Northrop Grumman awarded US$3.6bn BACN support contract

Northrop Grumman has been awarded a US$3.6bn contract by the US Air Force to continue to provide operational, sustainment and support services for the air arm’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platforms.

The awarding of the multi-billion, multi-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract was announced by the US Department of Defense (DoD) on January 21. The contract is scheduled to be completed by January 24, 2026, with work being performed at Northrop Grumman’s facility in San Diego, California, and at various overseas locations that were not disclosed in the release.

E-11A BACN [USAF/Staff Sgt Benjamin Gonsier]
A USAF-operated Bombardier E-11A BACN on the ground at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in February 2017. The air arm employs the BACN system aboard this platform as well as its Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. USAF/Staff Sgt Benjamin Gonsier

The DoD added that the deal “provides for research, development, test and evaluation, integration, and operations and sustainment for existing and future payloads contained in or connected to the BACN system.” It also covers the “associated ground stations or controls, ancillary equipment, support equipment and system integration laboratories.”

Northrop Grumman’s BACN is a high-altitude airborne communications relay and gateway system that is employed to help distribute voice communications across the battlespace. It is integrated on the USAF’s EQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as the service’s fleet of three Bombardier E-11A aircraft. The USAF lost its fourth E-11A during operations in Afghanistan on January 27, 2020.

The results of the official investigation into that crash were published on January 21, 2021. This concluded that a fan blade had broken free in the left engine, causing it to shut down. The crew then misidentified the engine with the problem and shut down the right engine, which was the only operable one. This left the aircraft with no power at all and neither engine was restarted. The crew  attempted to glide to Kandahar Airfield, but it was not within gliding range and the E-11A crashed in a field and was destroyed, killing both crew.