France’s Syracuse 3A military telecommunications satellite has been filled to capacity six months after its launch as demand from NATO, German and Belgian authorities was added to the share reserved for French defense forces.
An identical satellite, Syracuse 3B, is scheduled for launch in August aboard an Ariane 5 rocket that also will carry Tokyo-based JSAT Corp.’s JCSAT-10 commercial telecommunications satellite.
The Syracuse 3 program — two satellites plus an elaborate ground network to link deployed land and naval forces to each other and to central command — represents a break from 20 years of French military satellite communications practice.
The Syracuse 3 program has a total budget, including operations, of 2.3 billion euros ($2.9 billion) over 15 years. French officials outlined the status of the program and its management during a June 28 visit to the military telecommunications center here, which will have a much greater role in managing Syracuse 3 than it did for managing the two earlier generations of Syracuse satellites.
The Syracuse 1 and Syracuse 2 payloads were launched on commercial telecommunications satellites and were operated in orbit by the French space agency, CNES.
Syracuse 3 is all-military and is operated from the control facility here west of Paris and from an identical site in southern France.
As France adapts its military to network-centric warfare, it has begun to take down the boundaries that have separated air, naval and land forces and the management of their communications.
A new, joint forces structure called Dirisi has been created to manage French defense telecommunications for all service branches. French navy Capt. Jean-Claude Veillon said that in the next three years Dirisi will grow to include several thousand military personnel to operate telecommunications for French defense forces — a job that in Britain has been outsourced to a private-sector consortium.
Veillon and other officials here said the French experience with Syracuse is confirming what U.S. defense officials have long said: no matter how much satellite capacity is put into orbit, demand soon outstrips the supply.
French navy Capt. Philippe Gerard, a Syracuse 3 program officer at the French arms procurement agency, DGA, said current estimates are that telecommunications traffic among French defense forces is increasing by 15-20 percent per year.
Syracuse 3A was launched in October 2005 and entered into service in December from its orbital slot at 47 degrees east longitude.
The NATO alliance has entered into a long-term lease of about one-third of the satellites nine transponders of super-high frequency (SHF) transmissions under a contract with France, Britain and Italy.
The contract for SHF capacity is valued at 380 million euros, of which France is providing about 45 percent through Syracuse 3. Britain’s Skynet spacecraft are providing 45 percent, and Italy’s Sicral satellites are providing 10 percent. Italy also is providing all the UHF capacity contracted with NATO under a separate contract valued at 70 million euros.
A third contract for extremely high frequency capacity, valued at 190 million euros, is expected from NATO, with the U.S. government the likely provider.
In addition to NATO, the German Defense Ministry has leased the equivalent of two SHF transponders on Syracuse 3A for five years while waiting for its two Satcom Bw military telecommunications satellites to become operational.
The Belgian Defense Ministry also has leased a small amount of capacity, leaving French forces with just 45 percent of Syracuse 3A for their own use.
Satellite bandwidth is parceled out from the center here , with the control facility located inside lead-reinforced buildings to protect against nuclear, biological and chemical attack.
The Syracuse 3 development contracts include the delivery by Alcatel Alenia Space and Thales Group of updated modems, antennas and satellite user terminals to be delivered gradually over the next several years as naval vessels, armored vehicles and special forces units are outfitted with Syracuse 3-compatible gear.
About 600 Syracuse 3 terminals are included in the contract, including 45 ship-borne terminals and 540 terminals for land forces.
Syracuse 3B, to be launched in August, will operate from 5 degrees west longitude. The two Syracuse 3 spacecraft together will cover an area from the eastern United States and most of South America to Asia, but the Pacific Ocean will remain beyond their reach. To fill this gap, the naval terminals are dual-band, to receive Syracuse 3 X-band military signals and C-band transmissions from commercial satellites that will continue to be used.
About a third of the ground forces’ terminals will be dual X- and Ku-band to permit the use of commercial telecommunications capacity in the event Syracuse 3 is unavailable.
Included in the gear for ground forces are 278 “Manpack” units — 13 kilograms including the battery, a palm-sized communicator and a three-petaled antenna.
The Manpack provides secure communications at speeds of up to 192 kilobits per second and resembles equipment on sale commercially for use with the Inmarsat commercial mobile communications satellites.
But while France and Britain are using the same supplier, Thales, for their Manpacks, the small number of units ordered, the ruggedizing that is required of them and the fact that they use separate national secured communications links makes a world of difference in the price.
Inmarsat gear sells for around $3,000, while each Syracuse 3 Manpack costs about $150,000, French officials said.