DOD overpays for satellite services, panel says

DOD overpays for satellite services, panel says

NEW YORK'The Defense Department accounts for more than half of the $500 million yearly market for commercial satellite services, but it pays a premium because its needs surge unexpectedly.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, DOD's satellite services purveyor, "overpurchases on the spot market," said Steven J. Symonds, president of Symonds Associates LLC of Wilton, Conn. "DOD's from Mars and satellite operators are from Venus." Symonds and other communications officials discussed Defense's satellite use during a panel today at the Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo.

The government's drive to buy commercial rather than custom products and services over the last decade has made it the single largest customer for satellite bandwidth, said Robert Bell, executive director of the Society of Satellite Professionals International of New York. Now network-centric warfare and homeland security are bringing unexpected surges in demand, he said, yet the industry hard-hit by the economic downturn cannot count on accurate forecasts of government needs.

DOD's communications and acquisition policies are "disjointed and inflexible," Symonds said. "The bandwidth requirements are not stable, and DISA consistently understates them. In 1999, DOD projected its bandwidth needs at 16 Gbps. By 2002, it was 30 Gbps. By 2010, it will be four times that much."

Commercial satellites "aren't a keystone piece of the Global Information Grid," however, he said, because the Advanced Wideband System plan for military satellites in the 2010 time frame will replace them. Meanwhile, he said, satellite companies "need an IPv6 solution" to be useful to DOD.

The military's recent demand for real-time video coverage in Iraq was unanticipated and strained the industry to its limits. About 80 percent of the communications went via commercial, not military, satellites. "Customers with uncertain needs pay more and waste bandwidth," Symonds said.

Tom Eaton, president of G2 Satellite Solutions Co. of El Segundo, Calif., said satellite task orders should last longer than one year. DOD "needs an annualized capacity forecast," he said. "It has historically underforecast its needs. That's a huge role that DISA pretends to play," but not all procurement goes through DISA, he added.

"If DISA had its own aggregated budget instead of buying for separate commands, and if it had a competitive process to buy in bulk, it would pay a lot less," said Susan P. Miller, president of Intelsat Government Solutions Corp., a subsidiary of Intelsat Ltd. of Hamilton, Bermuda.

Panelists said a commercial satellite costs around $300 million without hardening against jamming, which would double the cost.

"Military requirements are much more stringent for encryption, redundancy and special orbits," said Joseph N. Pelton, director of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "Satellites are so plugged into so much of the nation's critical infrastructure" that they constitute a cybersecurity risk themselves.

Thomas S. Tycz, satellite chief of the Federal Communications Commission, said wireless and satellite are very much part of the national strategies FCC has been working on, and a satellite policy for Enhanced-911 emergency locator service will come out before the year ends.


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