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Communications capability surpasses 50,000 flight hours

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, reached a significant milestone Aug. 11, when it achieved over 50,000 flight hours of service.

Airmen utilize the BACN to translate and distribute imagery, video, voice and data between warfighters, both in the air and on the ground, who may be operating on different networks.

"BACN provides crucial 24/7 communications support to warfighters by bridging disparate elements," said Maj. William Holl, the BACN program manager at the Life Cycle Management Center here. "We constantly get feedback from (troops in the) theater telling us how important BACN is for their missions."

The system can act as a high-altitude relay, providing reliable, dynamic communication links, officials said. Some of the types of missions BACN has been used for include airdrop and airstrike operations, where it ensured situational awareness. The system has been especially useful in rugged terrain areas by providing a beyond-line-of-sight capability.

"Without BACN, ground forces in Afghanistan would have to rely on much slower satellite communications -- and a few seconds can make all the difference when you are under fire," Holl said.

The program began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 2006, intended to meet the challenges associated with operating in mountainous regions with limited line-of-sight, and in 2009 became a Joint Urgent Operational Need program in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. 

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.

"Since the first aircraft with BACN deployed in 2008, this critical capability has now been provided to our warfighters for more than 50,000 hours," said Col. Anthony Genatempo, the Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division senior materiel leader. "We're proud of that, however, we're constantly looking to see how we can optimize the system's abilities to provide even more support."

A recent significant change is the ability to fly multiple EQ-4Bs equipped with BACN simultaneously. This allows for overlapping missions, eliminating potential gaps in coverage. The team is adding another E-11A to the fleet at the end of this summer to provide additional capability. These enhancements increase flexibility in mission planning and further contribute to the current support BACN is providing in theater.

The BACN program office here has received numerous accolades from warfighters on the battlefield, expressing how pleased they are with the system.

Holl said feedback from the field lauded the program for providing great communications throughout missions, and that service members reported they couldn't have completed their mission without BACN.

He also said the team has even gotten reports back from theater crediting BACN for helping save lives. 

The program office here stands ready to continue that vital support, Genatempo said. 

"The 50,000 hour mark is a significant milestone," Genatempo said. "The entire BACN team is poised to continue this excellent service for as long as the warfighter needs it."