X-tar: Over 80 Percent of U.S. Military Capacity Provided by Commercial Satellites

By | May 20, 2009 | Feature, Government

[Satellite News 05-20-09] The bandwidth needs of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense and its coalition forces have increased to the point where the U.S. government now relies on commercial satellite providers for 80 percent of its total capacity to meet mission requirements, according to Bill Schmidt, vice president of government marketing for X-tar.
    Schmidt told Satellite News, “The ratio of commercial capacity for government use is as high as 93 percent in battle arenas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
New data-intensive applications contributing to increased bandwidth requirements include Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for surveillance, gun targeting and data transmission platforms. Several U.S. states are also purchasing UAVs for border surveillance. Shifting data quickly takes a lot of bandwidth and the military’s growing appetite has resulted in a shrinking supply of Ku- and C-band capacity across the commercial satellite industry. Several companies have assessed the situation as a golden growth opportunity.
    X-tar, a privately financed joint venture between Loral Space & Communications and Spain’s Hisdesat, is one of several commercial satcom companies building on the rapid growth of X-band in the government sector. The company owns and operates the XTAR-EUR satellite and offers additional X-band capacity on XTAR-LANT, a payload on Hisdesat’S SpainSat satellite, covering a geographic region that stretches from Denver east to Singapore, including the entire continents of Africa and South America. Approximately 60 percent of X-tar’s bandwidth sold through other carriers and systems integrators.
    Another major player in this sector is CapRock Government Solutions (formerly Arrowhead Global Solutions). In December, CapRock announced a suite of managed X-band network services and less than 60 days later, the company was awarded two multi-million dollar contracts to provide over 200 MHz of commercial X-band satellite services to two major U.S. government agencies. 
    “Whereas the normal provisioning cycle for satellite capacity is typically 30-45 days, we’ve developed an online bandwidth portability system that allows us to provision bandwidth in as little as 12 hours.  This provides greater flexibility for the U.S. military, which may need to move troops to a new region or theater quickly,” CapRock Government Solutions Executive Vice President, David Myers told Satellite News.
    Paradigm Secure Communications, owned by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., signed the Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract in 2003 with the U.K. Ministry of Defense, making it the world’s first commercial provider of military satellite services.  Skynet 5 consists of three orbiting X-band satellites capable of precisely directing voice, internet, and broadcast communications to any part of the globe. Paradigm also assumed ownership of the Skynet 4 system, which includes three X-band transponders. 
    Paradigm provides military satcom services for the U.K. military on both systems, selling its excess capacity to allied governments.  The company also provides X-band services to the Portuguese Navy and maintains a 15-year contract with NATO for 300MHz of X-band.
    Codan Ltd., an Australian communications equipment company, has completed its acquisition of Pennsylvania-based Locus Microwave, in its effort to capitalize on the growth of X-band.
    “Amplifiers are what we do best – transmitting and receiving equipment positioned at earth stations,” said Locus co-founder and Executive Vice President of Sales, Gary McGovern.
    McGovern told Satellite News that its mobile or manpack upconverters are designed to go with the soldier, providing low power for shorter range applications over rough terrain, while the fixed equipment allows them to communicate with more people over greater distances.  “It’s not just the soldier talking to his commander but in many cases now a soldier can send and receive important data from central command,” he said.
    Locus, which focuses on the design, manufacture and supply of microwave radio products for X-Band networks including the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites, works with both the U.S. Army and Navy.
    WGS, which operates in both X- and Ka-band, is the U.S. government’s attempt to reduce its staggering reliance on commercial bandwidth.  In all, the U.S. Air Force has commissioned six advanced Boeing 702 satellites. Last month, the Pentagon launched the second satellite in the fleet, WGS-2. According to the Air Force, WGS-1, launched in 2007, has exceeded output power requirements, translating directly into additional communications capacity. 
    Even with the six WGS satellites, the U.S. Military still forecasts it will need to purchase 80 percent of its military satcom from commercial carriers, which is good news for X-band providers who know their products and services will continue to play a key role supporting the U.S. government for some time.

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