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Funding Cutbacks Imperil TSAT Program: Report

By | August 20, 2007

      Moves in Congress to cut funding for the Transformational Satellite Communications program (TSAT) endanger both progress on the networking program itself, and the lives of service personnel as well.

      So says Loren Thompson, chief operating office of the Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon focusing on defense and other topics. He delivered that finding in a paper he authored after conferring with a working group of public-sector and private-sector experts.

      His comments come as Congress is wrapping up defense authorization and appropriation legislation for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.

      As well, Thompson’s report comes as the largest defense contractors are vying to win a giant contract for the next phase of the TSAT program. The Boeing Co. [BA] and a Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]/Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] effort, each handed the Air Force a proposal to compete for a key segment in the Transformational Satellite Communications System Space Segment program, or TSAT. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, July 30, 2007, page 89, and Monday, Aug. 6, 2007, page 7.)

      The ultimate TSAT prize — involving a five-satellites constellation — eventually will be worth some $10 billion to $18 billion over the life of the program going out to 2020.

      The Lexington Institute report notes that TSAT, unlike many large defense programs, has technology that works, and the program is proceeding apace.

      But there still remains uncertainty over the future of the program.

      Even though “most of the technologies necessary to bring TSAT to fruition have already matured in the commercial world, the program has been repeatedly delayed by cutbacks in funding,” the report notes. “Failure to fund the program adequately in the future could leave war-fighters ill-equipped for the fluid and diverse challenges of the information age.”

      TSAT is to be a warfighters’ World Wide Web, providing instantaneous information to help clear the chaos of combat and permit American forces to outmaneuver enemies.

      Using geosynchronous-orbit satellites to provide global coverage, plus ground stations and networks, the system would include thousands of portable terminals on aircraft, ships, land vehicles, ground stations and individual personnel.

      This all would provide combatants “with unprecedented carrying capacity, accessibility and reliability,” the report notes.

      “TSAT is the only orbital communications option presently available to the military that can reconcile rapidly growing demand for bandwidth with the need to protect sensitive information from jamming, eavesdropping and nuclear effects.”

      That last was a reference to electromagnetic pulse, a possible effect of a nuclear blast or blasts that can demolish the operating capabilities of a wide array of electrical and electronic assets.

      If fully funded and developed, the report notes that TSAT would “bring war-fighters and other members of the national security community flexible, unfettered communications — even when they are on the move or under fire.”

      It would facilitate the flow of information across diverse and perhaps otherwise incompatible systems as though they were part of a single integrated system, the report notes. “When combined with high-capacity laser links and dynamic allocation of bandwidth, the internet-style communications system supported by TSAT will deliver major benefits to war- fighter,” the report notes:

      • Greatly increased carrying capacity
      • Interoperability across diverse networks
      • Expanded access for local users
      • Enhanced quality of service
      • Advanced information protection
      • Improved situational awareness

      Since TSAT can deliver all this even to moving or isolated users, “TSAT is arguably the single most important technology initiative the military is currently funding,” Thompson asserts.

      “It will save money and lives across the joint force, enabling strategies that would not have been feasible employing legacy communications systems.”

      Lawmakers who have decided to fully finance TSAT are right, the report asserts.

      “In the final analysis, the fate of TSAT hinges on whether policymakers and legislators alike can grasp the advantages delivered to war-fighters by a space-based communications network incorporating internet protocol technology, laser cross-links, and dynamic allocation of bandwidth,” the report found. “Such items may sound arcane to the uninitiated, but they will make the difference between life and death for American soldiers, sailors and airmen in the battles that lie ahead.”

      The report stresses that there is no other, substitute procurement program waiting in the wings to spring forth if TSAT falters for funding shortages.

      “TSAT isn’t just the cheapest way of delivering agility, awareness and precision to the joint force of the future — in many situations, it is the only way,” according to the report.

      And the effort is worth it, the report concludes, stating that delaying or dropping TSAT would be a serious blow to personnel in harm’s way.

      “Successful development and integration of military communications satellites is a protracted, demanding process, but it confers operational advantages on U.S. forces that no adversary can match,” the report concludes. The report entitled “TSAT: Essential to Security” can be viewed in entirety at on the Web.

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