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Did US Air Force has deployed its newest E-11A Low-Earth Satellite-Capable Aircraft to Saudi Arabia?

According to a press release the US Air Force (USAF) released on January 2, the USAF has sent a brand-new model of one of its prized communications aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

Midway through December of last year, an E-11A outfitted with Northrop Grumman's Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) landed at Prince Sultan Air Base.

Bombardier Defense, a Canadian manufacturer of aircraft, delivered the new E-11A to the USAF in September 2022. On December 16, 2022, the aircraft arrived in Saudi Arabia to formally join the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron at Prince Sultan Air Base. The aircraft's serial number is 21-9045.

The aircraft is the first of six E-11As that the USAF will get by the end of 2026. The USAF's E-11A fleet now numbers four in total.

The USAF has three other E-11As based on BD-700 and Global 6000 models, while the most recent E-11A is a heavily modified Bombardier Global 6500 business jet.

The USAF’s newest E-11A, serial number 21-9045, after arriving at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia on December 16, 2022 (USAF)

After one of its four original E-11As was destroyed in an accident in Afghanistan in 2020, the USAF declared its intention to purchase six new E-11As in February 2021. The only operational E-11A unit in the USAF is the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron.

As part of the US military's withdrawal from Afghanistan, the unit was first transferred to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and then to Prince Sultan Air Base. Until 2020, it was forward deployed at Kandahar Airfield.

The E-11A Aircraft

The E-11A is a low-inventory, high-demand asset that serves the US Central Command's more than 4 million square mile area of responsibility, which extends from Northeast Africa through the Middle East to Central and South Asia.

The BACN package, which USAF officials refer to as a "WiFi in the sky" capability, is installed on E-11A aircraft. It enables the E-11A to perform like a low-Earth satellite and maintain aerial command and control capabilities for airborne and ground units.

The new E-11A receives a water salute after arriving at Prince Sultan Air Base. (USAF)

The BACN package is a highly specialized communications gateway node made to enable the transfer of data between various airborne platforms and forces on the ground/surface while also establishing an "active net" over the battlespace. The aircraft's capabilities also enable them to act as essential communications relay nodes.

"The 430th provides support to warfighters who operate continuously in the CENTCOM AOR. According to Lt. Col. Todd Arthur, commander of the 430th EECS, "we provide communication coverage to ground and air forces in active combat zones, which require consistent, clear communications to higher levels of leadership and other command and control assets."

Due to the limited number of E-11As, which must frequently rotate back to the US for maintenance and other tasks, most of the training for new pilots to operate them takes place in the theatre.

The E-11As Might Be Very Helpful In A Potential War With China or Russia in the Future

The E-11As has been actively used for a variety of other operational and training tasks while flying from the Arabian Peninsula after the end of active US military operations inside Afghanistan.

These include a number of training drills off the coast of Israel and the ongoing coalition operations in Iraq under US leadership. In addition, at least one E-11A was used in a joint US-UAE exercise in 2021 that concentrated on using several platforms at once to carry out and improve tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter threats from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

An E-11A takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE to support a counter-drone exercise in 2021. (USAF)

According to reports, these jets' BACN capability, which translates between different platforms that might not otherwise be able to communicate directly with one another, could be very useful in any future multi-national coalition operations.

The vast expanses of the Indo-Pacific, where the US military is intensifying preparations for a potential future high-end conflict with China, are one area where the E-11A aircraft could be very helpful.

The same is true for the European theatre, where the United States and its NATO allies have also been increasing their force posture to thwart Russian aggression, particularly in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

However, as evidenced by the recent arrival of the most recent model of the E-11A in the area, the Middle East appears to be the USAF's E-11A fleet's primary focus for the time being.

SOURCE: EurAsian Times

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