Northrop Grumman Awarded $217 Million for BACN Payload Operation and Support

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems is being awarded a modification to extend the contract that provides for Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload operation and support for payload equipment and services.

The modification, worth around $217 million, is being awarded by the U.S. Air Force (USAF)’s Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. Fiscal 2020 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $20 million are being obligated at the time of award. The total cumulative face value of the contract is around $570 million.

Work will be performed at San Diego, California, and undisclosed overseas locations, and is expected to be complete by Jan. 23, 2021.

Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN)

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) is a USAF airborne communications relay and gateway system carried by the unmanned EQ-4B Global Hawk and the manned E-11A (Bombardier Global 6000) aircraft.

The BACN was developed in direct response to communication shortfalls during Operation Red Wings, a joint U.S. military mission in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in 2005. The operation became well known following the success of the book and subsequent movie “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and the only surviving member of the mission. Due to Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain and lack of existing communication infrastructure, serious communication challenges prevented the four-man SEAL patrol from effectively establishing contact with their combat operations center, leaving them vulnerable to the attacks that claimed the lives of 19 special operations forces service members.

The BACN system consists of an airborne payload of equipment and processors that accomplishes three goals: it extends line-of-sight communications, it translates communications between equipment that speaks different “languages,” and it provides a common battle picture for commanders, ground forces, fighter jets, and other mission assets.

The system enables real-time information flow across the battlespace between similar and dissimilar tactical data link and voice systems through relay, bridging, and data translation in line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight situations. Its ability to translate between dissimilar communications systems allows them to interoperate without modification.

Because of its flexible deployment options and ability to operate at high altitudes, BACN can enable air and surface forces to overcome communications difficulties caused by mountains, other rough terrain, or distance. BACN provides critical information to all operational echelons and increases situational awareness by correlating tactical and operational air and ground pictures.

EQ-4B BACN Global Hawk
An RQ-4A Global Hawk Battle Airfrield Communication Node (BACN), serial # 04-2019, photographed during its first flight after leaving the Northrop-Grumman manufacturing facility at Palmdale, CA. on July 14, 2010. USAF Photo by Greg L. Davis.
Bombardier E-11A BACN - U.S. Air Force
A 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron E-11A aircraft outfitted with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node sits on the runway at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, April 4, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant)

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