USAF to boost BACN fleet with six more E-11As

In an effort to bolster its Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) fleet, the US Air Force (USAF) has outlined its plan to acquire six more Bombardier E-11A aircraft over the next five years.

The service revealed its intention on February 5, confirming that it is seeking to procure an additional six E-11As by the end of 2026. The announcement comes just weeks after the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman a US$3.6bn contract to continue to support the operation and sustainment of the service’s BACN fleet.

E-11A BACN [USAF/Mark Herlihy]
The USAF revealed on February 5, 2021, that it intends to procure six more Bombardier E-11A aircraft in a bid to strengthen its BACN fleet. The aircraft will be delivered over a five-year period, starting from June 2021 and concluding by the end of 2026. USAF/Mark Herlihy

In a press release, the USAF said that the BACN program office team “has secured additional funding for the first aircraft, and contract negotiations on a purchase agreement are currently in progress.” It added that the contract for the first E-11A is due to be awarded by the end of March and that the platform would be delivered to the service by June 30, 2021.

Andy Manvell, deputy branch chief of the USAF’s BACN program, noted that the “BACN is a critical tool that commanders know they can rely on. They know that they might not be able to establish communications without it. It is a very important tool, and it has definitely helped save lives. Just imagine if you had someone shooting at you and there was no support. BACN helps to ensure that support arrives.”

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 fleet of four EQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as the service’s three remaining E-11A aircraft. The E-11A is an extensively-modified, militarised variant of Bombardier’s Global 6000 family of business jets. The USAF lost its fourth E-11A on January 27, 2020, when it crashed during operations in Afghanistan.

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.