Australian, U.S. Forces To Share UHF Satellite Capacity

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PARIS — U.S. and Australian defense forces will share narrowband satellite capacity in the Pacific and Indian ocean regions following an agreement signed April 28 and a decision by Australia to double the amount of military communications capacity it is buying from commercial satellite fleet operator Intelsat, defense officials from both countries said.

The bilateral agreement will give the Australian Defence Force (ADF) access to the U.S. Department of Defense’s future Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) constellation of satellites to provide UHF-frequency links to deployed troops. ADF will use the U.S. capacity for Pacific Ocean Region coverage.

In return, U.S. forces will have access to the ADF’s 18-channel UHF payload to be launched on the Intelsat IS-22 satellite in early 2012. ADF had agreed to purchase eight of the 18 UHF channels in a contract with Intelsat signed in April 2009 that included a one-year option to buy the remaining capacity. IS-22 will be stationed at 72 degrees east longitude for Indian Ocean Region coverage.

Luxembourg-headquartered, Washington-based Intelsat and ADF, in separate announcements made April 28 and April 29, announced that the option had been exercised and that ADF would take ownership of the full payload for the satellite’s planned 15-year service life.

IS-22 will debut Boeing’s new 702-MP satellite platform. In addition to the ADF payload, it will carry 48 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders for Intelsat’s commercial customers.

Intelsat had valued the initial ADF contract at $167 million, and said the option would add another $150 million to the contract’s value, bringing the total to about $317 million over 15 years. The payment schedule is front-loaded to offset Intelsat’s costs in building, launching and insuring IS-22.

ADF, in an April 29 statement, said its UHF satellite program’s total “purchase price” is 475 million Australian dollars, or $437.8 million at current exchange rates.

“Purchasing the full satellite payload will improve operational effectiveness and enhance the communications support to Australia’s deployed forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan,” Australia’s defense minister, Sen. John Faulkner, said in an April 29 statement.

In a separate but related agreement, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on April 28 signed a memorandum of understanding on sharing of UHF-frequency satellite capacity with Lt. Gen. David Hurley, vice chief of ADF.

Australia, whose current access to UHF satellite capacity is about to end with the retirement of the U.S. Navy’s Leasat 5 satellite and the end of a contract to lease bandwidth aboard Britain’s Skynet 5B satellite, had been seeking a long-term replacement for at least a year.

“We were, frankly, running into a problem,” Hurley said at the agreement’s signing ceremony, which was webcast by ADF. The agreement, he said, “has fundamentally changed the way we look at UHF satellite capacity in the future. Great cooperation between allies has enabled us to solve a problem for both of us.”

Cartwright said the agreement should be viewed as “more the culmination of a start, rather than an end, of a process. Both our nations need to do more of this, and other allies too.”