DOD can't get out from under commercial satellites

Military leaders recognize limitations in launching their own birds

Flying high

What is DOD spending to put its own birds in the sky?


Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)

$1.2 billion


Mobile User Objective System (MUOS)

$462.7 million


Transformational Satellite Communications system (TSAT)

$436.8 million


Wideband Gapfiller Satellite (WGS)

$164.3 million


Sources: GCN reporting and Center for Defense Information

LIMITED CAPACITY: 'Warfighters would prefer to use the military systems because they are free and more secure. However, military systems continue to be stressed,' said Army CIO Stephen Boutelle.

David Spence

In recent years, military leaders have been vocal about the need for the government to become less dependent on commercial satellites for communications.

Army CIO Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle and Maj. Gen. Dennis C. Moran, vice director of command, control, communications and computer systems with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both have touted the military's need to launch its own satellites. They have argued that the military conducts roughly 80 percent of its communications in Iraq via commercial satellite, and that this poses a unique security vulnerability.

These days, the military appears to be singing a different tune.

Military leaders, realizing that the next wave of government satellites will take years to develop and launch'and that even then demand may exceed their capabilities'are now reaffirming their need for commercial satellites.

'The reality is that warfighters would prefer to use the military systems because they are free and more secure,' said Boutelle. 'However, military systems continue to be stressed.'
At the recent Satellite 2006 Conference, Air Force Maj. Michael Moyles said these days, commercial satellites are the first option for in-theater communications, according to several people in attendance.

This does not mean military officials are abandoning government satellites. To the contrary, the services are investing billions of dollars in military satellites'including DOD's Transformational Satellite Communications initiative, Wideband Gapfiller, Advanced Extremely High Frequency system and the Mobile User Objective System.

In addition, the Army recently issued a request for proposals for its $5 billion Worldwide Satellite Systems program. The five-year WWSS program will bring turnkey commercial satellite systems and associated support services for satellite terminals, including all hardware, software, services and data to operate the terminals. An award is expected later this year.

But those satellites will take years to develop and launch. And DOD's need is now.

'Our current military-owned and operated communications satellites, designed largely in the 1970s and produced largely in the late 1970s and 1980s, were never intended to support the information throughput we generate and demand today,' said Col. Patrick Rayermann, the Army's chief of the Space and Missile Defense Division.

Rayermann added that industry has proved to be a good model in bringing speed to satellite launches. 'Industry is responding faster in a number of cases than the military procurement system, allowing us to lease and purchase multiband terminals and/or terminals which support comms-on-the-pause and comms-on-the-move,' Rayermann said.

Mary Ann Elliott, CEO and chairman of the board at Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. of Falls Church, Va., agreed that the military's renewed focus on commercial satellites can be attributed to the escalating need for bandwidth in desolate areas around the world.

She said as the military fights wars with fewer people and more unmanned aerial vehicles and sensor telemetry, they will continue to heavily rely on commercial satellites.

Elliott also cited a reduction in bandwidth costs since Sept. 11, 2001, due to competition, and the military's goal to deliver data from sensor to shooter in one minute.

Amy Gwinn, director of satellite solutions and systems for TeleCommunication Systems Inc. (TCS) of Annapolis, Md., said the increase in military involvement with natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia, also has increased the demand for commercial satellites.

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