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First of US Air Force’s new BACN comms node birds arrives in Saudi Arabia

A new U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN aircraft taxis through a "bird bath" at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dec. 16, 2022. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s 430th Expeditionary Electronic Communications Squadron “Black Wolves” has welcomed a new E-11A aircraft with the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node or BACN payload to Saudi Arabia.

The 430th EECS is the only unit in the US Air Force that operates the E-11A aircraft, providing consistent and effective communication channels for air, ground and maritime forces in the US Central Command area of responsibility.

The new E-11A arrived at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on December 16, 2022, after it was delivered by Learjet under a $464.8 million contract for up to six more Global 6000 aircraft.

Prior to the contract with Learjet, the service had seven aircraft carrying the BACN payload on two different platforms: three manned Bombardier E-11As and four unmanned Global Hawk E-Q4Bs.

“The 430th supports warfighters who conduct around the clock operations in the CENTCOM AOR,” said Lt. Col. Todd Arthur, the 430th EECS commander. “We supply communication coverage to ground and air forces in active combat zones, who require consistent, clear communications to higher levels of leadership and other command and control assets.”

“This new E-11A will relieve the pressure on the rest of our fleet and enable us to sustain a high mission capable rate,” Arthur said. “Having an additional aircraft will give our maintenance team another option to reliably put combat airpower into the skies.”

Essentially functioning as a low earth satellite, or “Wi-Fi in the sky,” the E-11A is used to provide extended aerial command and control capabilities to air assets and troops on the ground.

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.

This E-11A is the newest addition to 430th Expeditionary Electronic Communications Squadron’s fleet. Photo: US Air Force

The E-11A is the only aircraft of its kind in the Air Force, and all of the pilots with the 430th EECS are all volunteers from other airframes.

“Just like America is a melting pot of other nationalities, the 430th is truly a melting pot of the Air Force,” Arthur said. “We have fighter pilots, bomber pilots, transport pilots, tanker pilots, special operations pilots, trainer pilots, test pilots, a program manager and three enlisted career fields.”

Since the BACN mission’s inception in 2008, the 430th has consistently delivered thousands annual flight hours and proven to be an essential component to modern war fighting.

With the high mission success rates, the E-11A has demonstrated in the Middle East, and the strategic capability advantages the aircraft brings to the joint force, the Air Force has announced plans to bring a new E-11A BACN squadron to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

“The Air Force and US Congress have recognized what the E-11A platform brings to the fight,” Arthur said. “As a result, we are standing up a new squadron of E-11s at Robins AFB in February of 2023.”