While the United States may invest more than any other nation in milsatcom assets and capacity, there is a great deal of innovation to be seen in international milsatcom strategies. As nations struggle to fund next-generation milsatcom programs, we look at how some countries are trying to meet the bandwidth needs of their armed forces.
The economic downturn is forcing governments and armed forces around the world to reassess their capabilities and, more importantly, their ability to pay for it. As nations grapple with debt issues, getting the most from milsatcom capabilities at a lower cost has become a priority, however, lowering costs while increasing available bandwidth is not an easy equation to master. This equation presents a challenge to many governments around the world as they try to meet the requirements of their armed forces.
Australia has recently built its reputation for its open-minded attitude towards satellite. The Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) has put satellite front-and-center when bringing broadband to remote areas in Australia. It has been equally progressive using satellite in its defense strategy. In April 2009, the Australian Defense Force (ADF) signed a deal to purchase a specialized UHF communications payload aboard an Intelsat satellite scheduled for launch in 2012. As part of a hosted payload contract valued at approximately $167 million, Intelsat will arrange for the construction and integration of the UHF payload with its satellite.
Maj. Gen. Mike Milford, head of ICT operations division for the Australian Defense Force, says that in terms of whether the military would consider more hosted payload type deals, it is important to understand that, “hosted payloads offer comparative advantages over the traditional ‘owned and operated’ solutions including shared costs and risks between defense and industry, and the ability to leverage commercial satellite industry experience. At the same time, a hosted payload agreement puts a number of constraints on the commercial operator beyond those to which they would normally be exposed in a purely commercial sale. These include limitations in the positioning of the satellite, increased security requirements and stringent response requirements to support configuration changes and communications channel maintenance.”
For future payloads, ADF will carefully consider capability, cost, sovereignty and the security environment, provided these issues are adequately addressed, Milford adds.
The partnership between Intelsat and the ADF is a textbook example of a close relationship between the government and the commercial satellite sector and Milford does not rule out further partnerships between the ADF and other entities in the commercial satellite sector. “Defense is always mindful of the need for affordable solutions to meet new and emerging requirements, and openly encourages innovation in the nature of commercial response to capability needs. The hosted payload solution offered by Intelsat is an example of an innovative approach that met the extant Defense requirement. Other partnering proposals that involve mature technologies to meet a known requirement and can be operated without a need to change the skill sets of the Defense workforce are worthy of consideration,” he says.
Australia released a Defense White Paper in 2009 and currently has a Defense Capability Plan (DCP) in place which highlight Defense’s requirements for global and beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) communications. The ADF is set for a busy couple of years. “The main challenge over the next two years is taking the space segment components from Joint Project 2008 from the acquisition stage to the in-service stage and achieving final operational release to the warfighter. These are traditional project management challenges rather than satcom specific. The payloads being acquired will offer the ADF global capabilities far greater than what was previously serving Defense needs and the operation of this complex capability in terms of managing power, frequency and beam allocation will be a new skill to master,” Milford says.
Improving terminal capability is also at the heart of the challenges facing the ADF during the next two years. “Joint Project 2008 is a multi-phase program which is delivering WGS and the IS-22 capabilities together with a major wideband ground station in Western Australia. The program is also now finalizing the DCP proposals, which seek to equip the ADF with a fleet of satcom terminals ranging from small to large aperture systems, designed to match the ADF requirements for bandwidth and mobility. The emerging trend is a diminishing reliance on commercial wideband services to conduct operations, moving towards a balance of purpose designed military systems and commercial providers hosting both military payloads and conventional commercial services,” Milford says.