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C4iSR: Air

USAF has 'urgent' need to increase size of BACN fleet

09 February 2017
EQ-4B Global Hawk BACN)aircraft, serial number 04-2019, photographed during its first flight after leaving the Northrop-Grumman manufacturing facility at Palmdale, California, on 14 July 2010. The USAF now wants to add a fourth such aircraft to the three already flying in the role. Source: US Air Force

The US Air Force (USAF) has an "urgent" need to increase its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) capability with an additional Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the service disclosed on 8 February.

The BACN system is fielded on four modified manned E-11A Bombardier regional jets and three unmanned EQ-4B Global Hawks, which to date have undertaken about 8,300 and 1,700 combat missions respectively.

As noted by the USAF, "the [Air Force Life Cycle Management Center] AFLCMC has begun working an urgent need for another Global Hawk capable of wielding BACN … for a total fleet of eight BACN-equipped aircraft."

BACN was developed by Northrop Grumman to create a secure and reliable communications system for ground troops to talk to different types of fighter and bomber aircraft during Operation 'Enduring Freedom' in Afghanistan, and was first fielded in 2009. According to the service, the increased need for BACN is being driven by the disparate communications systems fitted to these different aircraft types.

Global Express aircraft 9001/N901GX has operated as a BACN platform in the US Central Command's theatre of operations since December 2008. (IHS Markit/Patrick Allen)Global Express aircraft 9001/N901GX has operated as a BACN platform in the US Central Command's theatre of operations since December 2008. (IHS Markit/Patrick Allen)

"During 16 years of continuous combat, the US military finds itself responding to challenges posed by providing safe, reliable communications across multiple generations of aircraft and other weapons systems. Ground troops rely on combat airpower, and clear communications enables their success," the air force said on its website.

Having first been used operationally in 2010, the BACN system now flies four to five combat missions every day in support of US and allied ground forces in various theatres in the Middle East. "If you want to talk to fighters or bombers in the Middle East, you probably use BACN," the AFLCMC materiel leader and BACN manager Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Helfrich was quoted as saying.

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