Bringing Home the BACN to Front-Line Forces
January 24/20: Payload Operation Northrop Grumman won a $217.2 million modification, which provides for Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload operation and support for payload equipment and services. Under the contract, Northrup Grumman will support payload equipment and services for the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, a US Air Force relay and gateway system carried by the EQ-48 and Bombardier E-11A aircraft. The node enables real-time information flow across the battlespace in line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight operations. Work will take place in San Diego and at undisclosed overseas locations, with an expected completion date of January 23, 2021.
In late June 2009, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman Defense Mission Systems Inc., of San Diego, CA an urgent requirement contract for its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) System. Under current plans, Northrop Grumman will help the USAF deploy BACN in up to 4 “E-11” Bombardier BD-700 Global Express (see also BACN-modified photo) ultra-long-range business jets, and in up to 4 EQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 UAVs, for sustained deployment through 2015.
BACN is an airborne communications relay that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies, and “translates” among incompatible communications systems. That may sound trivial, but on a tactical level, it definitely isn’t.
The BACN System
BACN was developed under a Department of Defense Microelectronic Activity contract (#H94003-04-D-0005), as part of the Interim Gateway Program. It provides a high-speed, Internet protocol (IP)-based airborne network infrastructure that that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies, and “translates” among incompatible communications systems – including both tactical and civil cellular systems. Using BACN, a Special Forces soldier on the ground could use a civil cell phone to speak to a fighter pilot in the cockpit.
BACN supports seamless movement of imagery, video, voice and digital messages, with support for waveforms that include SINCGARS (single-channel ground and airborne radio system), DAMA (demand assigned multiple access), EPLRS (enhanced position location reporting system), SADL (situation awareness data link), Link 16, and IP-based networking connectivity using TTN (tactical targeting network), TCDL (tactical common data link) technology, CLIP (Common Link Integration Processing), and 802.11b. Northrop Grumman’s joint translator/forwarder (JXF), originally developed for US Joint Forces Command, is to accomplish digital-message transformation.
That kind of system can be especially useful in rugged terrain that block line-of-sight communications, in combined civil/military situations, or when different services or even different countries are operating side by side in the field. Afghanistan meets all of those criteria, an so do some aspects of operations in Iraq.
There are even reports that BACN may be installed in the F-22 Raptor as a communications gateway that would solve some of that platform’s issues; releases concerning the JEFX 08 exercises were vague on this subject, mentioning only BACN’s ability to receive unique F-22 waveforms.
As of 2006, the Northrop Grumman BACN team included:
- Northrop Grumman’s Defense Mission Systems, Space Technology, Integrated Systems and Information Technology sectors
- NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX
- Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA
- Raytheon Solipsys in Laurel, MD
- L3 Communications in Salt Lake City, UT
- Qualcomm Inc. in San Diego, CA
- ViaSat Inc. in Carlsbad, CA
Northrop Grumman and teammate Orion Air Group provide 24/7 operations and support services for BACN on the front lines.
At present, BACN is flying on 3 modified E-11A Global Express long-range business jets (1 leased, 2 USAF-owned), and 3 (soon 4) EQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 UAV variants. Another E-11 plane has been contracted for integration.
Contracts and Key Events
Unless otherwise specified, contracts are issued and managed by the staffs at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA, and performed by Northrop Grumman. Contracts began with the firm’s Defense Mission Systems, Inc. unit in San Diego, CA, then shifted to Northrop Grumman Systems Corp’s Defense Systems Division in Herndon, VA after 2010, following the firm’s move to Washington, DC. Since then, the contractor’s side had shifted back and forth between Herndon VA and what is now Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA.
FY 2014 – 2020
October 22/18: Fleet growth The Air Force plans to procure another Bombardier business jet for its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) program. BACN is an airborne communications relay that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies, and “translates” among incompatible communications systems. The BACN modified Bombardier Global 6000 would be outfitted with a specialised mission package that includes antennas, radios, flight-tracker inhibition systems and more. Dubbed the E-11A, the aircraft allows ground troops to reach needed support over mountainous terrain with imagery, video, voice and data, and it can also act as a high-altitude relay, including airdrop and airstrike operations. If the acquisition is approved the jet would be the fifth of its kind in the BACN fleet, which would grow to nine aircraft in total.
January 18/18: Payload Operation & Support Northrop Grumman were awarded Friday, a $172 million one-year US Air Force contract for the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). Under the terms of the agreement, Northrop will provide BACN payload operation and support for payload equipment and services, with work to take place at San Diego, California and overseas locations. The BACN allows ground troops to reach needed support over mountainous terrain with imagery, video, voice and data, and it can also act as a high-altitude relay, including airdrop and airstrike operations. It is designed to work with the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV—designated EQ-4B—and the BD700 manned aircraft platform—flown by the USAF as the E-11A. Last September, Grumman received $265 million for support of four BACN E-11A aircraft.
June 6/15: On Monday the Air Force awarded a $145.4 million contract modification for services in support of the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node Joint Urgent Operational Need (BACN JUON). Contractor Northrop Grumman also benefited from a $35.7 million modification to the KC-10 tanker Contractor Logistics Support program.
Aug 6/14: Northrop Grumman Corporation announces an $89.7 million contract option to continue operating and supporting BACN (4 E-11A jets, 3 EQ-4B UAVs, all payloads) in support of overseas contingency missions through June 2015. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman Awarded Contract to Continue BACN Mission Support Contract”.
Jan 15/14: Northrop Grumman Information Systems in Herndon, VA receives a $52.3 million firm-fixed-price cost-reimbursement modification, exercising CLIN options to continue supporting and operating E-11A BACN aircraft.
$31.8 million in FY 2014 O&M funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed at Kandahar AB, Afghanistan, as well as Wichita, KS, and is expected to be complete by Jan 23/15 (FA8726-13-C-0001, PO 0013).
FY 2011 – 2013
May 7/13: Northrop Grumman Space and Missile Systems Corp. in San Diego, CA receives a $89.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, extending the FY 2009 BACN payload contract that covers deployment support and operation of the fielded systems.
Work will be performed at San Diego, CA, and abroad at locations where currently deployed until June 22/14. $7.5 million in FY 2013 Operations and Maintenance funds are committed immediately by the USAF Life Cycle Management Center/HNAK at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0076).
Nov 1/12: E-11A. A $48.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for E-11A BACN platform maintenance at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan. The contract will run until February 2018. Whether the Afghan regime will run that long is another question (FA8726-13-C-0001).
Sept 27/12: 4th E-11A. A $33 million contract modification for BACN Node payload integration and supplemental type certificates on E-11A aircraft S/N 9506. That serial number indicates a new contractor-owned aircraft. This will bring the number of E-11As to 4: 2 leased, and 2 government-owned.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be completed by Oct 31/13. The AFLCMC/HNAK at Hanscom AFB, MA manages the contract (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0059).
Sept 7/12: EQ-4B #4. Northrop Grumman delivers the USAF’s 4th EQ-4B Global Hawk 4 months ahead of schedule, in a flight from the Palmdale, CA facility to Grand Forks AFB, ND. It’s the 2nd scheduled delivery from the Dec 28/11 entry.
Briefings with appropriate personnel reveal that it may be the 4th EQ-4B delivered, but it’s only the 3rd one flying for the USAF. The Aug 20/11 crash (added below) explains the discrepancy. NGC release, Oct 23/12.
June 2012: EQ-4B #3. Northrop Grumman delivers the USAF’s 3rd EQ-4B Global Hawk ahead of schedule. It’s the 1st scheduled delivery from the Dec 28/11 entry. Source.
June 21/12: All. A $106.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, to extend the deployment and operation of BACN payloads installed in 3 EA-11A jets and 3 E-Q4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles.
Work will run to June 22/13, and will be performed both within the United States, and outside the USA where currently deployed (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0043).
June 21/12: E-11A. A $50.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 8 more months of E-11A Platform Maintenance support for the 3 aircraft: tail numbers 9355, 9358, and 9001. Work will be performed at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan until Feb 24/13 (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0053).
May 17/12: SmartNode – BACN Lite. Northrop Grumman completes a series of test flights for its SmartNode Pod, which is based on BACN technology but can be carried by smaller aircraft and UAVs. SmartNode can connect to BACN platforms, ground operational centers or other pods to create encrypted, high-bandwidth digital data and voice connectivity. The project is funded by the firm and by a US military customer, and Northrop Grumman used its own Firebird “optionally manned” plane because the designated platform wasn’t immediately available for testing.
The SmartNode Pod is designed to be a part of the Pentagon’s Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN), which would link ground, space and airborne communications nodes to offer military forces the bandwidth they require. That had been the goal of the $20-25 billion TSAT satellite program, before it was cancelled; JALN represents a much more diverse and incremental approach to the same problem. Discussions with Northrop Grumman indicate that BACN would sit at the top tier of JALN, while SmartNode is a mid-tier solution that won’t do satellite communications, has fewer message translation options, won’t support as many networks, and won’t support many of the classified American networks. On the other hand, it’s a 250 pound payload that can fly on MALE(Medium Altitude Long Endurance) UAVs like the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, IAI’s Heron, etc., providing high-bandwidth relay and a useful subset of technical translations at less cost, in more places. NGC | USAF re: JALN.
March 30/12: E-11A. A $26.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price, time-and-material contract modification exercises options for a 7.5 month extension of E-11A serial number 11-9001 services, in support of Overseas Contingency Operations from April 1/12 through Nov 16/12. Should be painted in a nice military grey by now (vid. Nov 18/11), but the USAF hasn’t bought the jet, yet.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (44%) and Yorktown, VA (56%) – (FA8726-09-C-0010, Modification PO 0050).
Feb 23/12: E-11A. A $34.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification adds a 4-month extension for the continued operations support and maintenance of the USAF’s 2 BACN E-11A jets, and operational support and maintenance of the BACN payloads. Work will take place in San Diego, CA, and the extension runs until June 22/12 (FA8726-09-C-0010 PO 0042).
Dec 28/11: EQ-4B. Northrop Grumman Defense Mission Systems Inc. in San Diego, CA receives a $47.2 million firm-fixed-price contract to buy and integrate BACN payloads on 2 more RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft: AF-11 and AF-13. These 2 HALE UAVs will be provided to Northrop Grumman as government furnished property. Then Northrop Grumman will integrate the BACN payload and turn them into EQ-4Bs, bringing the delivered fleet to 4 and the serving fleet to 3.
Work will be performed in Palmdale, CA, and is expected to be complete by Aug 22/12 for AF-11, and Dec 15/12 for AF-13. USAF Material Command’s Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0041).
2 more EQ-4B UAVs
Nov 18/11: E-11A. A $29.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification. The modification is for a Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Plan (CAMP) Level 8C inspection of Air Force aircraft E-11A, serial number 11-9001, followed by a 5-month extension of the operation and support of the aircraft. It also provides an option to repaint the aircraft to USAF specifications, and for correction of any faults found during CAMP inspection.
This is the same sort of sequence followed for the other 2 leased jets, just before the USAF bought them. One firm was solicited and one firm submitted a proposal to USAF Materiel Command’s Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0038).
Nov 3/11: The USAF’s BACN platforms get official designations. The Bombardier BD-700s are E-11As, and the modified Global Hawk Block 20 UAVs are EQ-4Bs. Northrop Grumman.
Sept 30/11: E-11A. Orion Air Group, LLC in Newport News, VA receives a $50 million firm fixed price contract to buy 2 of the leased “E-11A” Global Express BD-700-1A10 jets, serial # 9355 & 9358, including their engines. The aircraft and engines were provided to the Pentagon by Northrop Grumman, under a sub-lease for operations (FA8726-09-C-0010). Now we know why the Sept 21/11 contract had that re-painting option.
US Air Force Materiel Command, Electronic Systems Center, Airborne Networks Division at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA manages this contract (FA8307-11-C-0014).
Bizjet buyout: 2 E-11As
Sept 21/11: E-11A. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.’s Defense Systems Division in Herndon, VA receives a 5-month, $43 million extension to a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to operate and maintain the other 2 E-11A Global Express BACN jets, serial numbers 11-9355 and 11-9358. This contract also provides for the operation and maintenance of the BACN payload by Northrop Grumman, and offers an option to re-paint the 2 BD-700 aircraft to USAF specifications (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0035).
Aug 20/11: EQ-4B lost. One of the USAF’s EQ-4B’s (tail number 04-2017) crashes about 105 nautical miles NW of Kandahar, during a communications relay mission over Afghanistan. The accident investigation believes that a connector failed, which led to the loss of electricity for the payload, and for the aileron and spoiler flight control systems. That made the UAV uncontrollable, and it arrowed into the ground within 4 minutes. There isn’t much left, as one might imagine given the UAV’s starting altitude. The investigation isn’t 100% definitive, because the avionics were not recovered at the crash site.
The EQ4B is home-based at Beale AFB, CA with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, but it was forward-deployed to Afghanistan for its missions. Crash investigation [PDF].
July 8/11: E-11A. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.’s Defense Systems Division in Herndon, VA receives a 4-month, $20.7 million extension to a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for operate and maintain E-11A Global Express BACN jet, serial number 1-900. This contract also provides for the operations and maintenance of the BACN payload (FA8726-09-C-0010, PO 0032).
June 25/11: The BACN system completes its 2,000th USAF mission flown in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Since the system was deployed to support Afghan theater operations in October 2008, BACN has accumulated more than 20,000 operational flight hours in those 2,000 missions, with a mission availability rate of 98%.
The interval from Oct 1/08 – June 25/11 inclusive is 998 days, which means an average sortie rate of about 2 missions per day, 24/7.
Dec 21/10: The Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) have selected the BACN Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) program to receive one of the Top 5 DoD Program Awards given annually for excellence in systems engineering.
BACN also has been honored in 2010 with the Weapon Systems Award from the Order of Daedalians, a national fraternity of military pilots, and the 2010 Network Centric Warfare Award for Outstanding Achievement from a Defense Industry Partner, from the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. Northrop Grumman.
Dec 13/10: E-11A. A $74.6 million option for continued maintenance and support of the payload installed in 2 of 3 modified BD-700 Global Express aircraft leased from March 2011 through October 2011. Money will be committed as needs arise (FA8726-09-C-0010; P00021).
Nov 30/10: All. A $34.1 million contract modification to extend BACN payload maintenance and support in current theaters of war. At this time, $10 million has been committed (FA8726-09-C-0010; P00020).
FY 2006 – 2010
Sept 22/10: EQ-4B. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems Sector in San Diego, CA received a $20 million contract modification which will provide replenishment spares relative to the RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 BACN joint urgent operational need effort. WR-ALC/GRCKA at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages this contract (FA8528-09-D-0001; PO 0016).
BACN was originally deployed on board a high altitude NASA WB-57 aircraft. Deployment on board the Global Hawk UAV is the next step beyond its current platform, a modified Bombardier Global Express business jet.
March 11/10: Sub-contractors. ViaSat in Carlsbad, CA receives $21.5 million firm-fixed-price contract and delivery order for MIDS-LVT Link 16 terminals, combining purchases for the USA (68%) and Germany (11%); and for Australia (18%) and South Korea (3%) under the Foreign Military Sales program.
Contract funds in the amount of $1.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Work will be performed in Carlsbad, CA (30%) and in various other sites worldwide (70%), and is expected to be complete by Feb 28/12. This contract was competitively procured via the Space and Naval Warfare Systems E-commerce Web site, with 2 offers received, based on a synopsis released via the Federal Business Opportunities Web site (N00039-10-D-0032).
ViaSat’s subsequent release says that this new award includes LVT (1) terminal variants for F/A-18, P-3, and E-2D aircraft; and MH-60R/S helicopters, along with terminals for the BACN program and other U.S. Navy applications. The MIDS-LVT Lot 11 order also includes LVT (2) “ground” terminal variants for various U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and Joint Forces applications, as well as terminals for Germany, Australia, and Korea.
Feb 22/10: All. Northrop Grumman Defense Mission Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA, was awarded a $77.9 million contract to maintain and support the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node system “in support of overseas contingency operations” through fiscal year 2010. The award is corrected on Feb 25/10 to add an order number, and say that only $58.4 million has been committed (FA8726-09-C-0010, P00008).
Jan 26/10: Recognition. At the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement’s Network Enabled Operations conference in Arlington, VA, BACN receives the 2010 Network Centric Warfare Award for Outstanding Achievement from a Defense Industry Partner. NGC release.
Sept 14/09: All. A $35.5 million contract to provide the rapid fielding and support of the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node System. At this time no money has been obligated; it will be allocated as needs arise (FA8726-09-C-0010, P00003).
June 24/09: Contract. A $276.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee urgent requirement contract for its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) System. At this time, $97.8 million has been obligated by the 653rd Electronic Systems Group at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (FA8726-09-C-0010).
The contract will fund fielding in 3 long-range Bombardier BD-700 Global Express jets, and 2 Global Hawk RQ-4B Block 20 UAVs. It will also fund the company’s support for continuing operations of the existing BACN-equipped BD-700, which the Air Force deployed to the front lines in December 2008. See also Northrop Grumman release.
Oct 18/06: Development. Northrop Grumman will continue to enhance and expand the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) under 2 recently awarded Defense Microelectronics Activity contracts, issued under its Advanced Technology Support Program.
The 16-month, $25 million BACN Spiral Technical Phase II will continue base development, building on the initial $25.7 million BACN contract in April 2005. The 24-month, $8.5 million Intraflight Datalink Gateway System will add a secure data link allowing the F-22 Raptor to communicate with other platforms without compromising its stealth. Northrop Grumman.
BACN Development Phase II
- Northrop Grumman – Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN).
- Northrop Grumman (March 18/10) – Daniel “Fig” Leaf Addresses Irregular Warfare (IW) Conference. Mentions BACN. Lt. Gen. Dan “Fig” Leaf, U.S. Air Force (ret.) is Northrop Grumman Information Systems’ Vice President, Full Spectrum Initiatives.
- Northrop Grumman (May 13/08) – Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Enables Unprecedented Real-Time Distribution of F-22 Data to Legacy Aircraft.
- Northrop Grumman (Aug 8/06) – BACN Sizzles at JEFX; Northrop Grumman Completes Test of Joint Airborne Network System.
- Northrop Grumman (July 19/06) – Northrop Grumman Brings BACN to California Disaster-Recovery Exercise.