The Air Force is paying Northrop Grumman $47 million to equip two more Block 20 RQ-4 Global Hawks with BACN. You know, the communications link that allows different types of datalinks to communicate with one another; allowing troops on the ground to easily share info with pilots in jets overhead even if they're out of line-of-sight radio range.
The jets equipped with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node will be dubbed EQ-4Bs and will likely head to Afghanistan where BACN has been in use aboard a WB-57 Canberra (old school, huh) and a Bombardier Global Express business jet. Keep in mind that the company was awarded a similar contract to install BACN on a pair of Global Hawks several years ago. The jets loiter over the war zone using BACN to translate communications between ground troops and attack jets. In theory, BACN should also allow the F-22 Raptor's stealthy Intra-Flight Datalink (IFDL) to talk to older jets that use the standard Link-16 datalink.
This is a small step toward what will someday become a flying network in the sky where high-attitude drones capable of staying aloft for long periods of time form an airborne communications (and possibly navigation info) network capable of backing up ground and space-based networks.
Here's a Northrop announcement on the latest deal:
The U.S. Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) a $47.2 million contract for the purchase and integration of two more Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payloads on two existing Block 20 Global Hawk aircraft.
BACN is a high-altitude, airborne communications and information gateway system that maintains operational communications support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The persistent connectivity that BACN provides improves situational awareness and enables better coordination between forward-edge warfighters and commanders. BACN bridges and extends voice communications and battlespace awareness information from numerous sources using a suite of computers and radio systems.
After the BACN payloads have been integrated on the Block 20 Global Hawks, the aircraft will be designated as USAF EQ-4B unmanned systems, providing long endurance and high persistence gateway capabilities.
"The addition of two more BACN systems on Global Hawks will decisively enhance the required 24/7 gateway capability," said Claude Hashem, vice president of the network communications systems business at Northrop Grumman's Information Systems sector. "The EQ-4B unmanned systems will continue to provide long endurance and unsurpassed communications persistence to our warfighters."
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the development, fielding and maintenance of the BACN system and the RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft. The company was awarded the first BACN contract in April 2005 by the Air Force Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. The Global Hawk program is managed by the Air Force Aerospace Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
"This latest award continues the BACN program tradition of delivering new capability on compressed timelines that meets the operational needs," said Steve Zell, Northrop Grumman BACN program director.
Northrop Grumman's work on the BACN program is managed and performed in San Diego with Global Hawk integration performed in Palmdale, Calif.