The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) aerial networks division at Hanscom AFB, Mass., has bought a third Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft to serve as a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). The Bombardier planes, once outfitted with a Northrop Grumman [NOC] communications package, become E-11As in the Air Force inventory.
The buy of the third new BACN aircraft comes under a potential $464.8 million Air Force contract awarded to Wichita-based Learjet Inc. last year for up to six new planes (Defense Daily, June 1, 2021). Delivery of the first of the three new planes ordered is expected this fall. Learjet, Inc. was a subsidiary of the Montreal-based Bombardier, but this month Bombardier announced that the 1 million square foot Wichita plant would become Bombardier’s U.S. headquarters and the location of Bombardier’s new defense unit.
Elizabeth Rosa, the BACN integrated procurement team lead, said in an Apr. 21st Air Force statement that AFLCMC expects to buy the fourth new BACN aircraft under the 2021 contract in fiscal 2023.
“BACN technology reduces line-of-sight issues by enabling real-time information flow across the battlespace between similar and dissimilar tactical data link and voice systems through relay, bridging, and data translation,” the Air Force said. “Because of its flexible deployment options and ability to operate at high altitudes, BACN allows air and surface forces to overcome communications difficulties caused by mountains, rough terrain, or distance.”
In January last year, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a potential $3.6 billion operations and sustainment contract for BACN.
In December 2020, Northrop Grumman said that BACN had 200,000 combat hours in more than 15,500 missions since its first deployment with the U.S. Air Force in October 2008. Since then, deployments have continued.
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 has said.