Profile: Caroline Laurent
Director, Syracuse 3 Military Satellite Program,
French Arms Procurement Agency (NGA)
F rench defense authorities this month are expected to begin limited use of their Syracuse 3A satellite, which was launched into its orbital slot at 47 degrees east longitude in October after a series of satellite- and rocket-related delays that exasperated officials from the French arms procurement agency, DGA.
The Syracuse 3 program, budgeted at more than 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) including two satellites and an upgraded ground communications network, is France’s first dedicated military satellite communications program. The Syracuse 2 system currently in orbit consists of military payloads aboard the commercial Telecom 2 satellites operated by France Telecom.
For Caroline Laurent, DGA’s Syracuse 3 program manager, the pressure to get the Syracuse 3 system operational — the second satellite is scheduled for launch in mid-2006 — is coming from two areas. The first is from French deployed military forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere, who need to be assured of continued links as the Telecom 2 satellites are retired. The second is from NATO, which has contracted with France, Britain and Italy for SHF- and UHF-band communications for 15 years under a contract valued at about 450 million euros ($540 million).
Laurent discussed Syracuse 3 with Space News staff writer Peter B. de Selding.
The first Syracuse 3 satellite was launched Oct. 13 — nearly two years late. How is it that DGA has maintained its original Syracuse 3 program cost estimates?
Much of the program is done on a fixed-price basis with penalties attached to the contractors for delays. For us, the increased costs were very small — around 1 million euros ($1.2 million) related to our rental of capacity on Britain’s Skynet 4 satellites for operations in the Indian Ocean region this year, and in support of our troops in Afghanistan.
Under the 15-year NATO contract you won with your counterparts in Britain and Italy, Syracuse 3 services were supposed to start in January 2005. What modifications will be made in that contract to reflect the delay?
We will get less than our allotted share of the NATO contract this year, but the exact adjustment has not been determined.
What is the operational scenario now for your Syracuse 3A and future 3B satellites?
We will begin using two Syracuse 3A transponders in November, with full service to start in mid-January. We expect the Syracuse 3B to be launched by July 2006. We have a commitment from [launch services provider]. The July date is important because the Syracuse payload on board the Telecom 2C satellite at 5 degrees west needs to be replaced. We expect to be able to continue to use the 2C satellite, which is already in inclined orbit — not an ideal situation for the users — until 2007.
Is it certain that you will order a Syracuse 3C satellite from Alcatel Alenia Space?
No, it’s not. The Syracuse 3A and 3B are sufficient for our national use. But we have begun thinking about innovative financing mechanisms that we could put into place for Syracuse 3C. Under our contract option with Alcatel Alenia, no decision needs to be made for another six months or so. One option would be to build Syracuse 3C as a ground spare.
What is the status of the Telecom 2D satellite, which carries a Syracuse 2 military communications payload?
It’s in good condition and our current forecast is that it will be in service until 2010.
British authorities say they are saving taxpayers’ money by letting a private consortium manage Britain’s Skynet 5 military satellite system. The consortium then guarantees capacity over the program’s life. France is running Syracuse 3 as a conventional procurement. Is one more expensive than the other?
The British system of public accounts is different from ours. They take into account the cost of money, risk assessment figures, the value of risk transfer — much like a private banker would view things. The French system historically has not taken these things into account. We are following the British Skynet 5 experience closely. It’s possible that with Syracuse 3C, we would need only one-half the satellite and we would pay only for a percentage of its cost. A lot depends on how much third-party revenue is generated from selling capacity to other governments.
How much capacity on the two-satellite Syracuse 3 system do you have available for lease to allied governments?
NATO is taking between three and 3.5 transponders per year over 15 years. Germany has expressed an interest in leasing one or two transponders per year. Belgium and Greece have each indicated an interest. Now that we have Syracuse 3A in orbit we can measure more clearly the demand from other nations.
Europe has separate national milsatcom systems operated by Britain, France, Italy and Spain, with Germany planning its own as well. Looking back, was there any way of merging these programs to save money?
We tried just about every combination possible — with two nations, three nations, with the United States. When we added up everyone’s demands the result was huge satellites. The system would not necessarily have been less expensive. The fact that we all wanted one or two satellites each played a role in the difficulties, as did the fact that the military doesn’t always feel comfortable sharing capacity.
Has anything changed so that the future system is likely to be multinational?
A private-finance initiative similar to what Britain has done with Skynet 5 may well be the way to go for the next generation. If someone said to us, ‘I’ll build Syracuse 3C and you pay me an annual amount over the life of the satellite,’ we would entertain the idea.
DGA has been thinking about a civil-military, Ka-band satellite for military communications that does not need to be highly encrypted. What is the status of that proposal?
This idea, which we have called Athena, has appeal, but I have questions about its costs, particularly for the ground system. We have heard promises before about using COTS [commercial off-the-shelf technology] that would supposedly need only slight modification for military use. Then it turns out the terminals can’t survive a parachute drop, or don’t operate after prolonged exposure to temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) desert conditions, and you end up multiplying the costs by 10. But we are still thinking about this, and Athena could be our version of the [U.S.] Wideband Gapfiller program.