In recent weeks, we’ve talked about the E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platform, a modified Bombardier Global 6000. Unlike other platforms bearing the ‘E’ prefix, the BACN fleet is affectionately called the “WiFi in the sky” by warfighters. The E-11 fleet has proven itself completely invaluable to warfighters on the ground, especially those in austere environments and highly challenging landscapes, namely Afghanistan. One of the primary purposes of the E-11 is to provide the repeating capability to warfighters on the ground, although it does a lot more than that. Since so many forward operating bases (FOBs) were beyond the line of sight in the theater of operations. The BACN is a cost-effective and practical solution for communications repeating. But it also ties together dissimilar or disparate communications by acting as a flying gateway. The aircraft is in such high demand and has been so since its inception that the Air Force has a total of six more on order. The total count is nine and would have been ten except for the tragic accident in January 2020 that claimed the lives of two Airmen.
E-11As in Saudi Arabia
Right now, the E-11 fleet is in flux. They have come in off the road, where they were deployed continuously for about a decade, to Afghanistan, where they served as a high-demand, low-availability asset. This constantly kept them in the air, especially after the fleet went from four to three. It is now public knowledge that the newest E-11A in the fleet, the fourth in the fleet, is deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) with the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Communications Squadron. This is just a single asset, not the whole fleet, but it still marks a break from CONUS operations. The overall break from continued operations in theater was short; it has been only 18 months since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The proven durability and reliability of the Global 6000 platform were displayed prominently in Afghanistan operations, where the E-11 fleet racked up several thousand hours per year, flying out of one of the harshest and most remote locations on the planet.
A Fleet Stretched Thin
There are few airframes, if any, that are as few as the E-11 fleet. And if there are, they are probably in a lower level of demand. The BACN has been in demand in the AOR since before a platform was even settled on! That’s right. The first BACN platform was the WB-57 Canberra fleet on loan from NASA, loaded up with the electronics suite to conduct BACN missions. But there are only two of these aircraft, and considering they are the only two in existence (at least in operation; there are plenty of static examples), logistics is an issue.
To work well, the BACN aircraft has to fly at high altitudes. The WB-57s operated at FL550 to dash all problems associated with beyond-line-of-sight communications. The aircraft would orbit at extremely high altitudes, providing repeating capabilities to ground fighters. But again, this was a stopgap solution. The original order was for four aircraft, delivered in a timely fashion and put straight into the cauldron, where they would fly for a decade or more. Now, this is a real feat. It takes a strong logistics train to support continuous operations anywhere in the world, but especially geographically isolated from the home station for years on end. It takes a strong partner to source the parts you’ll need, and you’ll need a lot of parts when three aircraft are flying thousands of hours yearly. Government Procurement, operated by Greenwood Aerospace, is that partner. A beefy supply chain takes much of the strain off of a diminished fleet.
A Total Fleet of Nine by 2027
As it stands now, the total fleet strength will be nine aircraft by 2027. The orders placed are for a new aircraft delivered every year through the duration of the contract. A fleet of nine does not sound like a lot, but it is enough to support multiple theatres of operations. For instance, it would be sufficient to support Pacific operations with at least a pair of aircraft while still leaving another handful for European and Middle Eastern operations. If the E-11 fleet can maintain between 75%-80% MC rates, they should have seven aircraft available at all times, leaving two down for maintenance. This would provide two for Europe, two for the Middle East/Southwest Asia, and two for the Pacific. Considering their 6,000+ mile range, this is ample for coverage purposes. Also, forward operations for the Global 6000 is not an issue considering their TOLD performance envelope. The Global 6000 only requires around 6,500’ of runway at MGTOW, which opens up a lot of the world for operations.
Tying Together Dissimilar Comms
While the repeater mission of BACN is imperative, it’s the ability to tie together disparate communications that really brings home the bacon. See, warfighters constantly rely on communications, and ground combatants often need to speak to aerial assets directly or to other branches. But the problem is that many communications get stovepiped because they need to be interoperable. It takes a gateway to synchronize those different systems, and the BACN is the gateway.
Of course, wars don’t take days off, so it is paramount to keep the gateway up and running. Modern airplanes, especially business-class jets, are incredibly reliable, but hard flying takes its toll on all machines. Thankfully, many of the problems that crop up over time are consistent across the fleet. Using this intelligence, you can build maintenance kits for common failures or for standard maintenance and inspection cycles, i.e., build out kits for A, B, and C, checks of common failures or worn parts to save time and constraints on the logistical system. Our kitting service saves time and enormous headaches by bringing parts in from numerous vendors and delivering them anywhere in the world in a kit instead of them trickling in one or two at a time.
The Greenwood Advantage
Maintenance is the lifeblood of all military aircraft operations. Of course, it is the lifeblood of all commercial aircraft operations, but military operations are particularly stressful on aircraft. But maintenance in itself is nothing without a strong supply chain of parts when you need them. One of the biggest hurdles is dealing with the hundreds of parts suppliers out there. Sourcing the right part is time-consuming, and having them coming in from all over the world takes a lot of work. Could you condense parts sourcing for your fleet to one point of contact? That’s what we do for you. We source the parts, we store the parts, and we issue the parts as you need them. Need a kit of parts, but no single vendor offers all the necessary parts for the project? Let us handle it, and we’ll ship them all to you as a kit! Whatever your logistical hurdles are in your fleet operations, Greenwood Aerospace will be there every step of the way to keep your MC rates up and your maintenance team in the game!