The Doomsday Plane

Formally known as the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), this is an E-4B, the plane that America's military leaders would use as an airborne command and control center in the case of a nuclear war or other very serious conflict.
Actually, there are four of the planes, each identical to the others, and all based out of this Air Force Base just south of Omaha that is also home to Though nominally 747-200s -- the same as Air Force One -- the E-4Bs have been outfitted with what is likely the most complete and sophisticated spectrum of communications equipment ever flown.

Always on alert
Despite its primary purpose, the world has changed enough that no one is particularly worried that a nuclear war could break out at any time. Still, there is never a moment when one of the E-4Bs isn't on ready alert. That means the plane's crew is stationed at a barracks near the tarmac and can have the plane ready to take off with a moment's notice. Baude wouldn't say exactly how long it would take to get airborne but insisted that the crews are trained to be fast enough to "meet our needs and ensure survivability."
One of the key elements of that is that an essential part of the crew is a set of maintenance staff who are certified to start the plane's engines, meaning that when the pilots arrive, they can begin taxiing immediately. They may be among the only maintenance staff in the world with such training.
Still, the planes have never been needed to run a war. The most serious situation any one of them has ever been called into was on September 11, 2001, when the plane "launched and did its job," Baude said.

Each of the NAOC planes is outfitted with a broad array of communications gear. That includes a very-low frequency antenna that can be trailed up to five miles behind the plane and a giant hump on top of the fuselage that provides super-high frequency and Milstar communications. The Air Force defines Milstar as a "joint service satellite communications system that provides secure, jam resistant, worldwide communications to meet essential wartime requirements for high priority military users. The multi-satellite constellation links command authorities with a wide variety of resources, including ships, submarines, aircraft and ground stations."In essence, Baude said, the communications platform gives military leaders "the assurance that they'll be able to talk to the forces."In addition, the plane offers leaders just about every level of communications, from wide-open to completely secure. They have Internet functionality and the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, by radio or telephone. "If there's someone out there with a radio, we can talk to them," Baude said. Or, "if it has a phone number, [we] will get through."

Battle staff
The Doomsday plane has three floors. The main -- middle -- area is for "battle staff," and at the center is a battle staff room, where officers from each of America's military services would work in a crisis. These officers have the ability to function on behalf of senior level leaders, Baude explained, and together have knowledge of America's big-picture strategic level forces. As well, they understand the nation's infrastructure, including our power grids, and who they would need to talk to at the state and local levels in case of an emergency. They also have a deep understanding of national intelligence issues, and can brief senior leaders about almost any situation.Baude is one of the NAOC team chiefs, a role filled by an Army or Air Force colonel or a Navy captain. A team chief is in charge of the plane, and its mission, when it's on alert.And at all times, there's a NAOC plane on alert, most likely at Offutt Air Force Base, in case it's needed. If it is, Baude and his crew -- or one of the other three that can get a Doomsday plane in the air in must minutes -- are ready to jump into action. Given the plane's nickname, we can all hope that most serious of missions never happens.

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