Hoeven Calls on Air Force to Base Manned E-11A Aircraft at GFAFB Along With Global Hawk Block 20
WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today wrote to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James asking that the manned E-11A aircraft be based at Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) along with the Global Hawk Block 20 already based at the base. Both aircraft are capable of performing the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) mission.
BACN provides a critical communications capability for our troops overseas. Hoeven told Secretary James that the BACN mission is a valuable asset and should be made a permanent Air Force program. Because the Grand Forks Air Force Base is already home to Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft, the senator made the case that the North Dakota base is a cost-effective, logical host for the BACN program if the manned E-11A were also based there.
BACN was designed in response to the urgent operational needs of deployed forces and provides excellent communications capabilities at relatively low cost, making it both important to the nation’s defense and cost-effective at a time when the military is under tremendous budget pressure.
“The Air Force can make BACN permanent by using existing facilities at Grand Forks Air Force Base, minimizing costs while retaining a critical communications capability important to our national defense,” said Hoeven. “In addition to the BACN mission and the Global Hawk Block 20, Grand Forks Air Force Base already hosts the Global Hawk Block 40 and is preparing to lease additional space at the base for contractor operations. That creates opportunity to locate BACN-related contractors to Grand Sky at minimal expense.”
Grand Forks is also home to Grand Sky, the region’s state-of-the-art aerospace business and technology park on the GFAFB. The new high-tech complex will provide cutting-edge facilities for unmanned aerial systems.
In addition, the last Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill passed by Congress includes an amendment authored and introduced by Hoeven that directed the agency to establish six UAS test sites across the nation to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System. In December, Grand Forks was selected as one of the sites.
The text of the letter follows.
June 16, 2014Mrs. Deborah Lee JamesSecretary of the Air Force1670 Air Force PentagonWashington, DC 20330-1670
Dear Secretary James:
The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) has provided critical communications capabilities for U.S. forces deployed in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). I urge you to retain funding for BACN in the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2015 OCO request. I also urge you to include BACN funding in the FY16 base budget request, making BACN a program of record and retaining the BACN capability for future operations.
BACN was designed in response to a joint urgent operational needs (JUON) requirement, but it will remain an important capability in future contingencies. As General Hostage, the Commander of Air Combat Command has said, “The BACN capability remains an enduring requirement for a high-altitude communications gateway capability today and post-JUON.” Indeed, last October at the direction of LTG Hestermann, Commander of Air Force Central Command, BACN began performing missions in the Arabian Gulf. Other BACN missions are likely to emerge in any future operation that requires extended-range communications, command and control, or situational awareness. Particularly in remote geographic regions that lack sufficient communications infrastructure, BACN provides excellent communications capabilities at relatively low cost.
Two platforms carry the BACN capability. The E-11A manned platform currently resides in an expeditionary squadron operated overseas via ACC staff. The EQ-4B is an unmanned Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft operated by the 69th Reconnaissance Group at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Both platforms provide value to the Air Force. The EQ-4B offers BACN capability at negligible marginal costs because it can use existing Global Hawk Block 30 and Block 40 infrastructure, pilots and maintenance personnel. The EQ-4B fleet size is limited to 3 aircraft, however, meaning that the four aircraft in the E-11A fleet are still required to fill out the mission.
In recognition of the enduring need for the BACN capability, the Air Force should make BACN permanent, including moving it to the base budget in FY16 and moving the E-11A fleet from its existing expeditionary squadron to the 69th Reconnaissance Group alongside the EQ-4B. This can be done using existing facilities at Grand Forks Air Force Base, minimizing costs while retaining critical capabilities. In addition, Grand Forks Air Force Base already hosts the Global Hawk Block 40 and is preparing to lease additional space at the base for contractor operations. Thus there is an opportunity to transfer BACN-related contractor activities to Grand Forks at minimal expense.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I stand ready to work with you to make these changes and ensure the Air Force can use the BACN capability for years to come. I have asked my staff to schedule a time to meet with you to follow up on this request. Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your continued commitment to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force.
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