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An overview of the NAOC and E-4B Nightwatch

  • Published
  • By Col. David Leaumont and Michael Cardoza
  • 595th Command and Control Group

(Editor’s note: commentary by 595th Command and Control Group leadership, Col. David Leaumont and Michael Cardoza)

Well into its fourth decade of service, the E-4B aircraft continues to provide a worldwide, survivable, and enduring command center for the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

When a select team of aircrew, mission system operators, and maintainers from the 595th Command and Control Group (595th C2G) are combined with a highly specialized joint battle staff and an elite Raven security detail, the E-4B transforms into the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC). 

The NAOC’s unique, no-fail, 24/7 mission is achieved with a very small fleet of only four aircraft. Maintaining a highly complex 1970’s-era aircraft only gets more demanding as the years pass and the E-4B moves closer to retirement.  A focused plan to maximize mission capabilities and more effectively sustain the fleet hit high gear over the past two years. A collaborative effort between the Joint Staff, Air Force Global Strike Command, the E-4B Program Office, the 595th C2G, and numerous mission partners resulted in several initiatives designed to improve overall aircraft availability, maximize training opportunities, and maintain uninterrupted mission capability until a planned replacement aircraft is fielded.

Some examples of ongoing initiatives include:

  • Adding additional manpower to depot maintenance, with the goal of reducing depot timelines. Every day saved in depot is an extra day available for mission execution.
  • Funding additional manpower positions to the local maintenance unit. The Air Force often conducts deep-dive manpower requirement assessments, with recent studies validating unit maintenance is roughly 35 percent under-manned. Additional maintenance billets were approved and are a high priority to fill.
  • Implementing a new construct for home station periodic maintenance to provide approximately 30 additional days of aircraft availability per aircraft per year.  This will free up additional manpower to tackle daily maintenance needs.
  • Partnering with NASA to acquire thousands of aircraft spare parts from the recently retired 747 test aircraft - a significant boost to sustainment efforts of the E-4B fleet until retirement.
  • Fielding the first-ever E-4B flight deck simulator. This highly realistic, full-motion system allows aircrew and maintainers to conduct training not previously available when aircraft were otherwise tasked.

The E-4B aircraft and the NAOC mission it supports are a vital part of the National Military Command System and are relied upon by our nation’s most senior civilian and military leadership.  Although challenged by a low density/high demand fleet, the ongoing efforts by mission partners across the Department of Defense and industry will ensure continued mission success well into the future.