Skynet 5 satellite
Airbus said in March that it Skynet 5 satellite. Credit: U.S. Navy

WASHINGTON — Airbus Defence and Space on March 16 said it was moving its Skynet 5A military X- and UHF-band telecommunications satellite over the Asia-Pacific region to give the company near-global coverage for military users.

The move, which has the blessing of the British Defence Ministry – the Skynet system’s current anchor customer and possible future owner – should begin in the coming weeks. Skynet 5A is moving from its current slot at 6 degrees east longitude to 97 degrees east and should begin providing services at the new slot by midyear, the company said.

Once it is in place, the Skynet fleet will be able to provide encrypted, jam-resistant capacity to allied governments from 178 degrees west to 165 degrees east.

Airbus is already leasing the full X-band capacity on Telesat’s Anik G1 commercial satellite. Airbus officials said here during the Satellite 2015 conference that the Anik G1 capacity is low-power and does not feature the encryption and jam resistance that are features of the Skynet 5 satellites, which were purpose-built for the British Defence Ministry with additional capacity sold to allied governments.

NATO has leased capacity on Skynet, as have individual NATO governments.

Airbus owns the Skynet satellites as part of a multibillion-dollar, two-decade contract with the British Defence Ministry. When the contract ends early in the next decade, the satellites – which Astrium financed – will revert to British military control in advance of a new competition to manage the system. Airbus is all but certain to compete for the new contract and may or may not have competition.

In a statement released with the Airbus announcement of the Skynet 5A maneuver, Philip Dunne, British minister for defence equipment, support and technology, said moving the satellite over the Asia-Pacific “is clear proof of how much our relationships with our international allies matter.This is the first time that we have had a secure communications capability in the region.”

Evert Dudok, head of Airbus’ Communications, Intelligence and Security division, said demand for some Skynet services in Europe and the Middle East had dipped with the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the principal reason, and the reason Airbus proposed the move, is to meet demand in the Asia-Pacific region.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.