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Boeing Targets Manned and Unmanned ISR Platforms for Inmarsat’s GX Government Sales Tactic

By Caleb Henry | November 27, 2013
Boeing NATO GX government

Jim Mitchell, vice president of commercial satellite services, Boeing. Photo: Boeing

[Via Satellite 11-27-13] U.S. budget and government spending difficulties are nothing new in recent years. With significant drawbacks in spending occurring in 2013, many government suppliers saw revenue streams run thin or dry up altogether. Boeing, however, is still planning to sell capacity in the government market. After working extensively with Inmarsat on the Global Xpress (GX) satellites, the company was announced as the first Value Added Reseller for the GX network. Jim Mitchell, vice president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Services, spoke to Via Satellite about why the company is confident they can still profit in this market.

“While the government is facing significant budget pressures, they’re still going to buy a substantial amount of satellite commercial communications capacity in the near future,” said Mitchell. “The major issue is how they balance their communication needs with their budget realities.”

The first GX satellite, Inmarsat 5 F1, is scheduled to launch on a Proton rocket on Dec. 8, 2013. The full three-satellite constellation is expected to be online by the end of 2014, providing worldwide coverage in Ka-band and supplementing the U.S. Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcon (WGS) constellation.

To catch the eye of potential government buyers, the Boeing-built satellite is designed to include two types of capacity: a military steerable, and a fixed spot beam. Most military sales do not come with commercial capacity, but Boeing plans to change this norm.

“We’ve actually also found a lot of interest in the commercial Ka payload, which is the branded Inmarsat Global Xpress payload,” said Mitchell. “The ability to steer the global Ka-band beams, and access the global fixed spot beam coverage ensures high effective utilization of bandwidth, which in some cases may be more important than the cost of the bandwidth.”

Looking ahead, Boeing plans to provide future services that will not be dependent on a large military presence. “The government is scaling back in Afghanistan,” said Mitchell. “We understand that, however, experience has shown that ground forces are not the largest users of satellite communications capacity, and that’s what’s being scaled back. Manned and unmanned ISR platforms are very significant users of satellite capacity, and they’re going to be around for the foreseeable future.”

This complimentary alignment of services has positioned Boeing favorably to serve long-term interests of the U.S. government. Operations in Afghanistan are, albeit gradually, coming to a close, and future U.S. actions intend to involve much higher levels of international support. “The US DoD consistently states that future operations will always be joint and combined, said Mitchell. “One key to successful combined operations involving U.S. and allied forces is interoperable communications.”

Future missions are also expected to be smaller and more mobile. “The portability and the ability to move the capacity from theater to theater will be more important,” added Mitchell. “The DoD is also putting greater emphasis on operations in Africa and the Pacific, which tend to have fewer commercial sources of capacity available. We could be supportive of operations in Afghanistan and then just move the beam to support operations in the Pacific the next year.”

Lastly, Boeing’s services through GX are being designed to meet the government on their level. Thanks to developments in terminal technology, a single terminal can now communicate over both military and commercial frequencies. GX customers can use this streamlined equipment, along with all the necessary tools, which will be provided by Boeing and Inmarsat.

“There’s a major opportunity to reduce the government infrastructure they have in place … and instead take advantage of infrastructure that Boeing is putting in place,” said Mitchell.

Both Inmarsat and Boeing are putting in access stations for satellite traffic. Inmarsat will bring down the commercial traffic, and Boeing will bring down military. Both will then be routed from gateways terrestrially to their final users.

“It’s a much simpler infrastructure than what Ku has now, so we’ve seen a lot of interest in people who were worried about the cost of building, integrating, maintaining and refreshing the deployed infrastructure that supports Ku,” Mitchell added.

He said the system has “several customers” confirmed but, while most customers can’t commit to contracts for satellite capacity before the spacecraft launches, or the full system is operational, the interest received so far has convinced Boeing that the government is a market worth pursuing. And with Dec. 8 coming up fast, it won’t be long before they know for sure.