global hawk

Unmanned Systems

Air Force Global Hawk gets remote communication and data sharing

The Air Force is modifying and installing the latest Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) onto the EQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, giving service members constant communication connectivity and network-centric data sharing in the field.

Northrop Grumman was the developer behind the BACN, and the company has just received a $39,947,203 contract to integrate the BACN payload and the EQ-4B drone.

According to Lt. Col. James Peterson, Commander of the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, the BACN AEP’s gateway and translator software performs two main functions for service members in the field. It amplifies radio signals so that they can travel greater distances and reach the necessary receivers, and it makes multiple different communication devices and signals compatible with each other.

For example, if you had ground troops out on a patrol that were separated from their headquarters by terrain that prevented them from being able to be in radio contact with their headquarters, then you could use a BACN aircraft overheard to tie their radios back to their headquarters, or to other units, to provide them with the ability to stay in communication, explained Peterson.

The EQ-4B Global Hawk is a high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), used for surveillance and reconnaissance. As the EQ-4B is unmanned, the BACN will now be able to remain in position for much longer and give users 24/7 connectivity and access to data.

"By pairing BACN and Global Hawk, military commanders can provide the system's critical capabilities during a single flight lasting more than 30 hours," explained George Guerra, Vice President of Northrop’s Global Hawk program, in a press release when the program was first introduced.

The main component of the BACN is the Airborne Executive Processor (AEP), which acts as a network gateway connecting airborne, high command, and ground unit communications systems, according to Northrop Grumman. It also functions as a translator mechanism for linking tactical data networks in the field.

The two architectures typically found in gateway interfaces that connect different communication devices are bus-based and broker-based architectures. Bus-based architecture describes all device-to-device communication software, while broker-based architecture describes software designed for secure storage and retrieval of information. Industry developers report that gateway networks, like the AEP, operate under both message-centric and data-centric protocols, depending on the software need.

The BACN was first fielded in 2009 and helped ground units communicate with fighter aircraft during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to an Air Force publication. Integration of the BACN with the EQ-4B drone is expected to be finished by this time next year.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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