DOD revs up satellite strategy

The military intends to launch special-purpose satellites for global communications over the next two decades, at a total cost of $18 billion.

But Defense Department speakers at the Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo last month in New York reassured vendors that commercial satellites will still have a role in the Global Information Grid, DOD's project to create a worldwide network for data and communications.

'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.

Kenney and Lt. Col. Earl D. Noble, product manager for military 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. Terminals should be able 'to adjust their power up and down and be as easy to use as a radio.'

He said Defense is pushing for department-wide 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 future sensors for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance will multiply those needs enormously.

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. He said Defense 'is looking at ways to streamline and automate the provisioning of services.' He expects the analysis to be completed by the end of this year.

But military satellites will never fill all the department's requirements, Bourdon predicted, because assets such as unmanned aerial vehicles are operated through commercial satellites.

The envisioned 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. Each will have bandwidth of about 5 Gbps to support real-time connectivity for the entire GIG. DISA wants industry to develop small, 1-foot-aperture terminals able to handle about 1.5 Mbps while in motion.

'All the combatant commanders support the TSAT program,' Jain said. Although Congress cut $300 million from the $18 billion lifecycle development program for fiscal 2005, 'we still can do it,' he said. 'We have all the technologies that are needed.'

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