WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday awarded Learjet a contract worth up to $465 million for Bombardier Global 6000 business jets, which will be modified into the E-11A aircraft used to relay data between platforms that cannot normally share information.

The contract immediately obligated $70 million to pay for the first Global 6000 out of a potential total of six planes. That aircraft will become an E-11A once it is modified with Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload.

The Air Force received $63 million for the E-11 program in fiscal 2021 to procure the first aircraft. As part of its FY22 budget request, which was rolled out last week, the service requested $124 million for another two E-11s.

The BACN payload provides relay, bridging, and data translation for platforms that are not able to communicate, either because they use different voice and data link systems or are separated by mountains or other terrain that impedes a reliable connection.

The new E-11A aircraft would expand the current fleet and allow the Air Force to “rapidly respond to the operational needs of combatant commanders worldwide,” Elizabeth Rosa, the Air Force’s BACN procurement lead, said in a news release.

Currently, the Air Force retains seven aircraft with the BACN payload. The service was left with three E-11As — which are crewed by two pilots — after one E-11 crashed in Afghanistan in January 2020. It also operates four EQ-4B Global Hawk drones equipped with the BACN payload.

Last year, the service attempted to retire a total of 24 Global Hawks, including the EQ-4B aircraft, as part of the FY21 budget. Congress ultimately rebuffed the proposal.

At the time, the Air Force said it expected to buy five E-11As to offset the divestment of the EQ-4B.

Work on the contract is expected to be completed in May 2026, according to the contract announcement.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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