Sicral 1B. Credit: Telespazio artist's concept

LONDON — The 28-nation NATO alliance is expected to approve, by the end of this year, the funding and basic outlines of a 15-year satellite telecommunications purchase to succeed the existing agreement that leases capacity on British, French and Italian military satellites, a NATO official said Nov. 4.

But if the budget — 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion), including 400 million euros for the ground segment — has been approved, many of the details of its implementation, including the eventual role of commercial satellites, have yet to be settled.

NATO is already a year behind its originally announced schedule of selecting new satellite capacity providers in super high frequency, ultra high frequency and extremely high frequency. The current contract, which covers only SHF and UHF, ends in 2019.

As expected, NATO will not be purchasing its own satellites but will continue to rely on long-term agreements with individual NATO members fielding their own military satellites.

In a presentation at Global Milsatcom conference here organized by SMi Group, Tom Plachecki, chief of network services at the NATO Communications and Information Agency, said the new bandwidth lease package is nearly double the value of the NATO Satcom Post-2000 contract signed in 2005.

That contract, in the form of a Service Level Agreement, uses capacity from the British Skynet, French Syracuse and Italian Sicral military telecommunications satellites. These three nations had joined forces to win the work.

Plachecki said NATO has been happy with the performance of the three nations, which occasionally have had to rearrange among themselves the agreement to assure supply when one of them was in a temporary shortage.

The Service Level Agreement gives NATO the right to a reimbursement of funds if the promised bandwidth is not available, but Plachecki said this has never been needed.

NATO had intended to include EHF in the original agreement, and then said it would conduct a separate competitive round for EHF. At the time, the United States was the only NATO member with substantial EHF capacity, although how much of it would have been available to NATO is unclear.

For the new competitive round, he said, EHF will be integrated as part of the total requirement.

The current contract is an example of how complicated it is for the alliance to move forward on this kind of service provision. The satellites are owned and controlled by the three individual nations, with NATO having control over the payloads it uses. A Joint Program Management Office, located in Paris, oversees the agreement.

Program execution is managed from the NATO Mission Access Centre in Mons, Belgium.

The document outlining the coming procurement, Capability Package 9A0130, refers to a possible commercial component to the bandwidth provision without specifying how that might occur.

Plachecki urged commercial satellite fleet operators to begin negotiating with their governments a commercial participation in the bidding, in whatever form the governments would prefer.

“The Capability Package does open the door for some commercial satcom for NATO,” he said. “But it won’t be known for a few years” how commercial capacity would be integrated into the purchase.

The procurement requirements include Ka-band for high-bandwidth connections and EHF for highly protected services.

The ground segment is foreseen to include new transportable and deployable multiband terminals and enhanced UHF control to permit more users per UHF channel.

“The basic decision on the [Capability Package] has been made and it was decided that we will not tackle the tougher questions,” Plachecki said. “The governments realize that something has to be done because we need replacement capacity up in 2019.”

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