Many of the US E-4B Nightwatch planes, designated to serve as flying command posts for the POTUS, Defence Secretary and Chiefs of Staff in times of war, even nuclear wars, are currently undergoing maintenance or upgrades to bring them up to full operational readiness, the Defence One media outlet reported, citing David Faggard, a spokesman for the Air Force Global Strike Command.
"Several aircraft are in maintenance status to ensure they remain flyable for this no-fail mission for the next decade. Upgrades and maintenance include avionics, wiring, communication equipment, and other components to ensure the platforms remain viable in a modern world", Faggard said.
So has the Nightwatch fleet aged beyond salvation? The planes were introduced back in the 1970s, and the US has only four such aircraft at its disposal. Currently, at least one of them is either flying or is ready to take off at first notice, Defence One reported. Faggard refused to reveal how many E-4B are currently operational, but according to the media outlet, Defence Secretary Mark Esper has already had to switch to other planes for his overseas travels.
US defence secretaries prefer using the E-4Bs, as their equipment allows them to practice "sit" in the Pentagon, and conduct business-as-usual mid-flight, also the 'Nightwatches' are more comfortable, compared to other planes at the military's disposal, Defence One pointed out.
Nevertheless, such use has taken a toll on the strategically important fleet and is currently being limited to reduce wear and tear, according to the media outlet.
Repairs and maintenance of the E-4Bs, made in the 1970s, are becoming ever more challenging for Boeing and the US Air Force has initiated the development of a suitable replacement. But for now, there are no estimates of even approximate dates for their deployment.