Five European Nations Agree To Pool Resources for Satellite Bandwidth Buys

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LONDON — The European Defense Agency (EDA) has secured backing from five of its governments to pool resources to purchase commercial satellite bandwidth on the spot market for military use as a way of saving money, EDA officials said Nov. 30.

The effort will start small, with no more than 2 million or so euros ($2.7 million) being put into an EDA account to be used by contractor Astrium Services to purchase mainly C- and Ku-band satellite capacity on behalf of the five participating nations — Britain, France, Italy, Poland and Romania.

The decision to actually begin operating the long-planned European Satellite Communication Procurement Cell, or |ESCPC, was made by EDA’s Steering Board during a Nov. 30 meeting in Brussels.

It was one of several initially small efforts to coax still-recalcitrant European governments to engage in “pooling and sharing” of military resources and budgets with a view to reduce the overall cost to taxpayers.

EDA Chief Executive Claude-France Arnould, in a statement to reporters after the board’s meeting, said EDA member states remain wary of diluting their autonomy even at a time of financial hardship.

“Cooperation is not a natural reflex,” Arnould said. “There are concerns, in particular about sovereignty and autonomy.”

EDA in late 2009 contracted with Astrium Services’ London Satellite Exchange subsidiary to prepare for ESCPC. The satellite exchange, like a stock exchange, matches sellers and buyers of satellite bandwidth, usually in small amounts for limited duration.

The fact that it has taken two years since the contract was signed to yield its first pilot project is a measure of European governments’ continued reluctance to join forces in military satellite systems.

“This is a quick win for pooling and sharing, and also a first step,” Arnould said of the ESCPC’s initial use of commercial satellite capacity. “Tomorrow, we will be able to use the ESCPC to propose to member states pooling and sharing for military satcom, with a huge potential of cost savings.”

EDA officials have estimated that its member governments individually purchase up to 50 million euros a year in commercial satellite bandwidth, mainly on the spot market. By collating their demands, ESCPC aims to reduce the per-megahertz cost of these procurements.

Rodolphe Paris, EDA’s satcom project officer, said the ESCPC should be able to start operations in 2012.

Addressing the Global Milsatcom conference here Nov. 29, Paris said European governments now facing budget crises have an opportunity to save 1 billion euros or more by preparing to join forces on their next-generation military satellite communications systems.

Paris said between 6 billion and 8 billion euros have been spent on five individual military satellite communications networks — 12 satellites and 10 separate control systems for UHF-, X-, SHF- and EHF-band systems for Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Paris said EDA has been briefing its members on a next-generation system that would succeed the five current networks but preserve elements of national autonomy.

The problem is that the deadline for decisions to replace the current-generation systems is fast approaching. France’s Syracuse 3 satellite system needs to be replaced starting around 2018. The two-satellite Spanish system, Secomsat, has a planned replacement date around the same time, as does part of Italy’s Sicral.

The British Skynet 5 and German SatcomBw systems have later replacement dates.