DOD doubles down on satellite communications

The Defense Department's reliance on commercial satellite communications is continuing with the announcement that the Defense Information Systems Agency has awarded Iridium Communications a $400 million, multi-year, fixed-price contract to provide satellite airtime services to meet the communications needs of the DOD and its federal partners.  

The five-year contract between Iridium and DOD renews the provision for delivering Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) airtime. Iridium will provide unlimited global secure and unsecure voice, low- and high-speed data, paging and Distributed Tactical Communications System (DTCS) services for an unlimited number of DOD and other federal government subscribers. 

As good as satellite communications are today, they are about to get even better. Both the multi-year and fixed-cost terms of the new contract let government subscribers take advantage of the current capabilities as well as the enhanced services that will become available with Iridium NEXT, the company’s next-generation satellite constellation scheduled for first launch in early 2015. DOD will not be subject to increased costs based on usage changes or growth in demand when using Iridium NEXT. 

According to the Defense Business Board fiscal year 2013 report to the Secretary of Defense, commercial satellite communications currently support about 40 percent of DOD’s satellite communication needs. Northern Sky Research  predicts this requirement will grow by 68 percent over the next decade.  

The report concludes: “SATCOM is critical to supporting the warfighter, and DOD will require additional capacity in the future as new missions evolve and communication technologies further develop.  To meet DOD’s needs, the commercial satellite sector is a cost-effective source for obtaining technologically advanced services.”

The Iridium NEXT program is a $3 billion investment to upgrade the network through the launch of 66 new Low Earth Orbiting satellites, six in-orbit spares and nine ground spares, which will deliver substantially greater bandwidth, improved data speeds and continued global coverage to more than 275 government and commercial partners and consumers. 

Iridium NEXT also will serve as a platform for Aireon, a global aircraft-monitoring service that will detect signals from next generation equipped commercial aircraft and relay them to air traffic controllers on the ground. 

NEXT will also support Iridium’s newly launched PRIME offering, a turnkey solution for hosted payloads that will provide launch, ground infrastructure, two-way payload control, high-speed inter-satellite links and global coverage. This service would reduce the complexity, delays and costs typically associated with building, launching and operating a satellite mission, the company said.

The Iridium contract also could keep DOD from facing the potential gaps in weather satellite data being faced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that have led NOAA to consider using polar satellite data provided by China.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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