The Air Force is to forge an acquisition strategy for the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC), which is to replace the aging Air Force E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) and Navy E-6B Mercury “Take Charge and Move Out” (TACAMO) aircraft by Boeing [BA].

“Updated capability needs and operational requirements have potentially altered the viable technical solutions for SAOC,” per an Oct. 16 request for information seeking industry input to help develop a SAOC acquisition strategy. “As a result, the government is willing to consider used commercial derivative aircraft. Additionally, the government intends to continue to pursue a full and open acquisition strategy for the entire weapon system using a very large platform. It is anticipated that EMD [engineering and manufacturing development] will result in 2-4 modified EMD aircraft, associated ground support equipment, and a SAOC WS [weapons system] production design.”

The Air Force is to release an RFP this year for SAOC, and the Air Force and Navy have been exploring options for a joint replacement of both nuclear command and control planes under SAOC, redesignated as an ACAT 1D program last year (Defense Daily, Nov. 13).

The ACAT 1D category includes programs with an estimated research and development expense of $525 million or more than $3 billion in procurement in fiscal 2020 dollars.

Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee said that the TACAMO “needs a replacement to ensure the critical communications link with our strategic nuclear forces is not diminished.” The committee urged the Navy “to ensure that this mission continues and that a suitable aircraft design is utilized.”

The committee also wants the Navy to consider facilities and ground communication system upgrades that may be needed to support the follow-on to TACAMO and to use existing facilities and expertise to reduce the overall cost of SAOC.

Last year, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) simulators division awarded a $16 million contract to Oklahoma-based CymSTAR, LLC, to develop and sustain a high fidelity, full motion simulator for E-4B pilots and flight engineers.

The E-4B—known as the “doomsday plane”—is a militarized version of the company’s 747-200 airliner and would serve as the NAOC for the president, defense secretary, and Joint Chiefs of Staff to direct military forces, deliver emergency war orders, and coordinate civil authorities in the case of destruction of ground command and control centers. The FAA “Level C”-equivalent E-4B simulator will fill a training need, AFLCMC said.

The four E-4Bs stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., do not have a dedicated simulator for training, so aircrew members have to either take an aircraft out of operations to train on, or travel out of state to use a commercial 747 simulator, “which does not completely represent the E-4B or its capabilities,” per AFLCMC. “The new simulator will fully replicate the E-4B cockpit and include aerial refueling training capability.”

Delivery of a “Ready For Training” E-4B simulator is expected in April 2022.