Pentagon looks for alternatives to Transformational Satellite Communications System

ViaSat makes enticing pitch to the Pentagon

A satellite communications provider is touting its new spacecraft as a possible solution to some of the Defense Department’s high-speed, broadband communications needs following the demise of the Transformational Satellite Communications System, reported William Matthews of Defense News.

ViaSat, of Carlsbad, Calif., is preparing its first satellite – ViaSat-1 – for launch in 2011 over the United States to provide high-speed Internet service to underserved areas. ViaSat-1 will transmit at 100 gigabits/sec, which is 10 times faster than the service provided by its competitors, company officials said. ViaSat is pitching the service to DOD.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed canceling the TSAT program — and a number of other long-term, big-ticket items — in May in favor of technologies that will have an immediate impact on U.S. forces in southwestern Asia.

In the wake of that announcement, the Air Force moved swiftly last month to cancel the program’s ground portion by issuing a termination of convenience to Lockheed Martin Corp. on June 8, reported Amy Butler of Aviation Week. The TSAT Mission Operations System contract was valued at $2 billion. The competitive risk-reduction contracts that Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co. held for the satellite segment expired this month.

The Air Force initially planned to spend upwards of $26 billion for a five-satellite constellation, and it had already invested $2.5 billion in the program in a three-year period. At the time of cancellation, the date of the first launch had been pushed back from 2015 to 2019.

DOD is exploring the possibility of leasing commercial satellite services as an interim option to meet some of its battlefield communications needs.

However, what commercial satellites like ViaSat-1 lack is the kind of survivable, jam-resistant, secure communications that TSAT would have delivered for the president and senior military leaders to use in the event of a nuclear attack or other major national emergencies.

TSAT would have introduced a number of revolutionary capabilities. For starters, it would have dramatically enhanced communications on the move for mobile tactical forces and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, reported Brian Robinson in Defense Systems. What’s more, it would have fielded technical innovations, such as packet-based routing in space.

ViaSat-1 is able to deliver 10 times the throughput of other Ka-band satellites through hardware improvements and better use of frequency by satellite and ground equipment, ViaSat officials said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force plans to buy three Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites to meet its survivability and security requirements. The first one is scheduled to launch next year.

It will be interesting to see if the Air Force takes advantage of the enormous throughput that commercial satellite providers such as ViaSat can offer.

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