The US Air Force (USAF) has contracted Northrop Grumman to maintain deployment of three E-11 Global Express aircraft and three EQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles (UAV) that carry the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), an electronic tool used to route communications signals between incompatible and out-of-range systems.
Northrop operates the E-11 aircraft and maintains both E-11 and EQ-4 payloads.
Much of the work will take place at Kandahar Air Base, the main air operations base in southern Afghanistan where the BACN-equipped aircraft are often seen. The currently-flown aircraft will soon be joined by additional EQ-4s, which are modified from ex-USAF RQ-4 Block 20 reconnaissance UAVs.
One EQ-4 crashed outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan in August, 2011, due to a loose wire. Another remains in theater, while others are reportedly undergoing the conversion process. BACN has previously been installed on a NASA Martin WB-57 for testing.
Neither Northrop nor the USAF responded to immediate questions.