The U.S. Air Force awarded Wichita-based Learjet Inc. a contract worth potentially $464.8 million for delivering up to six Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft by May, 2026. In the Air Force inventory, these modified Global 6000 business jets become E-11As.

Learjet is a subsidiary of the Canada-based Bombardier.

In January, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman [NOC] a potential $3.6 billion operations and sustainment contract for the company’s BACN.

Last December, Northrop Grumman said that BACN has 200,000 combat hours in more than 15,500 missions since its first deployment with the U.S. Air Force in October 2008.

Carried on four Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 drones and three E-11As, BACN is a high-altitude, airborne communications gateway that translates and distributes multi-domain imagery, voice and tactical data for missions, such as airdrop, convoy, humanitarian assistance, close air support, and theater air control systems operations. The Air Force has dubbed BACN “Wi-Fi in the Sky.”

Northrop Grumman said that it accelerated BACN development and delivered the first system to the Air Force “in only nine months” in 2008 in response to a joint urgent operational need. “Improvements to the BACN system include enhancing data rates by 10 times, integrating new automation software to streamline communications and improve situational awareness, and implementing new military standard communications protocols,” the company said.

BACN has had a mission availability rate of more than 98 percent, Northrop Grumman said.

On Jan. 21, Air Combat Command (ACC) released an accident investigation report on a BACN E-11A that crashed in Afghanistan on Jan. 27 last year and killed the two pilots. The aircraft was on a combat sortie to support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel when “a fan blade broke free from the left engine, causing the left engine to shut down,” ACC said. “Approximately 24 seconds after the initial incident, the crew shut down the right, and only operable, engine resulting in a dual engine out emergency.”

According to the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) report, “the crew alerting system did not directly indicate the left engine failure,” a failure which caused the aircraft to shake violently.

The AIB “determined the cause of the mishap was the crew’s error in analyzing which engine had catastrophically failed,” per ACC. “This error resulted in the decision to shut down the working engine, creating a dual engine out emergency. Additionally, the AIB president found that the crew’s failure to airstart the right engine and their decision to recover the aircraft to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, substantially contributed to the mishap.”