Air Force puts $50M more into airborne communications system

Despite the formal conclusion of the combat mission in Afghanistan, the United States will continue training and surveillance missions within Afghanistan’s borders. The military places a great deal of importance on its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, which could be increasingly limited following a report detailing a shortage of drone pilots operating aerial ISR platforms. The Air Force has taken steps recently to improve its ISR platforms and maintain the functionality of its arsenal.

Along those lines, the service has awarded Northrop Grumman a $50 million modification to a previous contract for the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) E-11A platform with work to be done at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan as well as domestically. 

BACN extends the range of communications, provides a bridge between radio frequencies and translates between other incompatible communications systems. Northrop has incorporated the BACN with its Global Hawk, a high-flying, long-endurance unmanned aircraft, once thought to be the successor to the U-2 spy plane. 

BACN also provides IP communications with forces on the ground, and can support video feeds, movement of imagery, voice and digital messages. Additionally, various waveforms such as single-channel ground and airborne radio systems, demand assigned multiple access, enhanced position location reporting systems, situation awareness date links are compatible with and supported by BACN.    

“In theater operations, mountainous terrain inhibited line-of-sight communications; diverse weapon systems were unable to communicate with each other; each operating unit could see only a limited set of the complete picture,” according to BACN’s manufacturer. “BACN bridges the gaps between those systems, enabling essential situational awareness from small ground units in contact up to the highest command levels,” 

Northrup Grumman has also integrated the BACN to manned aircraft as well.   

The initial contract for BACN was awarded in 2009. In 2012, the Air Force also awarded Northrop a $20 million contract modification.

The Air Force expects the new project to be completed by January 2016.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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