[Via Satellite 03-11-2015] The United States Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) performs the critical work of establishing and managing commercial satellite communications (comsatcom) contracts for the Department of Defense (DOD). With an eye to the future, the agency is already planning what comes next after the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system draws to a conclusion over the next 10 years.
DISA is working a series of Pathfinders — a means of trialing new satcom procurement methods — in conjunction with the Air Force to gain a better understanding of the nation’s comsatcom requirements. This includes investigating alternative means to acquire comsatcom services, ensuring efficient usage of these services, and evaluating new comsatcom management strategies. Eron Miller, chief of DISA’s satcom division infrastructure directorate spoke with Via Satellite about how the agency is meeting its satcom needs, and the potential impact of new technologies in the coming years.
Via Satellite: How does DISA seek to manage its satcom needs today? Is supply keeping pace with demand?
Miller: The short answer is yes. While we have some concerns with the on-orbit capacity in the Pacific, in general the commercial capacity available today is meeting DOD’s peacetime satcom need. DISA’s satcom division continually works with our DOD customer base to develop and refine requirements and helps these end users understand the full spectrum of commercial services available to military operations.
Via Satellite: Like the near-rampant pace of demand for connectivity in the commercial sector, the need for bandwidth for military applications is growing. What do you see as some of the key drivers?
Miller: DOD’s use of commercial satcom is evolving. After seeing steady increases from 2002 to 2010, the Department’s use of comsatcom services has leveled off and remained relatively flat over the past few years. Unlike in the commercial sector, the demand for bandwidth for military applications is growing; where we need these services is dependent on the world geo-political climate.
Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (AISR), airborne communications, and the ever-increasing ground-based communications needs of the DOD are some of the primary drivers of our increasing communicators needs.
Via Satellite: Do you believe High Throughput Satellites (HTS) will have a major impact on military satellite communications?
Miller: The DOD currently leases approximately 10 GHz of bandwidth worldwide, making the Department the single largest individual consumer of commercial satellite services. The introduction of HTS is anticipated to impact the commercial marketplace by increasing the amount of on-orbit capacity available for lease. We are hoping to see greatly reduced pricing. It’s too early to speculate how military requirements will be impacted by the increased capability delivered by HTS.
Via Satellite: What are your thoughts on spectrum types (X band, Ka band, etc.)? How does each fit into your needs, and do you see the need for one type over the other changing?
Miller: It is the DOD’s goal and intention to maximize the use of WGS and to use commercial satcom when WGS capacity is unavailable, when user demand exceeds the supply of WGS capacity, or when the users’ infrastructure will only operate over commercial satellites. Maximizing the use of WGS translates to using military X and Ka band. Currently, many user terminals only operate in Ku, so as long as those terminals are in the military inventory, the DOD will likely be leasing a large amount of Ku band.
Via Satellite: Has U.S. spending on comsatcom increased or decreased the past few years? What has contributed to this?
Miller: As previously mentioned, the DOD’s requirements have leveled off over the past few years. Our spending has followed suit. We have seen some cost decreases as a result of leasing more services in lower cost regions and leasing less in high cost regions. However, overall spending has remained constant.
Via Satellite: What has the U.S. learned from partnering with other nations on programs such as WGS? Do you see more collaborations of this type in the future?
Miller: DISA does not work the WGS program, so I’m not qualified to speak for lessons learned by the WGS program office. However, the DOD is committed to partnering with allies in future satcom or other acquisition initiatives as practical to reduce the required DOD investment.
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