Canadian Military Ready to Pledge $477 Million for U.S. WGS Participation
[Satellite News 10-28-11] Canada could be the United States’ latest Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) ally as the nation’s government revealed plans Oct. 28 to spend as much as $477 million to participate in the U.S.-led military program. The announcement follows Canadian Parliament authorizing Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay permission to pay the sum to ensure Canadian participation.
The $477 million would be paid throughout a number of years, but Canadian Department of National Defense Spokesman Daniel Blouin said negotiations regarding the deal are still underway and that improved communication capabilities are critical to the Canadian military’s future requirements.
“After Afghanistan and Libya, our efforts in those two countries have proven that the exchange of information between headquarters and deployed elements is critical to modern military operations and their success,” Blouin said. “In order to meet that intent while ensuring good value for taxpayer money, we’re seeking out an agreement with international allies that will provide Canadian forces with access to an international constellation of satellites.”
The WGS communications system is used by the Pentagon to support U.S. warfighters, allies and coalition partners during all levels of conflict. The U.S. Department of Defense planned the system to have as many as nine military satellites in orbit over different parts of the world to provide high frequency bandwidth for U.S. and allied forces in all theaters of operation. The WGS program, however, has been subject to development delays and cost overrun scrutiny in U.S. Congress due to the economic recession. According to various government budget reports, the overall WGS program is 39.5 percent above budget projections and has been identified alongside the F-35 joint strike fighter as having technical issues.
Speaking at the Hosted Payload Summit Oct. 4 in Washington D.C., Gregory Schulte, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said the U.S. military’s intention to secure allied participation in the WGS is one of the Pentagon’s top priorities. “Our close ally Australia has bought into the system, and the [U.S.] Air Force is in the final phases of developing similar arrangements with several other allies. This approach has increased the size and capacity of the constellation. Internationalizing WGS also complicates the calculations of any country contemplating an attack on the system,” he said.
Canada’s participation in the WGS program would follow Australia’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense in 2007 to contribute more than $800 million to pay for the sixth WGS satellite in exchange for access to a portion of its overall bandwidth. Similar deals are being negotiated with governments in New Zealand, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Blouin said Canada is not looking for a one-year deal to access military communications on WGS. “We’re looking for long-term planning to meet the needs of the Canadian Forces. We also are looking to create a two-satellite system over the Arctic to provide Canada with improved military communication services and aid in defense operations. The Polar Communications and Weather Mission may complement the WGS, which does not cover the High Arctic, but the two systems are separate,” he said.