Defense

August 19, 2013

Communications capability surpasses 50,000 flight hours

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Patty Welsh
Hanscom AFB, Mass.

An E-11A aircraft outfitted with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, flies at an undisclosed location. BACN enables interoperability across voice and datalink networks and it recently surpassed 50,000 flight hours.

A Life Cycle Management Center program managed at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., that ensures war fighters can stay connected reached a significant milestone last week.

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, translates and distributes imagery, video, voice and data between warfighters, both in the air and on the ground, who may be operating on different networks. On Aug. 11, BACN achieved over 50,000 flight hours of service.

“BACN provides crucial 24/7 communications support to war fighters by bridging disparate elements,” said Maj. William Holl, program manager. “We constantly get feedback from theater telling us how important BACN is for their missions.”

The system can act as a high-altitude relay, providing reliable, dynamic communication links. Some of the types of missions BACN has been used for include airdrop and airstrike operations, ensuring situational awareness. The system has been especially useful in rugged terrain areas by providing a beyond-line-of-sight capability.

“Without BACN, ground forces in Afghanistan would have to rely on much slower satellite communications – and a few seconds can make all the difference when you are under fire,” said Holl.

The program began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 2006 to meet the challenges associated with operating in mountainous regions with limited line-of-sight, and in 2009 became a Joint Urgent Operational Need program to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

The system currently operates on two platforms: the E-11A, a modified Bombardier business jet, and the EQ-4B, a modified Global Hawk Block 20 remotely piloted vehicle.

“Since the first aircraft with BACN deployed in 2008, this critical capability has now been provided to our warfighters for more than 50,000 hours,” said Col. Anthony Genatempo, Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division senior materiel leader. “We’re proud of that, however, we’re constantly looking to see how we can optimize the system’s abilities to provide even more support.”

A recent significant change is the ability to fly multiple EQ-4Bs equipped with BACN simultaneously. This allows for overlapping missions, eliminating potential gaps in coverage. Also, the team is adding another E-11A to the fleet at the end of this summer to provide additional capability. These enhancements increase flexibility in mission planning and further contribute to the current support BACN is providing in theater.

The BACN program office here has received numerous accolades from warfighters on the battlefield expressing how pleased they are with the system.

According to Holl, feedback consists of messages such as “…great communications throughout the mission…,” ” services very much appreciated,” and “…we couldn’t have completed our mission without BACN!”

He also said the team has even gotten reports back from theater saying how BACN helped saved lives.
And the program office here stands ready to continue that support.

“The 50,000 hour mark is a significant milestone,” said Genatempo, “with many, many troops provided a truly outstanding capability. The entire BACN team is poised to continue this excellent service for as long as the war fighter needs it.”




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