Northrop Grumman and Bombardier are set to deliver the last of four Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) aircraft to the US Air Force.
“There is going to be an official delivery ceremony in the coming weeks,” says Ben Boehm, Bombardier’s vice-president for sales and marketing. “It’s up to the air force when they want to have the ceremony. The airplane is actually ready to go.”
The BACN, which will be used to facilitate communications between disparate US airborne assets, has been in development by Northrop since 2005. The idea was to use the communications node to translate data transmitted from stealthy fifth-generation fighters such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter into a format usable by fourth-generation aircraft such as the Boeing F-15 Eagle and vice versa.
Originally, BACN was tested on board a NASA-operated Martin WB-57 Canberra bomber. However, a later prototype was installed on a Bombardier BD-700 business jet in 2011, which was ultimately designated as the E-11A.
After the success of the original E-11A prototype, which is being retained by the USAF, the service ordered three additional production aircraft based on the Bombardier Global Express 6000. It is the last of those three aircraft that is set to be delivered, Boehm says.
Boehm says that the USAF might order five more BACN II aircraft that would be somewhat modified from the current jets. Sensors, he says, are constantly evolving.
Bombardier says that further opportunities in the US market might arise from a programme to replace the USAF’s ageing fleet of Northrop E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft. Service leaders, however, have said previously that while a business jet-derived replacement is desirable, the USAF does not have the money to purchase such an aircraft.
Bombardier also hopes to leverage its new CSeries airframe for the military market, Boehm says. Two potential customers have already expressed interest in an airborne early warning platform based on the new aircraft.