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Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN)

BACN is a communications relay and gateway system that provides military commanders with a versatile means of exchanging information from multiple air, ground, and maritime sources, to include host nation, joint, and coalition forces.  It facilitates the transport of both voice and data across the battlespace enabling network connectivity among weapon systems, sensors, warfighters, decision makers, platforms, and command centers at all echelons of command and control (C2).  BACN reduces line-of-sight issues, provides greater range for communication links, and provides commanders with versatile and flexible communications support across the range of military operations as well as a reliable means of communications between edge users across different waveforms and data formats. 


BACN refers to the BACN platforms, its payload, and associated ground systems.  BACN provides a Combatant Commander flexible, long-endurance, responsive airborne communications capability in permissive environments.  The functionality provided by BACN reduces interoperability challenges associated with dissimilar systems, adverse terrain, distance, and curvature of the earth.


BACN is the Air Force’s response to combatant commanders’ needs.  In general terms, BACN extends the range of an external interface (voice relay, data relay, or IP route on a single waveform) or converts external interface data from one format to another (data link gateway, voice bridging, or cross-waveform IP routing), alleviating the need for changes or additions to the disadvantaged users’ systems.


The BACN payload is controlled from the ground in theater from two distinct ground sites.  The first is the Payload Control Element-Launch (PCE-L), which pre-flights the payload on the aircraft and then performs the launch and recovery functions.  PCE-L’s are collocated with the aircraft in theater.  The second is the Payload Control Element-Mission (PCE-M), which controls the payload from the ground.  PCE-Ms are currently at Combined Forces Air Component Commander designated C2 nodes and accomplishes real-time re-tasking of the payload in the area of responsibility. 

The BACN payload is hosted on two different platforms: the manned E-11A and the unmanned EQ-4B.  The E-11A is a modified Bombardier Global XRS/6000-series commercial aircraft and the EQ-4B is a modified RQ-4 Global Hawk.  The platforms were selected due to their high-altitude and long-endurance characteristics.

All BACN aircraft are assigned to Air Combat Command. The E-11A is operated by the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, 451st Air Expeditionary Group, and 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.  The EQ-4B is operated by the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, and 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.

The original BACN prototype was developed on the NASA WB-57 high-altitude test aircraft and was tested during a Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment.  The effectiveness of the BACN capability led to a Request for Forces in December 2008, and resulted in the deployment of the first E-11A (a/c 9001).  Subsequently, in May 2009 the Secretary of Defense signed and validated the CENTCOM Joint Urgent Operational Need statement for BACN capability. In March and June of 2010, the second and third E-11As were deployed, as were two EQ-4Bs later that year. In August 2011, BACN was transitioned from a Joint Urgent Operational Need to an Enduring Capability.

Currently, the BACN fleet consists of 4 E-11A and 4 EQ-4B aircraft.  In February 2018, the most recent EQ-4B (2015) was delivered to the Air Force and immediately went into a modification for a 5th-to-4th Gateway upgrade (currently in progress), which will provide a data link gateway between 5th-generation assets (F-22 and F-35) and other C2 elements. 

As of FY19, BACN is transitioning from an Enduring Capability to a Program of Record with baseline and Overseas Contingency funding through the Future Years Defense Plan.


E-11A General Characteristics

Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance communications gateway
Contractor: Bombardier 
Power Plant: 2x Rolls-Royce BR710A2-20 turbofans
Thrust: 14,750 pounds
Wingspan: 94 feet
Length: 99 feet
Height: 24 feet 10 inches 
Empty Weight: 49,750 pounds 
Maximum takeoff weight: 99,500 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 43,500 pounds
Speed: Cruise .85M
Range: 6,235 nautical miles (7,080 miles)
Service Ceiling: 51,000 feet
Armament: None
Crew: Two pilots 


EQ-4B General Characteristics 
Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance communications gateway
Contractor: Northrop Grumman (Prime), Raytheon, L3 Comm 
Power Plant: Rolls Royce-North American F137-RR-100 turbofan engine
Thrust: 7,600 pounds 
Wingspan: 130.9 feet (39.8 meters) 
Length: 47.6 feet (14.5 meters) 
Height: 15.3 feet (4.7 meters) 
Weight: 14,950 pounds (6,781 kilograms) 
Maximum takeoff weight: 32,250 pounds (14628 kilograms) 
Fuel Capacity: 17,300 pounds (7847 kilograms)
Payload: 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) 
Speed: 310 knots (357 mph) 
Range: 12,300 nautical miles 
Endurance:  more than 34 hours
Ceiling: 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) 
Armament: None
Crew (remote): three (LRE pilot, MCE pilot, and payload operator)