he contest for the Department of Defense’s

next commercial

satcom integration contract has begun. The Request for Information (RFI) and Sources Sought has been released and the deadline for inputs has already passed. The Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA)

American Idol competition is now under way and this contest will not be televised.

The RFI is seeking information that

will help DISA eventually choose the type of contract and type of company

or companies that will replace DSTS-G in 2011.

Most people in the satellite industry are intimately familiar with the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) Satellite Transmission Services-Global contract (affectionately known to all as DSTS-G) and are therefore well aware of the contract’s history.

DSTS-G, which has sometimes been used as a four letter word,

originally was awarded to three small businesses in 2001 and has grown in size and importance over the past seven years. The global war on terror and the resulting exponential increase in the Defense Department’s

demand for commercial


capacity and integrated solutions has helped the DSTS-G contract evolve during its tenure into a vehicle of great importance to the war-fighter.

However, as DISA looks to meet its commercial


requirements in the next decade, several macro factors need to be considered such as: the global war on terror;

the uncertainty surrounding the deployment of new military satellite communications, or

milsatcom systems;

the corresponding terminal synchronization plan;

a base realignment and closure;

tightening defense budgets;

and consolidation of the commercial satellite operators. These issues emphasize the importance of this selection process for DISA and the war-fighter.

While not much can be gleaned from the RFI as to what the replacement contract will look like, what can be assumed is that DISA is looking for a “DSTS-G-like

” contract that promotes competition, is responsive to war-fighter requirements, maintains flexibility, and provides enhanced information assurance and security. To meet these requirements DISA is looking for knowledgeable, innovative

and trusted “honest brokers” that will help optimize the

Pentagon’s ability to lease bandwidth and provide integrated solutions in a cost-effective and timely manner.

This focus on integrated solutions, rather than just bandwidth resale, is the main reason DISA’s selection process during the next three years and the ensuing competition between satellite operators, systems integrators, service providers

and equipment suppliers, will be an exciting process to watch.

There are two major groups who have been focused on replacing the DSTS-G vehicle for quite some time. The first group, made up of the major satellite operators, believe the future vehicle should be contracted directly with them given the large amounts of bandwidth which, to use their words, are “passed through” the current contract. The benefits gained from such an arrangement however could be quickly overwhelmed by the lack of competition and capability.

The second group is made up of the large system integrators or LSIs who know the Defense Department well. They look at this re-compete as an opportunity to establish a single integrator contract whereby DISA outsources all program management responsibilities for the leasing of commercial satcom to one entity. The LSIs will argue the benefits of consolidated purchasing power and the ability to act as a one-stop shop for war-fighters in need of bandwidth and integrated solutions. You need only look at the status of several Defense Department LSI contracts today to find evidence in favor or against such an arrangement.

Some would argue the race to replace the DSTS-G contract vehicle actually started more than

three years ago in 2003 when the satellite operator community, with the help of a few

members of Congress, requested a

Government Accountability Office study of the DSTS-G contract vehicle. The ensuing battle that took place over the next three years between the DSTS-G


(Artel, Arrowhead

and Spacelink) and the satellite operator


(Intelsat, SESAmericom, PanAmSat

and New Skies) was seen as the battle of U.S. vs.

foreign, big business vs. small business, and at times, good vs. evil.

DISA, and the Defense Department community as a whole, were unfortunately caught in the middle of this gang war. Congress also was involved on several occasions requesting additional Government Accountability Office reports, cost estimates, an analysis of alternatives and facilitating a “Clintonesque-like” debate over the meaning of the words “multiple-year” vs. “multiyear.”

The good news is that the team currently in place at DISA – the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration

and the Defense Department’s unified combatant commands,

its services

and agencies – are extremely well qualified to manage this competition. In addition, the industry contestants are equally experienced and knowledgeable.

Some players remain the same such as AbbasYazdani of Artel and Kay Sears of Intelsat General. Some of the original players have exited the stage such as Mary Ann El

liott, Arrowhead’s founder, and Otto Hoernig, Spacelink’s founder. And some players have even switched sides:

Tom Eaton, formerly with PanAmSat G2 and now Arrowhead’s


and David Helfgott, formerly with Americom Government Services and now Datapath’s chief executive officer


For those of you who were unaware that the RFI was released, I have provided you with a brief overview of what you should expect to see in the coming years as the DSTS-G 2

contestants try out their new material in hopes of becoming DISA’s next American Idol.

David Cavossa is vice president of government affairs for Arrowhead Global Solutions, and an occasional American Idol watcher.