Air Force One’s most important mission is to support managing an apocalypse. The daily function of the vehicles is, of course, regular transport of the president of the United States, an airborne White House that transports the functions of the executive branch to wherever it may travel.
But it is as a command center in crisis, up to and including nuclear war, that the special modifications of highly customized Boeing 747s are most valuable. In all of that, it is the ability of the airplane to continue to communicate with people on the ground that matters most.
On Sept. 6, the United States Defense Information Systems Agency awarded Viasat a contract worth $55.6 million a year to provide U.S. government senior leader and VIP aircraft with in-flight broadband and connectivity services. Valued at $559.8 million for the base year and seven follow-on years, the contract may, in a major crisis, prove that value in maintaining a consistent chain of command. Viasat first won a contract to provide the bandwidth in 2016.
“The service enables an elite connectivity experience with the ability to use the in-flight broadband connection to stream full-motion high-definition video for en-route command-and-control (C2) missions,” says Viasat. It also, Viasat continues, allows the people on board the connected aircraft “to access real-time intelligence and other location-based, live-sensor data for critical decision-making and more.”
With the broadband provided by the Viasat connection, a president on board Air Force One can receive the relevant intelligence reports, communicate with counterparts elsewhere in government and the military, and then respond to the crisis by crafting an appropriate response. Or even a tweet.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.