The specter of nuclear war may have faded from the daily headlines since the Cold War, but the US Air Force is ensuring its preparedness with a hefty investment.

On Friday (April 26), the Department of the Air Force announced a $13 billion contract awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp. for the development and production of the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC), the next-generation command center aircraft.

This new aircraft will replace the E-4B Nightwatch planes, more commonly known by the ominous nickname “doomsday planes.”

E-4B Nightwatch: A Legacy Forged in Cold War Tensions

The E-4B Nightwatch is a heavily modified Boeing 747-200, a commercial airframe transformed into a flying fortress during the late 1970s.

The backdrop for this project was a world characterized by intense rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union, with both sides possessing devastating nuclear arsenals.

The E-4B’s primary purpose was to serve as an airborne refuge for the President, the Secretary of Defense, and other key members of the National Command Authority in the event of a nuclear attack.

The exact technical specifications of the E-4B remain classified, but it’s widely believed to be equipped with hardened electronics and advanced shielding to protect against the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by a nuclear detonation.

Refueling capabilities ensure extended airborne endurance, allowing the President and his advisors to maintain control and communication with military forces even amidst a global catastrophe.