GIG's next-generation satellites to support comm on the move

NEW YORK'Defense Department officials outlined plans for mobile satellite communications yesterday to a large vendor audience at the Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo here.

Several DOD speakers reassured vendors that their commercial satellites will still have a role in the planned Global Information Grid, even though the military intends to launch billions of dollars' worth of special-purpose satellites over the next two decades for global communications on the move.

The GIG bandwidth expansion project will link existing systems now on the Defense Information Systems Network and others via so-called teleport media-junction sites around the world. The teleports, functioning like telecom carriers' points of presence, will support all communications bands, including those of satellites. And DOD's Transformational Communications Architecture will provide secure, dynamic bandwidth allocation and network management for the entire GIG, speakers said.

"We want to make long-term, portable [commercial satellite services] commitments around the globe," said Col. Richard P. Kenney, the Joint Chiefs' head of command, control, communications and computers support. But, he added, "We want to pay as little as we can for a mix of terrestrial and satellite services that are as secure as possible. We're satellite-heavy in the [Persian] Gulf now. As troops pull out, we'll go back to a sustaining-base operation" as has already happened in other recent war zones.

Kenney and Lt. Col. Earl D. Noble, product manager for Defensewide transmission systems in Kuwait and Iraq, urged the industry to make cheaper, smaller satellite terminals that are easier for troops on the move to operate. "There's lots of pressure for microwave and fiber to reduce the cost of satellite airtime," Noble said, "but fiber can't be secured in Iraq" because of insurgents.

"We need to get contractors out of the picture and make [satellite terminals] usable by soldiers," Kenney said. "Buying service on the spot market means a premium price. We need the capability to surge" upward in bandwidth and then contract as demand declines. He said the office of the secretary of Defense is pushing for departmentwide acquisition of satellite services "as a total package with a better business scenario."

Military demand for commercial satellite services in southwest Asia is driven by videoconferencing, communications over the Secret IP Router Network and imagery, Kenney said, and in the future will be driven by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. "Soldiers will always be able to call home with whatever bandwidth is left," he said, "but ISR is the highest requirement."

Rick Bourdon, team lead for commercial satellite services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the military "will need commercial satellite services out to 2020 at least," when the GIG's transformational architecture is built out.

The transformational satellites will do full, on-board processing and routing over laser cross-links, said Pravin Jain, chief scientist of DISA's GIG engineering directorate. They will each have bandwidth of about 5 Gbps to support real-time connectivity for the entire GIG. "All the combatant commanders support the TSAT program," Jain said. Although Congress cut $300 million from the development program for fiscal 2005, "We still can do it."

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