Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bringing Home the BACN to Front-Line Forces

In late June 2009, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman Defense Mission Systems Inc., of San Diego, CA an urgent requirement contract for its Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) System. At present, Northrop Grumman will help the USAF deploy BACN in 4 Bombardier BD-700 Global Express (see also BACN-modified photo) ultra-long-range business jets for immediate fielding, and in 2 RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 UAVs for sustained deployment through 2015.

BACN is an airborne communications relay that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies, and “translates” among incompatible communications systems. That may sound trivial, but on a tactical level, it definitely isn’t.

BACN provides a high-speed, Internet protocol (IP)-based airborne network infrastructure that that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies, and “translates” among incompatible communications systems – including both tactical and civil cellular systems. Using BACN, a Special Forces soldier on the ground could use a civil cell phone to speak to a fighter pilot in the cockpit. BACN supports seamless movement of imagery, video, voice and digital messages, with support for waveforms that include SINCGARS (single-channel ground and airborne radio system), DAMA (demand assigned multiple access), EPLRS (enhanced position location reporting system), SADL (situation awareness data link), Link 16, and IP-based networking connectivity using TTN (tactical targeting network), TCDL (tactical common data link) technology, CLIP (Common Link Integration Processing), and 802.11b. Northrop Grumman’s joint translator/forwarder (JXF), originally developed for US Joint Forces Command, is to accomplish digital-message transformation.

That kind of system can be especially useful in rugged terrain that block line-of-sight communications, in combined civil/military situations, or when different services or even different countries are operating side by side in the field. Afghanistan meets all of those criteria, an so do some aspects of operations in Iraq.

There are even reports that BACN may be installed in the F-22 Raptor as a communications gateway that would solve some of that platform’s issues; releases concerning the JEFX 08 exercises were vague on this subject, mentioning only BACN’s ability to receive unique F-22 waveforms. BACN was developed under a Department of Defense Microelectronic Activity contract (#H94003-04-D-0005), as part of the Interim Gateway Program.

As of 2006, the Northrop Grumman BACN team included:
Northrop Grumman’s Defense Mission Systems, Space Technology, Integrated Systems and Information Technology sectors
NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX
Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA
Raytheon Solipsys in Laurel, MD
L3 Communications in Salt Lake City, UT
Qualcomm Inc. in San Diego, CA
ViaSat Inc. in Carlsbad, CA

To learn more about the history of the program, click here

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