US military plane that crashed in Afghanistan: What we know

An Air Force statement has confirmed that the plane that crashed in Afghanistan Monday was a U.S. Air Force E-11A communications and electronic warfare plane.

“A U.S. Bombardier E-11A crashed today in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. While the cause of the crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan said in a statement.

The Air Force’s E-11A surveillance plane can identify enemy ground forces, network with units advancing in combat, jam enemy communications with electronic attack and function as a vital “Wi-Fi” node in the sky, key mission functions described in various Air Force reports.

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It operates with what the Air Force calls Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload, an integrated technical system that uses advanced sensors and EW to relay information and perform life-saving missions in war.

The plane, a militarized version of a Bombardier Global Express business aircraft, has been based at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Air Force reports explain that the aircraft brings particular value to the mountainous areas of Afghanistan, as ground units are often separated by rigorous terrain and without line-of-sight communications networks. The planes operate in support of Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadrons (EECS).

Technically speaking, an airborne node can function as a flying aerial connector between ground communications and command and control systems. A radio frequency emission that might otherwise bounce off a mountainside can instead be networked to an airborne E-11A and reach nearby ground units or a combat headquarters.

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BACN is “like Wi-Fi in the sky,” Capt. Jacob Breth, 430th EECS pilot, said in a November 2018 Air Force report.

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The BACN was developed in direct response to the well-known Operation Red Wings, the tragic operation in Afghanistan depicted in the famous “Lone Survivor” movie. The movie depicts the real-life story of a group of Navy SEALs who, due to communication failure while on patrol, wound up isolated and overwhelmed by massive amounts of Taliban attackers.