The recent vilification of the use of a Chinese satellite to fulfill a U.S. DoD operational communications requirement in Africa is not surprising. Intuitively, using a satellite owned and controlled by a country whose policies and actions are in direct opposition to those of the U.S. does not make sense. Congressman John Garamendi of the House Armed Service Committee stated, very clearly, that we must “remain vigilant in protecting our communications data.”
Domestic commercial satellite operators who support the DoD, including XTAR, have made significant investments in Information Assurance (IA) capabilities dictated by DISA and DoD. We have been working tremendously hard to ensure that we take the highest precautions to allay Congressman Garamendi’s justified concerns. Commercial operators have incurred significant out-of-pocket costs to implement the IA standards dictated by the DoD without any commitment of future contracts. We have also been trying to resurrect the Mission Assurance Working Group (MAWG) to collaborate with the DoD to better manage operational data and to respond to external threats to mission capabilities. Also, several commercial operators in the industry have also been working with the DoD to suggest mechanisms for them to become more efficient buyers of commercial space capabilities – see our “Seven Ways” paper issued a few months ago.
Proponents of wholly government-owned satellite systems are using this Chinese issue to reinforce their arguments for buying more systems like WGS to fulfill military needs, rather than relying on commercial space segment. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario: Either buy more WGS birds or rely on Chinese satellites to fulfill our military’s satellite communications needs. (more…)
Each time a new WGS satellite is launched, it strikes me to read the media coverage. I find it nearly always includes quotes from DoD representatives claiming that WGS has 10 times the capacity of a DSCS satellite, or that WGS is the DOD’s highest capacity communications satellite system. These claims, while technically accurate, are misleading and not relevant in today’s world of high-throughput satellites and constrained budgets. Widely reported and sometimes without deeper investigation, they detract from the real issue: WGS does not offer now, nor will the planned constellation when fully deployed, the same throughput and capacity which can be gained on many commercial satellites.
There are plenty of examples of media coverage like this – some new, some old. Let’s put aside the fact that, as far as survivability, WGS satellites are, in important ways, less capable than the DSCS system they are replacing. DSCS birds are hardened against nuclear attack while their WGS “replacements” have no greater capability to resist such attacks than any COMSATCOM satellite.
Instead, let’s focus on bandwidth. Designed in 1995 with only minor updates to its capabilities since then, each WGS satellite is reported to provide at least 2.4 Gbps of throughput to the warfighter via its X- and Ka-band payloads – for a combined total of 1.5 GHz of space segment capacity. (I’ll be generous and accept WGS proponents’ throughput claims even when USAF personnel themselves report disappointing results in actual throughputs achieved.) This WGS performance pales in comparison to a typical COMSATCOM satellite launched within the last ten years! (more…)
This article, Space Attacks: Technology And Contracting Shifts May End Market Dominance by Aaron Mehta in C4ISR Digital Edition, May 31, 2013, highlights the key issues that DoD is tackling—how to lower costs while creating a more resilient architecture. Disaggregation through hosted payloads is one approach that will help the Department create the strong, secure, affordable satellite capability needed for the future. The hosted payload model will bring critical force-enabling technology to the front line warfighter both quickly and efficiently using the economies and investments of commercial satellite operators who have long supported DOD and advocated for a permanent role in the architecture to provide distributed capability and resilience. This includes XTAR whose sole mission is to support the Government user. The issue, as correctly identified by General Shelton, is institutional inertia, the “naysayers” who want the status quo to remain unchanged. Embrace the future! Those who do will be better placed to take advantage of the terrific capabilities and technology offered by the commercial satellite operator community.
As the House Armed Services Committee reviews much needed policy changes in commercial SATCOM capacity acquisition, it is vitally important that both Congress and their colleagues at the Pentagon recognize the following key issues. Long-term contracts work not only because they assure appropriate amounts of bandwidth are available, but of equal importance, because they offer industry the commercial certainty necessary to build and deploy solutions which are designed precisely to meet the government’s requirements for advanced capabilities.
Without a clear and certain commitment from the Government to provide stable income, satellite operators will be reticent to invest, and DoD will be left with the only option to spend scarce financial resources building and operating expensive systems which could be provided by trusted operators at far less cost.
XTAR applauds Congress and DoD, led by Under Secretary Kendall, for the bold leadership to achieve the policy reform recommended by the Defense Business Board. XTAR is committed to supporting this process however it can.
Today, there exist numerous satellite operators which have spent millions of dollars meeting or exceeding U.S. Government requirements for information assurance and operational compatibility. Of course, XTAR is one of them. With this in mind, I noted with great interest recent criticism of DoD’s decision to buy from a DISA-approved integrator commercial space segment capacity on a Chinese-owned APSTAR satellite in order to address AFRICOM requirements. Critics hyped that decision as an example of the inevitable outcome of DoD’s excessive reliance on the commercial satellite industry. One such critic representing the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group which lobbies for the defense industry, said the lease “underscores the limitations” of not investing enough U.S. money in non-classified military satellite programs and “depending only on the commercial market for national security telecom requirements”. These critics claim that this event is proof of the need to expand MILSATCOM resources like WGS.
This is entirely the wrong conclusion to draw!
Under DISA’s standard guidelines, the APSTAR capacity either met or exceeded the minimum mission assurance standards necessary to fulfill AFRICOM’s needs, or military personnel waived that requirement and accepted any risk to the AFRICOM mission.
Concerned lawmakers and others would do right to focus on the real deficiencies underscored in this example. Namely, the APSTAR case highlights the limitations of MILSATCOM combined with a COMSATCOM acquisition policy which fails to capitalize on all the potential benefits available from trusted commercial operators. (more…)
XTAR – and the satellite industry in general – are encouraged to see the DoD taking steps to formalize the role that satellite operators play in the military space architecture. In January, the Defense Business Board (DBB), an independent group authorized by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, produced a report containing recommendations for how the Defense Department can more efficiently and cost effectively provision for its satcom needs into the future. The DBB recommendations closely mirror those the major commercial satellite operators have been urging the DoD to consider for the past five or more years. The DBB recommendations include: 1) establishing a baseline of COMSATCOM bandwidth; 2) appointing a single authority for space architecture within DoD; and 3) authorizing longer term contracting, a provision it estimated would save taxpayers $100M annually. XTAR and the other commercial operators applaud the DBB for focusing on these valuable and necessary actions. (more…)
SATELLITE 2013 is fast receding in the rear view mirror, but there were a few things about this year’s show that stayed with me and my XTAR colleagues who attended the three day annual conference and exhibit.
Not surprisingly, the most talked-about issue was sequestration and the impact it will (not “might”) have on the U.S. government and military. Virtually everyone we spoke with felt that the fiscal year will be weakened by the inability of government agencies to fund projects they might otherwise have approved by now. That said, on the final day of SATELLITE, Congress finally (more…)
It was with some dismay that I read the “Guidance for Obtaining Military SATCOM Services from a Commercial Provider via Hosted Payloads”, issued by the DoD’s CIO office in September 2012. The tone and direction provided within this document come across as extremely proscriptive; risking the conclusion that hosted payloads for DoD users would be inadvisable altogether. Since my company provides capacity solely to Government users, any deterioration in the ability to do so greatly concerns us.
At a time when we are all searching for more cost-effective ways to deliver force-enabling technologies to the warfighter, hosted payloads represent a significant step in the right direction. Industry has been successfully employing them for over a decade – the value proposition is undeniable! (more…)
Recently, I received a call from a colleague in the Pentagon. He was preparing a report on the value of commercial X-band to DoD and reached out to me for some background. Naturally, I was more than happy to provide him with the material he sought.
X-band has the same physical properties whether provided by a commercial or a MILSATCOM satellite. Its unique characteristics offer users mission-critical capabilities simply unmatched by other frequencies. (XTAR President and COO Philip Harlow in a recent blog post outlined the unique physical characteristics of X-band compared to the Ku- and Ka-bands.) Once it is determined that a mission is best served by the X-band frequency, the Government customer has another important choice to make: Commercial X-band or MILSATCOM? (more…)
The commercial satellite operators that support DoD missions have long advocated for changes to the way the DoD contracts for commercial satellite bandwidth. Why? Why would a commercial satellite operator want the DoD to become more efficient at buying its bandwidth? Shouldn’t commercial satellite operators be happy with selling bandwidth to the DoD each year at premium prices?
The truth is, we see the bigger picture. And that is, efficient buying by the Government would allow industry to more effectively plan for the needs and requirements coming down the pike. That translates to cost savings for both sides, and a healthier, more predictable (read stable) industry model. (more…)