US Air Force BACN E-11
US Air Force BACN E-11 (@ U.S. Air Force photo by Mark Herlihy)

US Air Force to boost critical BACN fleet with six more E-11A aircraft

A Hanscom team awarded a $3.6 billion contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. for operations, sustainment, and support of the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node Jan. 21.

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.

What’s great about this new Business Operations and Support Services, or BOSS, contract is that it’s a lot more flexible than our previous agreement,” said Andy Manvell, deputy branch chief, BACN program. “With this contract, we can upgrade the technology on our payload without needing to award any additional agreements. This flexibility will save us time and resources, which will really benefit the program.

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.

In an effort to boost the fleet, the BACN Program Office, headquartered here, 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 team expects to award that contract by end of March, and the aircraft to be delivered by the end of June.

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 is a critical tool that commanders know they can rely on,” said Manvell. “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.

The program office is a branch within the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks directorate. The office currently oversees payload operations on all seven BACN aircraft, as well as associated ground sites in multiple theaters. BACN technology was fielded in 2009 and the first combat mission was flown over Afghanistan in December 2010.