NATO Readies Competition for Satcom Services
— NATO officials charged with providing communications links
personnel deployed around the world likely will
conduct a competition for satellite services to meet rapidly growing
bandwidth demand being driven primarily by operations in
The aim is
to augment military satellite communications services
provided today by a consortium made up of France, Britain and Italy, according to Malcolm Green, chief of communication services at NATO’s
Consultation, Command and Control
NATO in November 2004 signed a memorandum of understanding with the consortium worth 439 million
euros ($659 million)
over 15 years
under an initiative intended to replace a NATO-owned satellite constellation.
The organization modified that arrangement in 2008
with a sole-source procurement through the U.K. Ministry of Defense for an additional 40 megahertz transponder to provide X-band super-high frequency (SHF) capacity to Afghanistan through 2010. However, NATO’s Infrastructure Committee directed NC3A to conduct an open competition to meet future mission needs, Green said during an Oct.
21 interview at the Milcom 2009 conference in Boston.
The existing consortium uses Britain’s Skynet, France’s Syracuse-3, and Italy’s Sicral satellite systems to provide SHF and ultra-high frequency
While SHF would be the focus of the new competition, NATO has a need for
extremely high frequency
coverage as well, which the agency likely will
address initially through national military programs, Green said. However, cutbacks to member-nation programs could force
to re-evaluate its plans in this area, Green said, citing the U.S. decision to cancel the futuristic Transformational Satellite Communications system earlier this year.
NATO currently has around 60,000 people on the ground in Afghanistan, according to an alliance
fact sheet. Military officials at the
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Dennis Via, director of command, control, communications and computer systems on the Pentagon’s joint staff, said
Afghanistan has far less infrastructure than countries like Iraq, making
communications particularly challenging.
Keeping up with current satellite bandwidth demand has been a challenge, and this demand will only rise if NATO
expands its troop commitment to Afghanistan, Green said.
NATO forces use some terrestrial networks in Afghanistan
, troops have satellite links
as backups in all cases, Green said.
NATO uses satellites not only to
support its military operations, but also for
politically funded scientific or infrastructure projects like the NATO Virtual Silk Highway
named for the ancient Silk Road trading route that connected Asia and Europe
, according to a NATO fact sheet.
Begun at Kabul University in 2006, the
project is designed to improve
Internet access and connectivity to universities across Afghanistan to better facilitate their education and research
, Green said. Better Internet links have thus far helped improve university officials’ ability to collaborate with counterparts abroad, as well as within Afghanistan, where travel can be difficult due to safety concerns and lack of infrastructure, Green said.
likely will release a formal request for proposals for the satellite coverage in mid-2010 assuming
funding for the capabilities is included in the alliance’s
budget, Green said. He declined to comment on the budget for the satellite services, which are intended to cover a 10-year period.
Due to NATO procurement rules as well as security reasons, NATO is limited to dealing with member nations for the services, Green said. In addition to the current providers, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Greece, and the United States have
satellite systems that could provide at least some of the needed bandwidth
, he said.
NATO also meets some of its
coverage needs in
particular regions by swapping capacity with individual member nations, Green said. One possible barrier to the barter scheme is the cancellation of the
, which was intended to
address growing U.S. bandwidth needs, he said. While the United States
likely will find ways to compensate
, it may have less bandwidth to share than previously expected
, he said.
All communications traffic between NATO forces in Afghanistan and the alliance’s
European headquarters travels
, Green said. The alliance
is investigating the possibility of leasing terrestrial
services to augment its satellite capabilities and reduce latency and other issues associated with
satellite communications, but doing so raises security concerns
as the links would pass through non-NATO nations, he said.