Disruption of Intelsat Service for U.S. Navy Was Short Lived

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NEW YORK – A failure warning on a communications node shut down commercial satellite links to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf region in August and demonstrated the advantage of the Navy’s new way of procuring commercial satellite bandwidth, a Navy program manager said Oct. 12.

Melinda Ratz, assistant program manager for the Navy’s Commercial Broadband Satellite Program (CBSP), said the CBSP contracting vehicle spared the Navy the need to slap together an emergency procurement of satellite capacity to make up for the communications breakdown.

Instead, the Navy asked the CBSP prime contractor, Intelsat General Corp. of Washington, to solve the problem on its own. Ratz said Intelsat was able to resolve the issue by bypassing the defective communications link and re-establishing Fifth Fleet communications on another satellite.

“CBSP has changed the game,” Ratz said here during the Satcon conference. “We are now operating under a performance-based contract. In the past, if we had lost connection to the Fifth Fleet assets, we would have put into place an emergency contract. This time, we left it to Intelsat General, who put us on another satellite, connected to another point of presence. We recovered in days rather than the weeks it would have taken otherwise. So we were able to save money, but also recover faster.”

Intelsat General won the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity CBSP contract in early 2010. It is valued at up to some $540 million over five years. To assure the coverage the Navy wanted, Intelsat secured satellite capacity not only on its own fleet, but also on spacecraft operated by Sky Perfect JSat Corp. of Japan, SES of Luxembourg and Paradigm Secure Communications of Britain.

The communications glitch was not located on the Intelsat 15 satellite that was being used by the Fifth Fleet, nor on the commercial teleport that Intelsat General was using to complete the link. Instead, it was a kind of error message that, when detected, automatically shuts down communications.

Intelsat General President Kay Sears said Intelsat General discovered the off-nominal readings on the link and informed the Navy. The company then re-established satellite links to the Fifth Fleet by routing traffic to another satellite that bypassed the troublesome communications node to link with the Navy.

CBSP is one of several new contract vehicles being tried out by the U.S. armed forces that are intended to reduce the cost of satellite bandwidth. The U.S. Defense Department is the world’s biggest buyer of commercial satellite capacity.