The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, developed by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Air Force, has completed 5,000 combat missions connecting warfighters in the air and on the ground.
BACN is a high-altitude, airborne gateway that translates and distributes voice communications, video, imagery and other battlespace information from numerous sources. Using a suite of computers and radio systems, BACN bridges and extends communications among disparate users and different datalink networks to provide situational awareness and enable better command and control coordination between warfighters and commanders.
The BACN fleet comprises four E-11A manned systems and three Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems. BACN supports missions executed by the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and by the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia. Together, the 430th and the 380th reached the 5,000 combat mission milestone Nov. 9, 2013.
“Initially deployed by Northrop Grumman to satisfy a joint urgent operational need, BACN is now a key enabler of surface and airborne missions theaterwide,” said Mike Twyman, sector vice president and general manager of the Defense Systems division for Northrop Grumman Information Systems. “BACN’s continuous mission availability, quick reaction capability and flexibility have made it a real game changer in theater.”
The persistent connectivity BACN provides is used to successfully execute a number of missions, including airdrops and overall air operations. The system’s beyond-line-of-sight capability has been particularly useful overcoming the communications limitations posed by Afghanistan’s rugged terrain.
“We constantly get feedback from theater telling us how important BACN is for their missions,” said Maj. William Holl, the Air Force BACN program manager at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. “Without BACN, ground forces would have to rely on much slower satellite communications ñ and a few seconds can make all the difference when you are under fire.”
BACN achieved another major milestone on Aug. 11, 2013, completing 50,000 combat flight hours of service.
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for developing, deploying, operating and sustaining BACN in support of U.S. Central Command. Northrop Grumman maintains the BACN E-11A aircraft platforms; the U.S. Air Force maintains the EQ-4B Global Hawk platforms.
Northrop Grumman was awarded the first BACN contract in April 2005 by the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (previously the Air Force Electronics Systems Center), Hanscom Air Force Base. Since the system was deployed in 2008, it has delivered near 24/7 coverage in theater.