What is an E-11A Aircraft? An Overview 

One of the least understood yet highest-demand missions in the U.S. Air Force are its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. These are not one-size-fits-all missions, so the aircraft isn’t either. There are several ISR platforms in the Air Force’s arsenal, but perhaps none in such high demand in recent years as the E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). The E-11A is a modified Bombardier Global 6000 (large business jet) that hauls an electronic warfare payload. The aircraft is used somewhat like a low-orbit satellite, flying an orbit for many hours on station. The aircraft has been dubbed the “WiFi in the sky” by the Air Force, although it does much more than provide internet for ground fighters. It is truly a jack-of-all-trades aircraft that is replacing a much larger airframe

What is BACN? 

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node is the payload, not the aircraft. This is an important distinction. The original BACN missions were actually flown on a pair of NASA WB-57 jets, which are both used for high-altitude atmospheric research. Why use these? For the BACN to function effectively, it must be flown at high altitudes. This was especially necessary in Afghanistan, where the E-11A operated for over a decade. To provide the service it is designed to do, BACN must be well above any obstructions. The mountains in Afghanistan are high peaks, so the aircraft carrying BACN payload had to be well above those. BACN is a two-fold system: a communications relay and a communications gateway. The relay portion is precisely as it sounds: it passes on information or relays it to the receiver. In the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, radios with line-of-sight capability could not get outside of the high mountain ranges. This severely diminished the ability of ground combatants to communicate with their higher headquarters or chain of command. The E-11A, along with the other airframes that carried BACN payloads, could receive signals, relay it on, and relay information back to the forward operating bases. As a gateway, the BACN takes in information and signals and connects them to dissimilar data links. This means, in practical terms, that certain tactical aircraft data links will communicate with like aircraft (i.e., F-15 to F-15) but don’t communicate with other aircraft data links. The gateway capability brings in and pushes out that data in ways that all aircraft in the battlespace can use. 

 BACN Payload 

The BACN payload is what makes the entire mission happen. The payload is not necessarily modular but is also not married to a single airframe. The most important factor is the ability of the host platform to fly very high. The WB-57 usually operated over FL550 when it was flying BACN missions.

The EQ-4B UAVs flew BACN missions as well, and these aircraft are designed to operate in this altitude range as well. But the EQ-4B was pulled from BACN missions, and the WB-57 was only a loaner from NASA; since only two were in operation, it was not sustainable. The Air Force needed a permanent host for the BACN payload. BACN payload is strictly electronic; the E-11A only operates with a crew of two pilots. The E-11A is so efficient that it replaces the well-aged E-8 JSTARS, an aircraft derived from the legacy Boeing 707. The JSTARS requires up to 19 crew members for its mission, whereas the E-11A only needs a pair of pilots who volunteer from all sorts of airframes across the Air Force. Payloads for the E-11A are unique to the aircraft and integral to the aircraft, but the BACN mission is not necessarily unique to the Global 6000. In fact, Northrop Grumman has experimented with making modular BACN pods that could be retrofitted to any number of aircraft, basically anything with hard points. 

What is the Purpose of the E-11A Aircraft?

The Bombardier E-11A BACN aircraft is a mobile relay station that can take in line-of-sight comms like radio signals from ground units and pass them on to other units downrange. This problem has plagued warfighters for decades: mobile radio units are limited to line-of-sight, and satellite comms lack reliability. They need something that can be put exactly where it is needed to relay information, like a low-orbit satellite, but with much more flexibility. So an airplane is the best platform to use. Electronic suites like this require significant payload capacity and power production, so the host aircraft needs to have a good payload and a strong electrical system. A large business-class jet is ideal: they are efficient, fast, and cruise at up to FL510. That is high enough to be thousands of feet above the highest mountains in the world, far outside of the range of AAA batteries or MANPADS.

We’ve touched on this already, but the other primary mission of the E-11A aircraft is acting as a tactical gateway. For whatever reason, the tactical datalinks between tactical aircraft are not all interoperable. There are many airframes with disparate tactical datalinks, yet they share battlespaces. When an aircraft is acquiring data on a target, it might share between like aircraft yet cannot share data with other coalition aircraft. This is a serious limiting factor for mission planning and execution. The E-11A eliminates these stovepipes but carries gateways that allow disparate systems to talk amongst each other.    

Where is the E-11A Aircraft Located? 

Until recently, the entire E-11A fleet was located in Afghanistan. Only four aircraft were in the inventory, and the demand for these was constant. The only time they left the AOR was for extensive maintenance stateside. Beyond that, the entire fleet remained in Kandahar for twelve years until the withdrawal of all forces in August 2021. And while they were in Afghanistan, they flew a lot. In 2017, the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron chalked up its 10,000th sortie. The 430th EECS operated solely from Kandahar for its entire existence until 2021. All pilots who volunteered for the mission spent about a month in simulators stateside to familiarize themselves with the airplane before they ever set foot in the aircraft because there was no aircraft stateside to fly in. After the withdrawal, the E-11A found a new permanent home at Robins Air Force Base, where is is replacing the E-8C JSTARS fleet and mission. However, this was relatively short-lived; as of January, the 430th EECS was back on the road, operating out of Price Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. 

The E-11A BACN Aircraft Design and Features

One of the main advantages of the E-11A aircraft is that it is a commercial-off-the-shelf Bombardier Global 6000 jet. Rather than building a new aircraft from the ground up, the Air Force is tapping into an aircraft with strong bloodlines. 


The E-11A BACN/Bombardier Global 6000 is a large jet. It is designed to carry up to 17 passengers for up to 6,000nm. A small jet cannot do that. 

  • Wingspan: 94 feet.
  • Length: 99 feet, 5 inches.
  • Height: 25 feet, 6 inches. 

While this is a large jet, it is still much smaller than the E-8C JSTARS which it is replacing. All buildings made for the Boeing 707 will easily accommodate the Global 6000, as will all of the airfield markings and measurements. 

Cabin Space 

The Global 6000 is spacious and made for the comfort of 17 passengers. 

  • Cabin height: 6 feet, 2 inches.
  • Cabin width: 7 feet, 1 inch.
  • Cabin length: 43 feet, 3 inches. 


The Global 6000 uses a pair of efficient and powerful Rolls-Royce BR710A2-20 high-bypass turbofan engines. Each engine produces 14,750 pounds of thrust, providing enough thrust to takeoff from only 6,476 feet of runway yet cruise at Mach 0.85 for 6,000 nautical miles. 


The avionics suite is completely modern, with a Heads-Up Display, Enhanced Vision System, four large glass displays, and Synthetic Vision Systems. 

Services provided are graphical flight planning, MultiScan weather radar, and several performance-based navigations including 

  • LPV approach
  • RNAV

Weight Capacity 

The Global 6000/E-11A BACN weights are:

  • Basic operating weight: 52,230 lb.
  • Maximum ramp weight: 99,750 lb.
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 99,500 lb. 
  • Maximum landing weight: 78,600 lb. 

Again, while a large jet, it is much lighter than the E-8C, so it will have no problems operating anywhere the JSTARS did.

Payload Capacity 

The payload is highly competitive on the Global 6000, with a maximum capacity of 5,770 lbs. This figure is reached after all fuel is loaded, pilots are on board, etc. The Global 6000 can still haul nearly three tons of electronic gear and haul it at Mach 0.85 for many hours, or a total distance of 6,000nm. The loiter time is about 17 hours in total, which will outlast most pilots. 

Parting Thoughts

The Global 6000 was a natural pick for the BACN mission by the Air Force. Strong supply chain since it has been in operation for over twenty years. It has a great payload and incredible endurance. Even though they are incredibly reliable, airplanes still break. When they do, count on Greenwood Aerospace to be your preferred partner to procure parts fast and get your aircraft back in the air. We are your experts in MILSPEC packing, kitting, and we will warehouse your parts so that you can get them when you need them without stockpiling parts in your limited spaces.