NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.–The E-6B Mercury provides an important link in the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrence. It allows survivable communication between the president and the triad of nuclear weapon systems – bombers, missile fields, and ballistic missile submarines.
Sustaining this mission while preparing for the future is becoming even more important as global competition grows.
“This is a critical time for our country,” said Chief of Naval Operations Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in a prepared statement to the House Appropriations Committee, Jan 12. “The People’s Republic of China and Russia are using all elements of their national power to undermine U.S. interests in the global commons.”
Keeping the link of communication open is a “no-fail” mission and one the Airborne Strategic Command, Control and Communications Program Office continues to help accomplish by sustaining the E-6B while also preparing for the future with a recapitalization aircraft.
“Our people understand the mission and the importance of sustaining this vital asset,” said Capt. Adam Scott, program manager. “They know why these aircraft always need to be ready to go.”
During the past year, the program office made several significant sustainment efforts to support the fleet. Spar chord corrosion and stress corrosion cracks were discovered during in-service and depot maintenance. The current spar chord material became obsolete and the team quickly qualified a new material. Manufacturing new spar chords required converting the original 2D drawings into 3D digital files.
An additively manufactured fuel dump manifold was approved for use on the aircraft. The component replaces casted hardware that has been a sustainment concern while saving lead-time over the re-development of traditional casting tooling.
“Being able to look at and attack these sustainment issues as an enterprise has really helped us,” Scott said. “The collaboration across the Naval Aviation Enterprise has been invaluable.”
In September, the fully qualified additively manufactured water separator was approved for use on fleet aircraft. The units are replacing legacy separators that had been a top concern for the past two years.
The program procured a United Kingdom E-3D for use as an E-6B trainer aircraft, which will help increase aircraft availability and readiness.
“The aging aircraft is making it more of a challenge to maintain but we continue to find ways to get the job done and provide operational readiness,” Scott said.
The airframe has been around for more than three decades with the Navy accepting the first E-6A in 1989 to perform the Take Charge and Move Out mission. The aircraft were then modified into the E-6B with added workstations and specialized equipment. The first E-6B aircraft arrived in 1997 with the fleet modification complete by 2003.
“Sustaining our readiness has never been more vital to our nation’s future,” Gilday said. “Meanwhile, our force design requires a relentless focus on modernization to keep our platforms relevant.”
With that in mind, the program has been working on a recapitalization aircraft (E-XX) that will take over the TACAMO mission. The program will use a variant of the militarized C-130J Super Hercules for E-XX TACAMO testing.
The Department of Defense currently uses the C-130J in multiple services, and it is deployed at various bases worldwide. The program office will be acquiring three non-configured aircraft for testing.
The program is also working on communications and mission systems integration contracts for the recapitalization aircraft to help modernize the strategic nuclear deterrent.
“For the nation and our allies, we are making sure the president can reach our strategic forces now and in the future,” Scott said.