NATO Readies Competition for Satcom Services

by





BOSTON
— 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




Afghanistan




.

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




communications.

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




NATO




 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.







While




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.

NATO




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




 




system




, 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




via




 satellite




, 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.