DGA Funds Competing Military SatCom Studies

by

PARIS — The French arms procurement agency, DGA, said Sept. 7 it had contracted with France’s two satellite prime contractors to conduct competing one-year studies on a next-generation military satellite communications system to succeed France’s Syracuse 3 network in 2019.

Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian contractor headquartered in Cannes, France; and Astrium Satellites of France, Britain and Germany, will examine designs for what DGA for now is calling the Comsat NG system.

DGA said Comsat NG will include X-band, Ka-band and EHF payloads and could be part of a cooperative effort with Britain or Italy or both. The two studies will be assessed in early 2013 with a view to proceeding with Comsat NG, DGA said.

France’s two Syracuse 3 military telecom satellites were launched in 2005 and 2006. A third satellite had been planned but was scrapped in favor of a joint program with Italy. Italy and France are now sharing the cost of building and launching a Sicral 2 satellite that will carry separate French and Italian payloads in SHF and UHF frequencies. Sicral 2 is scheduled for launch in late 2013 or 2014.

The two governments also have joined forces to build a dual-use Ka-band broadband satellite called Athena-Fidus for French and Italian civil and military use.

Astrium Satellites’ corporate sibling, Astrium Services, owns Paradigm Secure Communications of Britain, which owns and operates Britain’s Skynet military communications satellites under a long-term contract. Three Skynet 5 satellites have been built and launched by Astrium under this contract, and a fourth is scheduled for launch in 2013.

Britain, France and Italy joined together to win a contract from the NATO alliance to provide military satellite bandwidth. Italy’s contribution was its Sicral 1 and Sicral 1b satellites.

French military officials for years have debated whether to copy the British model and sell the Syracuse 3 system and then lease capacity from the satellites’ new owner. Thales Alenia Space, which is prime contractor for the current Syracuse 3 satellites and the future Sicral 2, had expressed interest in the sale-and-leaseback scheme, as had Astrium Services.

In early 2012 French authorities decided to scrap the idea. France’s new administration, which assumed office in May and June, has not expressed an opinion on whether Syracuse ultimately should be privatized under a contract that would guarantee the government a certain amount of satellite bandwidth, with surge capacity available when needed.

DGA said the two studies should include “technical and industrial-organization options with a view to optimizing costs.”