The US Air Force is buying an additional six Bombardier E-11A aircraft to boost the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) airborne communications relay and gateway system.
Currently, there are seven aircraft carrying the BACN payload on two different platforms: three manned Bombardier E-11As and four unmanned Global Hawk E-Q4Bs.
The service lost one E-11A aircraft carrying the BACN payload in Afghanistan after it suffered an engine failure in January 2020.
In an effort to boost the fleet, the BACN Program Office is working to procure six E-11A aircraft over the next five years. The team has secured additional funding for the first aircraft, and contract negotiations on a purchase agreement are currently in progress, the air force said.
The service expects to award that contract by end of March, and the aircraft to be delivered by the end of June.
In January this year, the air force awarded a $3.6 billion contract to Northrop Grumman for operations, sustainment, and support of the BACN.
The five-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity agreement also includes funds for research, development, testing and evaluation, and integration of existing and future payloads. The contract also provides support for infrastructure contained in or connected to the BACN system and associated ground stations, controls, and ancillary or support equipment for system integration laboratories.
Since 2008, BACN has provided military commanders with a long-range, over-the-horizon secure communication capability that connects troops to combat pilots, despite adverse terrain or distance, often when terrestrial services are either restricted or unavailable.
BACN technology was fielded in 2009 and the first combat mission was flown over Afghanistan in December 2010.
“BACN is a critical tool that commanders know they can rely on,” said Andy Manvell, deputy branch chief, BACN program. “They know that they might not be able to establish communications without it. It is a very important tool and it has definitely helped save lives. Just imagine if you had someone shooting at you and there was no support. BACN helps to ensure that support arrives.”