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Technology improvements keep information flowing to warfighter

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 22, 2006) -- During the recent Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the Air Force demonstrated new technology that provides warfighters with greater connectivity and more timely information.

During the exercise, the Air Force tested the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. The system is an experiment in network connectivity featuring radio communications devices aboard an RB-57 Canberra aircraft. On the ground, Rapid Attack Information Dissemination-Execution Relay vehicles -- Army HUMVEEs with communications equipment -- act as ground stations for the BACN aircraft.

The RAIDER ground unit can support up to 500 warfighters, and a BACN itself can support up to 50 RAIDER vehicles. Thus, a single BACN gives communications and bandwidth support to as many as 25,000 warfighters, including cellular phone support.

"Pairing RAIDER and BACN units could provide warfighters in Southwest Asia with unprecedented connectivity across a mix of communications devices," said Lt. Gen. Michael W. Peterson, chief of warfighting integration and chief information officer for the Air Force.

"Itís a highly effective gateway," he said. "You immediately connect your ground forces, air forces and, as the next generation space forces come online, advanced extremely high frequency and transformational satellite communications."

Besides BACN, the Air Force and Army are experimenting with high altitude, long-loiter radio capabilities. Putting a radio transponder unit on a weather balloon, at an altitude between 65,000 and 90,000 feet, provides a radio relay point for forces on the ground. For about $7,000 dollars the long-loiter radio experiment demonstrated the potential to provide cost effective network communications capabilities to distant special operations forces.

"They were networked back to the special operations liaison element in the Air and Space Operations Center," General Peterson said. "They said they wanted access to the network. They were using (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), instant messaging, chat rooms, email and information services to Hurlburt Field (Fla.) where their ASOC is located. It worked perfectly and demonstrated how this experiment will pay huge dividends."

Systems like BACN and long-loiter radio can put groundbreaking communications and information capabilities into the hands of warfighters. Technologies like these are important for the military, and the Air Force puts emphasis on making them available.

"I can't tell you how many articles I read or speeches I heard from Army and Marine lieutenant colonels that felt like they were on their own when they left garrison; the information flow just stopped," General Peterson said.

The Air Forceís goal is to "...take this environment, where information doesn't stop, and (our) Airmen have what they need and get it out to the warfighter," he said.