The US Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman USD3.6 billion for continued Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) operations, sustainment, and support. The company will also provide research, development, test and evaluation, and integration for payloads connected to the BACN system. The system overcomes line of sight issues for communications and enables better situational awareness from ground units to the highest command levelsThe BACN works in conjunction with the unmanned aerial vehicle Global Hawk to create what Northrop calls a “persistent gateway” that receives, bridges and distributes communications on the battlefield. Work will be performed in San Diego, California, and at undisclosed overseas locations, and is expected to be completed by 24 January 2026.
The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) combined with Global Hawk, provides warfighters essential information to pursue and defeat the enemy. The BACN’s Airborne Executive Processor (AEP) enables a persistent Gateway in the sky that receives, bridges, and distributes communication among all participants in a battle. Originally conceived as a technology demonstration, BACN rapidly proved at JEFX and various exercises that its capabilities were already mature enough to field. The BACN’s AEP provides translator and gateway interfaces among all supported communications systems, and forwards knowledgebased intelligence information to the Global Information Grid. Delivered 4 integrated systems, including payloads installed in aircraft and ground stations, in 16 months.
The BACN system, which comprises three Bombardier Global 6000 regional jet-based E-11A (one of the original four was lost on operations in Afghanistan in 2020) and three Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, is designed to increase the range of voice communications in mountainous terrain by relaying the signal over an extended distance. In response to a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON), Northrop Grumman accelerated integration of BACN onto manned aircraft and provided this indispensable capability to the warfighter in 9 months. The BD700 aircraft integrated with BACN were delivered in theater ahead of already aggressive schedules. Integrating BACN onto Global Hawk optimizes BACN’s powerful communications capabilities by exploiting the operational flexibility and economical endurance of that platform.
Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) gateway system has hit a new milestone, reaching 200,000 combat operational flight hours since its first deployment with the US Air Force in 2008. This includes 15,500 combat flight hours on US Air Force missions, delivering a mission availability rate above 98 per cent over the past 12 years. Northrop’s BACN system is a high-altitude, airborne communications gateway, designed to translate and distribute imagery, voice and tactical data from disparate elements, in a bid to enhance situational awareness communications and co-ordination for joint warfighters operating across space, air, land and sea. BACN has been deployed for airdrop, convoy, humanitarian, close air support, and theatre air control systems operations.