Norway, Spain Expected To Order Milcom Satellite Before New Year

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LONDON — Norwegian and Spanish military authorities expect to select the builder of a large X- and Ka-band telecommunications satellite before the end of the month as part of a bilateral effort in which Norway is investing around $200 million, the project’s Norwegian manager said Dec. 1.

While industry officials had thought that the Spanish economic crisis and the recent change of government would stop the HisNorSat project in its tracks, Norwegian and Spanish officials were in Madrid the week of Dec. 1 negotiating the contract’s final details, Commander Trond Hermansen said.

Hermansen is manager of the Norwegian Military Satcom Program, in which Norway has agreed to invest some $600 million over the next five years. In addition to the satellite to be built with Spanish and Norwegian payloads, the program includes the procurement of 300 satellite communications terminals for Norwegian land, air and maritime platforms, and ground infrastructure, Hermansen said here during the Global Milsatcom conference organized by SMi Group.

The Norwegian-Spanish linkup stunned military and civilian officials in Europe and elsewhere when it was announced two years ago. Two officials said the arrangement included the sale of military hardware and other offsets in a broader military agreement between the two countries in which the satellite is only a part.

The Spanish government that negotiated the HisNorSat agreement was recently swept out of power amid Spain’s acute financial crisis. The level of support within the new government for the program remained unclear. 

Hermansen said he was confident that a contract will be signed to build a satellite carrying 40 to 45 transponders and weighing between 5,500 and 6,000 kilograms. He said the Norwegian share of the satellite is expected to cost about $200 million.

Key to the agreement was Spain’s provision of the satellite’s intended orbital slot at 29 degrees east.

Hermansen said studies in Norway that were validated by outside auditors concluded that the capital expenditure in a new satellite would be far less expensive than continued leasing of commercial satellite capacity on the spot market, or even under long-term leases.

He declined to divulge how much bandwidth Norway’s military expects to use, saying only that the cost of building and operating, for 15 years, a dedicated Norwegian payload would be “clearly less expensive” than leasing comparable capacity.

Hermansen said Norway invited project proposals from several companies proposing private-public partnerships along the lines of what the British Defence Ministry has established with the Skynet military satellite communications program, and as part of bilateral agreements. The Spanish offer from the company Hisdesat was clearly the most attractive.

Hisdesat, a minority shareholder in the U.S.-based Xtar company, which is majority-owned by Loral Space and Communications of New York, has had difficulty filling the capacity on the two Xtar satellites.

The HisNorSat satellite, once in orbit, will carry almost all of Norway’s military satellite communications traffic except for operations in the Arctic that are beyond the reach of a geostationary satellite. For these, Hermansen said, Norway will continue to lease L-band capacity.

Similarly, communications for Norway’s future F-35 jet fighters — Norway has purchased several dozen F-35s from manufacturer Lockheed Martin — will be handled by some other satellite system, perhaps the U.S. Mobile User Objective System constellation now under construction.

Norway will continue to get its UHF capacity from the 28-nation NATO alliance, which has leased bandwidth from the national military satellite telecommunications systems of France, Britain and Italy.

Norway’s defense budget is 39 billion Norwegian kroner, or $6.7 billion at current exchange rates. But 40 percent of the budget goes to operating costs, including satellite bandwidth leases. Hermansen said Norwegian authorities have set as a goal the reduction of operating costs, even if that means increased investment costs.

In addition to its territory in the Arctic and its station in the Antarctic, Norway has a need for communications with its troops deployed as part of the NATO alliance. Hermansen said Norwegian forces are in the Balkans as part of the ongoing multinational effort there, in Afghanistan with NATO troops, and in various locales in Africa and the Middle East.