E-11A Crashes in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 12:53 p.m. EST on Jan. 28, 2020, to include the most recent information on the crash.

An Air Force E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node aircraft crashed Jan. 27 in Afghanistan, US military officials confirmed, though there was no official word on the status of the aircraft’s crew as of press time.

The E-11A, a converted Bombardier Global Express Business jet loaded with specialized communications equipment, went down in a Taliban-controlled area of Ghazni Province, north of its operating base at Kandahar Airfield. The aircraft is assigned to the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield.

“There are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement. “Taliban claims that additional aircraft have crashed are false.”

The Air Force maintains a small presence of four E-11 aircraft at Kandahar. The aircraft operate as “Wi-Fi in the sky,” with specialized equipment that relay communications and serve as a bridge between otherwise incompatible systems. The aircraft was developed as an urgent operational need after communication shortfalls were identified during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005.

Speaking to reporters, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein confirmed the E-11 crash Monday morning, but said he did not have details on the status of the aircrew. The E-11 flies with a crew of two.

Unlike most other USAF aircraft, E-11 crews come from other airframes and often fly the plane the first time while deployed. The aircraft flies over Afghanistan constantly — it surpassed 10,000 sorties in 2017, about eight years after deploying to the country for the first time. 

Video posted online shows the wreckage, with the cockpit and main fuselage heavily damaged and burning. The tail of the aircraft is largely intact, with the tail markings of the Air Combat Command seal, tail number 11-9358, and USAF roundel clearly visible.