Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) gateway system has reached 200,000 combat operational flight hours since its first deployment with the US Air Force in 2008, the company revealed on 15 December. 

This significant milestone further demonstrates the BACN system’s proven ability to enhance situational awareness, improve warfighter safety and deliver open communications capabilities for a wide range of missions,” commented Roshan Roeder, VP Communications, Airborne Sensors and Networks Division. “BACN is one of the first battle-tested gateway systems to enable warfighters and platforms to effectively communicate and securely share data across all branches of the [DoD].”

BACN is a high-altitude, airborne communications gateway that translates and distributes imagery, voice and tactical data from disparate elements—enhancing situational awareness communications and coordination for forces operating across space, air, land and sea. It has been used for missions such as airdrop, convoy, humanitarian assistance, close air support, and theatre air control systems operations.

In response to a joint urgent operational need, Northrop Grumman accelerated development of BACN for both manned and unmanned aircraft, delivering the first article to the USAF in only nine months. The company has since demonstrated agility in the continuous introduction of incremental performance improvements, deployed to the fleet over the last 12 years. Improvements have included a ten-fold increase in data rates, integrating new automation software to streamline communications and improve situational awareness, and implementing new military standard communications protocols.

BACN achieved its 200,000 combat flight hours milestone by flying more than 15,500 missions since it was first deployed in October 2008. The system currently flies on four EQ-4B Block 20 GLOBAL HAWK UAS and three E-11A modified business jets, to provide persistent connectivity and operational support 24/7 in multiple countries. BACN has delivered a mission availability rate above 98% over the last 12 years.

EQ-4B GLOBAL HAWK aircraft provide persistent connectivity and operational support 24/7 as part of the BACN programme. (Photo via Northrop Grumman)

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