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US Air Force awards Sierra Nevada Corporation contract to build Survivable Airborne Operations Center

One of four Boeing E-4Bs, which SAOC is intended to replace. (US Air Force)

The US Air Force (USAF) awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) a USD13 billion contract to build the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC), intended to replace the Boeing E-4B Nightwatch as the service's airborne nuclear command-and-control aircraft and primary transport for the secretary of defence. The contract was announced on 26 April, and is set to run through July 2036.

The contract covers ground support systems, including mission trainers, maintenance trainers, and system integration laboratories, among other necessary equipment.

“To satisfy operational requirements, the weapon system will be comprised of a commercial derivative aircraft that will be hardened and modified to meet military requirements,” said the USAF in the contract announcement. “Additionally, the mission system will integrate secure communications and planning capabilities on modern information technology, infrastructure, based on a Modular Open System Approach (MOSA).”

The number and type of aircraft included in the contract are publicly undisclosed, but the USAF currently operates four E-4Bs, which entered service in 1980 according to Janes C4ISR & Mission Systems: Air and are approaching the end of their service lives.

SNC had declined to comment at the time of publication.

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