HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. --- Electronic Systems Center officials here awarded a contract June 24 to Northrop Grumman Corp. to field and deploy an airborne communications system that provides real-time battlefield information to warfighters.
The center awarded the $276 million, 18-month contract to incorporate the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, on two business jets and two Global Hawk Block 20 unmanned aircraft.
Air Force officials deployed a first BD-700 business jet with BACN in support of U.S. Central Command warfighter requirements in December 2008. This contract will also support the continued operation of that unit.
ESC officials awarded the contract to respond to a joint urgent operational need, said Lt. Col. Joe Keelon, ESC's BACN program manager
BACN can relay voice communication over long distances, providing range extension, and can bridge between frequencies. For instance, a convoy commander on a frequency-limited radio can talk with a supporting close-air-support pilot on a different frequency by using BACN, Colonel Keelon said.
BACN also extends the range of data links and provides translation to enable information sharing across the theater of operations. This aids command and control and provides situational awareness of friendly and enemy forces.
"Battlefield communication advancements in aerial gateway technology have significantly enhanced our warfighters' combat effectiveness and capability to stop the adversary while saving countless lives of our troops and allied forces," said Col. Cordell DeLaPena, the 653rd Electronic Systems Group commander here.
BACN's payload contains a number of different radios and waveforms, including VHF-FM, VHF-AM, UHF-AM, UHF SATCOM, SINCGARS, HAVEQUICK I/II, SADL, EPLRS, Link 16 and Common Data Link terminals. All the radios are linked together through a central computer called the gateway manager. From a ground station, the BACN payload operator remotely updates the gateway manager to select, tune and tie radios together.
The business jets selected to receive BACN are Bombardier BD-700s, which fly at approximately 40,000 feet and can stay airborne for more than eight consecutive hours.
"These flight characteristics are critical in providing a unified data link network in the mountainous terrain encountered in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations," Colonel Keelon said.
The BD-700 BACN capability is planned as a short-term solution until the Global Hawk Block 20 can be upgraded with the BACN capability, Colonel Keelon said. The Air Force is projecting that the Global Hawk Block 20 capability will be available for deployment in fiscal 2011.
BACN is the Air Force's No. 1 priority on the fiscal 2010 unfunded requirements list.