Northrop Grumman delivered an additional EQ-4B Global Hawk autonomous aircraft carrying the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) to the U.S. Air Force on April 3.
BACN — also developed by Northrop Grumman — is a high-altitude, airborne gateway that translates and distributes voice communications, and other battlespace information from numerous sources.
BACN bridges the gaps between those systems and extends communications among disparate users and networks to provide improved situational awareness. BACN has completed more than 10,000 combat missions connecting warfighters in the air and on the ground.
In recent months, the BACN team also has been standing up new BACN field sites, helping the U.S. Air Force set new BACN mission flight records, and improving software to provide more resilient communications for BACN, the system that offers critical voice bridging and data-forwarding capabilities to U.S. and coalition forces in challenging terrain.
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 latest delivery of a BACN-equipped EQ-4B to the Air Force increases the BACN EQ-4B fleet to provide additional communications orbit coverage and to ensure coverage in the event of unplanned aircraft maintenance, Hilger said. The EQ-4Bs, along with four E-11A executive jets, provide near-24/7 coverage in several critical theaters of operation.
In February, another major milestone was reached as an EQ-4B in the BACN Global Hawk fleet touched down from an operational mission after exceeding 20,000 flight hours. This accomplishment is significant in that it represents the most hours flown by any aircraft in the Global Hawk fleet — exceeding the original expected life span of the aircraft — and Air Force pilots said they looked forward to flying the aircraft 20,000 more. The glassy air at the high cruising altitude of the EQ-4B, along with the smooth autonomous landings of the craft, give EQ-4B airframes a long structural life, enabling BACN missions to fly well into the future.