Navy, Air Force Begin Airborne Command Post Replacement Concept
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy and the Air Force have begun to look at a replacement for the current strategic deterrent airborne command post and communication aircraft, service officials said.
The airborne command post (ABNCP) role of commanding the strategic deterrent forces and the Navy’s airborne TACAMO (“Take Charge and Move Out”) strategic Very-Low Frequency communications platform serving ballistic-missile submarines are both vested in the Navy’s fleet of 16 Boeing-built E-6B Mercury aircraft.
During the 1990s, when the Air Force retired its EC-135 ABNCP aircraft, the mission systems were installed in the Navy’s E-6 aircraft to combine the two missions. The mission systems have been upgraded but the airframes, based on the Boeing 707 airliner, are aging.
During March 8 testimony on strategic deterrent forces before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. John Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, was asked if the E-6B fleet could resume a 24/7 airborne alert posture if needed.
“That is a good theoretical question, because when the theoretical question was put on the whiteboard, it worked, but when we have an airplane that is that old, how long you can actually keep that going is the question,” Hyten said. “Since we haven’t done 24/7 for a while, that is a risk issue. We know we can execute it for a significant period of time, but we don’t know if it’s one, two, three, four months, because it is an old airplane.
“Our airborne command and control across the board, including the ABNCP and the TACAMO, which is the same aircraft right now, both have recapitalization initiatives out in the future,” he said. “We need to start looking at that now. So I’ve asked the Navy to start looking at that. I know they’re going through an analysis right now to determine what the right way is to get after those.”
“We are jointly working on a common airframe to satisfy the missions of both services,” said Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, also testifying at the hearing. “We currently have a plan in place to extend the service life of our E-6s out to 2038, which would make them 49 years old. That cannot be the final solution here. We’re looking at a way to get at a joint program or at least a common airframe to satisfy both missions.”