of command open regardless of the outside circumstances. The United States and Russia are the only two nations known to have created such a plane. 

When the Air Force created this plane, they left no details to chance in their efforts to protect the military and our nation. The Air Force Times alerts that the plane features “Specialized masks hang in the cockpit to keep pilots from being blinded by nuclear blasts, and its few windows are covered in a mesh that protects against electromagnetic shockwaves from those explosions.” The plane can call any phone number necessary, receive and transmit messages through radar, radio, satellites, and audiovisual channels, and is able to fly with one hundred and twelve people onboard. 

Is the plane important to national security? “On its best day, the jet offers 5,000 square feet of mobile office space, complete with a secure conference room, media briefing room and a few cots. On its worst, it’s a hub for the president and other federal officials to orchestrate war while remaining airborne for three days at a time” according to the Air Force Times. The plane always has at least one of its engines running when it is on duty, meaning that at a second’s notice the plane could be airborne and serving America. They can serve as a mobile command center in times of natural disaster or power outages when other forms of communication have been disabled. Lastly, while so far only Presidents Reagan and Carter have been acknowledged to have flown on one of these planes, they can carry any combination of leaders as necessary to support the military’s mission. 

As with any platform, these planes are not without downsides. The planes require a large contingent of maintenance workers, communication technicians, pilots, engineers, military action forces, and flight attendants all of whom can be difficult to come by from time to time. The emergence of the Space Force has added to competition for some of these positions. The flights also require heavy maintenance which can result in a particular airplane from the small fleet being out of commission for over a month. The plane is also a major communications hub, but it lacks the ability to carry out orders to weapons systems and needs to partner with the Navy’s E-6 plane in order to order the use of weapons systems of which the delay could reduce their readiness. 

The Doomsday plane is an ever evolving communications system as the military is buying five new B-747–8s from Korean Air to replace some of the older planes and to upgrade with some new models and features according to the Aviationist. Furthermore, CNN reports that Sierra Nevada, an airplane manufacturer, has won a contract to provide a new generation of the Doomsday plane, the Survivable Airborne Operations Center, which they hope will be airborne in the 2030’s. 

What should the future hold for the Doomsday plane? While there are significant hurtles in the competition for acquiring members for its large crew and significant maintenance hurdles, the plane is essential in maintaining the readiness of our armed forces and it is vital in maintaining continuity of government in light of a natural or manmade disaster, or worse yet, a nuclear attack. While undoubtably improvements could be made, the Doomsday plane is at the center of our nation’s self-defense and its proud crew serves America night and day protecting and keeping America safe. It is very exciting to see what the next generation of planes holds. 

Sources: 

Does America need its ‘Doomsday plane’?
The E-4B National Airborne Operations Center – also known as “Nightwatch” – is built to withstand a nuclear attack and…www.airforcetimes.com

Sierra Nevada Corp. Buys Five B-747-8s After Winning ‘Doomsday’ Plane Replacement Contract
The five B-747-8s procured by Sierra Nevada Corp are likely going to be converted for the replacement of the U.S. Air…theaviationist.com

Former passenger jets bought by US firm tasked with creating next generation nuclear ‘Doomsday’…
That economy-class seat you once occupied while flying in Asia might one day be the very place from where the United…www.cnn.com

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