U.S. Navy Eyes Commercial Birds to Avoid UHF Satcom Gap

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  Space News Business

U.S. Navy Eyes Commercial Birds to Avoid UHF Satcom Gap

By JEREMY SINGER
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 19 May 2008
01:03 pm ET



BOSTON –
The U.S. Navy hopes to place a military payload aboard a commercial communications satellite to avoid any potential gaps in the UHF satellite communication services it provides to senior government leaders and mobile forces around the world, according to military officials.

 

The Navy is planning to begin a competition this summer for the hosted payload, and is eyeing a first launch in 2011, according to briefing charts used by Maureen Zajano, contracting specialist at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego. The Navy plans to award a single contract in November, according to a March 31 notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

 

A Navy budget justification document sent to Capitol Hill in February states the service is requesting $4 million for the effort in 2009, and plans to ask Congress for $38 million more in 2010.

 

SPAWAR hosted industry officials interested in competing for the hosted payload work at a series of briefings March 11.

 

Dave Russell, strategic satellite operations branch chief at U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, said in a set of briefing charts dated May 14 that senior U.S. government officials, including the president and the secretary of defense, use UHF satellite communications on a daily basis. Other users include special operations forces engaged in both open and covert combat actions, combat search and rescue teams, and homeland security officials, according to the charts.

 

The UHF frequency is prized for its ability to reach users operating under jungle canopy and those on the move with small antenna systems, according to Russell’s charts.

 

Demand for the UHF bandwidth has increased dramatically in recent years. Russell’s charts indicate that 15 years ago, the military had no more than 10,000 UHF terminals, and the user community largely was limited to Navy personnel, special operations forces and senior decision makers. The military may have as many as 40,000 UHF terminals today, according to the charts.

 

Current UHF satellites, including the Navy’s UHF Follow-On constellation and commercial assets “are aging and experiencing significant on-orbit anomalies,” according to Russell’s charts.

 

A significant portion of the military’s UHF satellites are “single string,”
�meaning that loss of a single component could trigger failure, and even minor issues could translate to loss of capacity or shortened operational lifetime, according to the charts. Those same charts note that there is a “high probability of additional losses” before the first satellite in the Mobile User Objective System constellation – the Lockheed Martin-built successor to UHF Follow-On satellites – becomes operational in 2010.

Hosted payloads could help mitigate the impact of “satellite losses” until the full Mobile User Objective System constellation comes online, according to the charts. The idea of using the hosted payload concept began in April 2007 with
an effort by U.S. Strategic Command and the office of the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration to examine the
options for addressing the military’s UHF communications needs,
according to charts used by George Teding, SPAWAR’s hosted payload program manager, at the March 11 industry day.

 

SPAWAR then queried industry on the viability of the concept in an August 2007 request for information, and the responses led the agency to pursue a competition for the work, according to Teding’s charts.

 

The Navy is working with the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space program office on the hosted payload concept. The Operationally Responsive Space office is focused on standards and specifications needed for integrating payloads with host commercial platforms, according to charts used at the March 11 industry day by Thomas Adang, an Aerospace Corp. contractor in the Operationally Responsive Space program office.

 

The Navy wants the payload to be based on mature technology and built to “commercial standards,” according to Zajano’s charts.

 

Steven Davis, a SPAWAR spokesman, said officials at the center declined to be interviewed about the hosted payload concept prior to the award of the contract. However, in a written response to questions May 16, Davis said commercial, rather than military, standards can be used when dealing with low- to medium-complexity technology, as is the case with the hosted payload, to help lower cost and speed development time.

 

Robert Demers, senior vice president at Americom Government Services, and Richard DalBello, vice president for government affairs at Intelsat General of Bethesda, Md., each said his company is
interested in competing for the Navy hosted payloads contract.

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems also is interested in playing a role in the effort, according to Dave Garlick, a Boeing spokesman. Garlick said company officials would not comment on whether they would compete as a prime contractor, or work as a hardware subcontractor on another company’s team until after the Navy releases the formal request for proposal.

 

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., also is considering competing for the contract, according to Steve Tatum, a Lockheed Martin spokesman.

Before it can get a hosted payload to orbit, the military is taking other steps to address the UHF issues including modifying ground terminals to enable improved capabilities including allowing more users to access the UHF Follow-On constellation, according to Russell’s charts. This capability will begin initial operations in late fall, according to the charts.

 

Turner Brinton contributed to this article from Washington.

 

Comments: jsinger@space.com