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Former passenger jets bought by US firm tasked with creating next generation of nuclear ‘Doomsday’ planes

Seoul, South Korea CNN —

That economy-class seat you once occupied while flying in Asia might one day be the very place from where the United States nuclear weapons arsenal is controlled.

That’s because five Boeing 747 passenger jets once operated by the South Korean flag carrier Korean Air have been purchased by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, the contractor for the replacements for the US Air Force’s current fleet of strategic command and control military aircraft, more commonly known as “Doomsday” planes.

Also known as the E-4B “Nightwatch,” the Doomsday planes are designed to be command-and-control centers for the US military in the event of a national emergency that sees command facilities on the ground destroyed or incapacitated, such as nuclear war.

They could become what amounts to a Pentagon in the sky, taking aboard the US president, secretary of defense and members of the Joint Chiefs among more than 100 other people with the ability to control US forces worldwide from the aircraft, according to an Air Force fact sheet on the E-4Bs.

The Doomsday planes are built to withstand the effects of an electromagnetic pulse, the burst of energy released by a nuclear explosion that can “disrupt and permanently damage electrical components and entire systems within most critical infrastructure sectors and impact large-scale infrastructure,” according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

At least one Doomsday plane is on alert 24/7 at a US military base somewhere in the world, the Air Force says.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Colorado-based Sierra Nevada confirmed the purchase of the Korean Air jets but would not give any further details.

A Korean Air Boeing 747-800 landing at Rome Fiumicino airport.