Is There a Viable Business Case for Commercial Satellite Coverage without a Conflict?
While there are currently no full-scale conflicts or natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific theater, it is widely agreed that this region is the most susceptible in the world to both types of events. Nation states there are gaining considerable economic, military and industrial power increasing the potential to be bold aggressors to neighboring countries. In addition, the increasing frequency of catastrophic natural disasters that bring death and destruction threatens stability as they grow in severity and reach.
To combat these mounting concerns, the U.S. government and others have identified the so-called Pivot to Asia, a renewed focus on addressing the potential for conflict and humanitarian issues in the region. The SATCOM needs for the region are a significant part of this equation required to address the unprecedented communications and intelligence needs no longer provided primarily by ground troops. MILSATCOM resources are not adequate to cover the Asia-Pacific and there is not a plan in place to resolve this shortcoming anytime soon. Even if the U.S. were to launch new WGS satellites over the region, it would not solve the problems as current constellations operate in Ka and low power X-band that is unable to adequately support mobile, high-throughput requirements from UAVs and other airborne systems.
Historically, COMSATCOM assets have been the stopgap in regions where government-owned coverage is lacking but in the Asia-Pacific region, there is little capacity available from trusted operators. The supply and potential demand is out of balance with no real investment plans from the trusted operators outside of assets for consumer broadband. A potential conflict requiring long-term commitment from U.S. forces could be the incentive commercial industry needs to invest, but the lifecycle to bring a satellite into operation leaves the ensuing 24-36 months with woefully inadequate coverage.
If assets are not currently in place, and would take years to be made available, what is the solution in the short term? Also, assuming the U.S. government has no plans to place appropriate assets in this region and needs continue to rely on commercial resources, what course of action could propel commercial operators to invest in their own capacity in the Asia Pacific?
To close any business case, there is a certain threshold where the reward outweighs the risk. One of the key influencers to tip the scales is seeing certain rational behaviors from a buyer with the right intentions. In this case, if the government were intending to invest in COMSATCOM in the Asia-Pacific theater, it would make sense to see it investing in shorter-term options as a means of testing for when and if a larger need presents itself. Unfortunately, thus far, the U.S. government has not made such overtures with commercial satellite operators.