Lt. Gen. Michael W. Peterson, USAF

June 2006
By Lt. Gen. Michael W. Peterson, USAF, Chief of Warfighting Integration and Chief Information Officer, Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

“Bringing home the bacon” is an old saying that in one of its interpretations means providing for the necessities of life. A new U.S. Air Force variation might be “bringing home the BACN”—or the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, a force multiplier that will help offset force reductions and bring new, affordable communications capabilities of which the warfighter could only until recently dream.

All U.S. military forces are in the process of transitioning to a network-centric infrastructure with increased emphasis on machine-to-machine interface and data fusion. For joint air forces, this means leading currently used voice and tactical datalink (TDL) execution networks to secure, affordable, Internet-like capabilities and services.

Leading the way in this transition, the Air Force Command and Control & Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center (AFC2ISRC), located at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, in partnership with the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, is guiding the development of air and ground companion initiatives to increase air operations communications capabilities drastically and to build an Internet protocol (IP) backbone for the air operations portion of the Global Information Grid (GIG). Both BACN, the airborne effort, and the Rapid Attack Information Dissemination Execution Relay (RAIDER), the ground effort, are offsetting IP networking delays associated with Joint Tactical Radio System development problems. When fielded, BACN and RAIDER capabilities will project networking technologies to the forward edge of the battlefield and will create a high-capacity backbone for combatant commanders. When compared to today’s low-bandwidth TDL networks—at approximately 2.4 to 130 kilobits per second—the BACN/RAIDER architecture will provide a high-capacity IP network with data rates ranging from 2 megabits per second to well over 274 megabits per second in future years. And, this high-capacity capability will extend down to the soldier/airman level—the first tactical mile. When fielded and working as a team, BACN/RAIDER will respond to theater priorities dynamically; will connect current tactical data networks (TDNs) to evolving, high-capacity terrestrial GIG IP networks; and will bridge disparate voice systems.

Today’s deployed warriors live in a bandwidth-constrained environment absent of such conveniences as chat, e-mail, voice mail and text messaging. During the terrorist attacks in London, everyday citizens with cell phone cameras augmented the official remote security cameras and assisted officials to track down suspects in record time. The BACN/RAIDER architecture brings this concept and much more to the battlefield, demonstrating the art of the possible. Using Common Data Link-based networked terminals, the BACN/RAIDER architecture provides a significant increase in connectivity from the Air and SpaceOperationsCenter to the tactical edge. The BACN/RAIDER architecture also will provide high-capacity data storage by fielding secure forward tactical servers across the battlefield. These servers will act as local access points similar to the wireless local area networks found in many homes today.

BACN’s tailorable payload also will be able to respond quickly to support multiple operations simultaneously. Communications relay/bridging, TDN gateway and IP server functions will provide transparent connectivity for the warfighter. The objective host is anticipated to be an unmanned aerial vehicle enabling the aircraft to operate nearer to contested airspace and at high altitude providing approximately 33,000 square miles of coverage. Combined with the highly mobile RAIDER groundstations that provide local access, battlefield information flow and management will fundamentally change.

During Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2006, the BACN/RAIDER prototypes proved their worth in a live-fly environment by connecting non-interoperable platforms, generating and distributing a much improved air picture, and providing time-sensitive data to disadvantaged ground forces. Of special note, BACN’s “super surveillance” function can actually combine TDN data, intelligence information and local ground radar data to produce an improved common operational picture (COP) available to users anywhere on the GIG. This means that anyone with a computer, a browser and permission can access a very low-latency COP. Spiral development of these two programs will add further capabilities in fiscal year 2007, with an initial field ing in fiscal year 2008.

The BACN/RAIDER architecture will provide combatant commands with an order of magnitude increase in connectivity and capability. The combination of high-capacity transport and storage of data, dynamic control, security and affordability will provide our warriors with a decisive advantage at the tip of the spear. In a very real way, BACN and RAIDER as well as other related AFC2ISRC efforts, such as the Adaptable Joint C4ISR Node, are moving the Air Force’s TDN to the GIG.