— NATO officials charged with providing communications links

to alliance

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

 Agency (NC3A).

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

 conference including

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

 Transformational Satellite



, 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.