Northrop Grumman to upgrade SATCOM data link aboard E-6B airborne command post

April 1, 2019

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. — Satellite communications (SATCOM) experts at Northrop Grumman Corp. will build and test advanced SATCOM capability for the U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury strategic airborne command post and communications relay aircraft under terms of an $37.5 million order announced in March.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., are asking the Northrop Grumman Mission Systems segment in Herndon, Va., to provide modifications to the E-6B aircraft involving the plane’s Multi-Role Tactical Common Data Link (MR-TCDL).

Northrop Grumman will provide seven MR-TCDL data link B-kits, one mission avionics systems trainer B-kit, and A- and B-kit spares for the MR-TCDL upgrade aboard the E-6B Mercury.

Northrop Grumman will build new SATCOM equipment for the Navy E-6B Mercury airborne command post, which maintains communications with submerged ballistic submarines at sea.

The Boeing E-6 Mercury is an airborne command post and communications relay aircraft based on the 1950s-vintage stretched Boeing 707-320 narrow-body passenger jetliner. compared to the original 707 jetliner, the E-6 Mercury has new engines and other system upgrades.

The plane conveys instructions from the National Command Authority to deployed Navy nuclear ballistic missile submarines, as well as to land-based atomic missiles and nuclear-armed bombers.

The E-6 Mercury’s MR-TCDL provides secure Ku line-of-sight and Ka SATCOM systems for the E6-B aircraft. The data link includes two Ku line-of-sight channels and one Ka satellite communications channel. Other equipment includes power conditioning, cooling, electrical, and network distribution. The system also has equipment that interfaces Block II B kits into the existing E6-B avionics architecture.

The E-6B provides command and control of U.S. nuclear forces should ground-based control become inoperable. The plane is based on the four-engine Boeing 707 passenger jetliner.

The plane has a battle staff area and new flight deck systems based on modern Boeing 737 avionics. The E-6 flew in 1987, and the first E-6B was accepted in December 1997. The last production E-6B was delivered to the Navy in late 2006.

On this contract modification Northrop Grumman will do the work in Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Boston, and should be finished by October 2021.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Mission Systems online at, or Naval Air Systems Command at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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