$823.6 Million Commitment Will Give Australians Access to Entire WGS


Washington —

On the eve of the U.S. Air Force’s first Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellite launch, the Australian government announced a partnership with the United States in which it will pay 927 million Australian dollars ($823.6 million) to fund a sixth satellite for the constellation.

The WGS system is intended to provide

a quantum leap in U.S. military satellite communications capacity. Boeing Satellite Systems of El Segundo, Calif., is under contract with the Air Force to build five WGS satellites; three are built fully and two are nearing the assembly stage.

Boeing’s contract includes an option to build a sixth satellite, but Mike Schavietello, the company’s deputy WGS program director, said

in an Oct. 3 conference call that the Air Force had not yet exercised that option. Schavietello said he would welcome the prospect of a sixth satellite, noting that it will reduce the military’s reliance on

commercial satellite communications capacity.

The first WGS satellite is slated to launch Oct. 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard an Atlas 5 rocket supplied by Denver-based United Launch Alliance. The second and third WGS satellites will be launched separately in 2008

aboard Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. Plans then call for the fourth satellite to be launched in 2011

and the fifth in 2012.

In a statement issued Oct. 3, Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said Australia would fund a sixth WGS satellite plus associated ground infrastructure in return for access to the constellation. He said the arrangement will enhance Australia’s ability to conduct multiple military operations independently or as part of an international coalition.

“Secure and reliable satellite communications will be available to deployed forces, operational command and Australian headquarters,” Nelson said.

In an Oct. 3 press release, Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, said the service “

saw a ‘win-win’ opportunity to partner with Australia to gain much needed additional capability while also satisfying Australia’s s

atcom requirements.”

The amount Australia will pay includes $707 million to cover

the procurement and launch of the sixth satellite and the cost of

integrating Australian requirements

into the payload management system, according to Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Monica Bland. The remainder of the full $823.6 million deal announced by the Australian defence minister

includes some additional


Bland said in an email.

Boeing was awarded the Block 1 WGS contract in 2001 for three identical satellites and ground-based command and control elements. The company was awarded a Block 2 contract in 2006 to build two more

satellites with enhanced features to support airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms like unmanned aerial vehicles that require large amounts of bandwidth.

Each 5,940-kilogram

, geostationary-orbiting Block 1 satellite will be able to route 2.1 to 3.6 gigabits of data per second, providing more than 10 times the capacity of each predecessor Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) satellite. Like their predecessors, the WGS satellites will operate in X-band frequencies but also will carry Ka-band payloads and digital equipment

that allow users operating in different frequencies to communicate.

The first WGS satellite will undergo a five-month checkout period before Boeing hands over control to their customer, the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Future satellites only wil require four-month check out periods. The constellation will be operated by the 3rd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.

Other nations previously have invested in other U.S. military satellite communications systems like the Advanced Extremely High Frequency system. But Col. Patrick Rayermann, Chief of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Division, called the Australian

agreement a “pioneering success,” saying it represents an unprecedented level of international cooperation for this type of system.

The Air Force currently is reviewing the possibility of adding WGS capabilities beyond the sixth satellite, Air Force press officer Capt. Paula Kurtz said in a written statement.