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Battlefield Airborne Communications Node ensures warfighter connectivity

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- Three recent achievements demonstrate how a critical communications capability managed here is continuing to keep warfighters connected.

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, translates and distributes imagery, video, voice and data, often from disparate elements, improving situational awareness by allowing ground troops to reach back for needed support over mountainous terrain.

BACN can act as a high-altitude relay and has been used for missions such as airdrop and airstrike operations.

The system currently operates on two platforms: the E-11A, a modified Bombardier business jet, and the EQ-4B, a modified Global Hawk Block 20 remotely piloted vehicle. Currently, BACN operates on four E-11As and three EQ-4Bs.

According to officials, Last month, 30 operational BACN flights on the EQ-4B were accomplished, setting a new record for the number of flights with a BACN-equipped remotely piloted vehicle within one month.

"This is a significant milestone," said Lt. Col. Nathan Elliott, the program manager. "Being able to provide this many flights allows us to increase our availability of coverage, ultimately providing much needed additional support to the warfighter."

Service members supported in the areas of responsibility appreciate that coverage and have provided the BACN office with a lot of positive feedback.

One of the comments received was from an Army squad leader and read, "My squadron commander's first question of every mission brief is, 'Do we have BACN'? ... Ground commanders feel more secure knowing the BACN is flying overhead. You are saving lives."

Another recent achievement was the simultaneous flights of three Global Hawks with the BACN system. Being able to provide this concurrent ability not only allows for expanded coverage for warfighters, but it allows for overlapping missions, eliminating potential gaps in coverage.

"We are constantly looking for ways to improve upon the BACN system's capabilities and being able to provide this simultaneous coverage was one that we knew would immediately enhance what BACN already does," Elliott.said.

"In November, (the E-11A platform) passed 5,000 total combat missions for BACN," he said. "However, we now have accomplished that number on just one of our platforms. This has increased our ability to provide wide-open lines of communication between troops on the ground and the aircraft providing them support."

The BACN system was originally demonstrated during a Joint Expeditionary Force experiment on a WB-57 aircraft in 2006 to show how it could meet the challenges associated with operating in mountainous regions with limited line-of-sight. In 2009, BACN became a Joint Urgent Operational Need program to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

In the 2015 Presidential Budget, BACN again received funding for the coming year of operation. The Air Force, through the program office here, along with Air Combat Command's Tactical Data Links Enterprise Division, are working the necessary steps to turn BACN into a program of record and make BACN a permanent Air Force capability.

The program office feels this capability needs to remain in the hands of the warfighter.

"We receive so many comments from the field telling us how BACN is helping them accomplish their missions," said Jennifer Gould, the deputy program manager. "We're proud to provide that support and want to continue providing it as long as it's needed.

One such example she highlighted was from a Task Force Leader who said, "(BACN) was absolutely indispensable in the execution of (our) mission ... as fundamental as ammunition and chow."

Gould said that that it's comments like that continue to inspire the personnel in the BACN program office.

"These comments encourage us to not only continue what we're doing, but to do it better," she said. "I'm looking forward to celebrating the next major milestones in the upcoming years."