December 31, 2012
Credit: Credit: Boeing
Graham Warwick Washington and William N. Ostrove Forecast International
Add bandwidth to those perennial consumables of war, bullets and beans, and it becomes clear why the government and commercial satellite-communications markets are drawing closer.
While the military continues to have unique requirements for satellite surveillance and protected communications, the need for bandwidth to connect unmanned aircraft and network ground forces has driven increasing demand for, and reliance on, leased commercial satellite capacity.
Although troops are pulling out of Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO military planners expect demand for bandwidth to remain high as operations continue, primarily to support unmanned aircraft. As ground forces are withdrawn, reliance on UAVs to protect those that remain is increasing, and they are large consumers of bandwidth. Demand for capacity is also shifting to other areas of operations, such as North Africa.
The Pentagon is the largest user of commercial communications-satellite capacity and in 2010 put in place the Future Comsatcom Services Acquisition program, worth $3.5 billion over five years, to increase competition and drive down bandwidth prices.
A similar approach was taken for military purchases of commercial satellite imagery, with the EnhancedView program worth $7.3 billion over 10 years. But the Pentagon cut funding for fiscal 2013 by half, leaving only enough money for one of the two performers. This is forcing DigitalGlobe and GeoEye to merge.
Europe, where some militaries rely solely on commercial satcom services, is also moving to streamline procurement. The European Defense Agency (EDA) has launched a program to pool satcom demand and reduce costs by 10%, and has awarded Astrium Services an initial three-year, €2.3 million ($3 million) contract to act as the commercial and operational interface with satellite operators.
EDA sees the European Satellite Communications Procurement Cell pilot project as a step toward European cooperation on replacing existing national military satcom capabilities. France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the U.K. all operate national military systems that need to be replaced in 2017-25 at a combined cost of around €12 billion, and pooling and sharing could save at least €1 billion, estimates EDA.