Military plans more satellite buys
DoD to replace every space-based asset<@VM>Vendors scramble to meet surging defense needs
- By SUSAN zz_MENKE
- Nov 20, 2003
Small satellite vendors can get a foot in the door through the Defense Department's Small Business Innovative Research program, according to Arthur Money, former assistant defense secretary for command, control, communications and intelligence.
The Defense Department is poised to go on a buying spree for satellites and satellite services.
Robert Dickman, deputy for military space in the Office of the Air Force Undersecretary, said the military is expanding its reliance on satellites for both strategic and tactical operations.
"In Iraq, space is an enabler for every target," Dickman said. "What we need is a very big pipe and a very small terminal in the hands of somebody who's moving around."
Dickman, whose office is the executive agent for $8 billion worth of defense space programs, spoke this month at the Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo in New York. Several hundred vendors gathered at the conference to hear Dickman and other federal buyers describe upcoming opportunities for providing satellite services to government.
"We're replacing every space-based asset," Dickman said. "We're going from channelized to an IP architecture."
Among the satellite launches he's planning:
* Geopolar weather satellites for both military and civilian forecasting under a common data architecture;
* Replacing one-third of the 27-satellite Global Positioning System constellation per year in readiness for GPS III, which will be fine-tuned enough for vehicle surveillance and guidance;
* Fielding of third-generation, reusable launch vehicles in conjunction with NASA;
* Space-based radar for persistent surveillance, one of the Defense Department's transformational programs.
NASA has opportunities, too. Ronald Birk, director of NASA's Earth Science Applications Division, said the space agency to date has launched 18 Earth-observing satellites that daily beam down 3 terabytes of data for use in coastal management, agriculture and aviation. Eventually, NASA intends to have 73 Earth-observing satellites, he said.
Besides polar-orbiting and low-inclination satellites for long-term global observation of land surfaces, atmosphere and oceans, NASA is funding development of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, similar to those used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last July's Earth-Observing Satellite summit in Evian, France, set a goal of integrating all such global observation systems within the next decade. Next July's summit will continue the yearly meeting of ministers from the G-8 nations that have significant Earth-observing activities.
Some vendors said they still couldn't get a clear picture of satellite opportunities.
"Finding the right budget line item can be a nightmare," one said.
Others, especially the smaller companies, said they find it very difficult to get a hearing before federal program managers.
Michelle Bailey, program manager for Navy satellite communications systems in the program executive office for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and space in San Diego, said she has trouble deciding which companies to talk to.
"I've struggled between wanting to listen to vendor A or vendor B, and yet be fair to all of them," she said.
To help identify qualified vendors, Bailey said she relies heavily on the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command sites at San Diego and Charleston, S.C., to demonstrate possible products for ForceNet.
ForceNet, which Bailey called the naval equivalent of the Defense Department's Global Information Grid, would advance the Pentagon's goal of network-centric warfare by keeping dispersed forces informed about their situations, whether they are at sea or in space. Spawar Expeditionary Command and Control, Communications, Computers and Combat Systems Grid program in San Diego is an initial effort to bring the ForceNet concept into practice.
"They hold many demos on ships and in labs," Bailey said.
For vendors trying to get a foot in the door selling satellite services to the military, Bailey suggested watching Spawar's commercial area announcements for opportunities.
"There are no guarantees, just an opportunity to see how your equipment will do in a legacy Navy environment," she said.
Another way small vendors can get noticed is through the department's Small Business Innovation Research program, which competitively awards about $500 million a year for early stage research and development that might have commercial uses, said Arthur Money, former assistant defense secretary for command, control, communications and intelligence.
Also, Money said, vendors should be canny about choosing a direction for their research and development.
"Concentrate on the 1 percent that isn't likely to be commercially available" but might be important to warfighters, he said. "Don't enhance your off-the-shelf product to meet DoD requirements -- that's when things go to hell in a handbasket."
Dickman agreed, adding: "Some kid is going to use your enhanced GPS receiver to hammer in a tent peg."
Bailey said some hot spots she sees in Defense Department requirements are:
*Satellite reception on the move, for example, in a Humvee;
*Dynamic bandwidth management;
*Encryption products using the High-Assurance IP Encryption protocol.
"Smaller vendors shouldn't market directly to the military services, because that puts the services in the position of the integrator," she said. "We plug the boxes together, and the manuals say they will work, but they don't."
Above all, she said: "Bring me a price. I want a lot of throughput for very little money." *
Susan Menke, chief technology editor for Government Computer News, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a soldier's perspective on satellite communications, go to www.washingtontechnology.com and type 124 in the Quickfind box.
The Defense Department accounts for more than half of the $500 million in yearly revenue earned by commercial satellite services, but it pays a premium because its needs surge unexpectedly.
The Defense Information Systems Agency, which arranges the purchase of commercial satellite services for the military services, "overpurchases on the spot market," said Steven Symonds, president of Symonds Associates LLC of Wilton, Conn.
"DoD's from Mars, and satellite operators are from Venus," Symonds said. He and other industry officials discussed Defense Department satellite use this month at the Satellite Application Technology Conference and Expo in New York.
The government's drive to buy commercial rather than custom products and services over the last decade has made it the single largest customer for satellite bandwidth, said Robert Bell, executive director of the Society of Satellite Professionals International of New York.
The rise in network-centric warfare and homeland security has brought surges in demand, but industry, hard-hit by the economic downturn, cannot count on accurate forecasts of government needs, Bell said.
Defense communications and acquisition policies are "disjointed and inflexible," Symonds said. "The bandwidth requirements are not stable, and DISA consistently understates them.
"In 1999, DoD projected its bandwidth needs at 16 gigabits per second," he said. "By 2002, it was 30 Gbps. By 2010, it will be four times that much."
However, commercial satellites aren't a keystone piece of the Global Information Grid, the Defense Department's planned worldwide network, he said, because the Advanced Wideband System plan for military satellites will replace them around 2010.
The military's recent demand for real-time video coverage in Iraq was unanticipated, and strained the industry to its limits. About 80 percent of the communications went via commercial, not military, satellites.
"Customers with uncertain needs pay more and waste bandwidth," Symonds said.
Tom Eaton, president of G2 Satellite Solutions Co. of El Segundo, Calif., said satellite task orders should last longer than one year.
"DoD needs an annualized capacity forecast," he said. "It has historically underforecast its needs. That's a huge role that DISA pretends to play," but not all the procurement goes through DISA, he said.
"If DISA had its own aggregated budget instead of buying for separate commands, and if it had a competitive process to buy in bulk, it would pay a lot less," said Susan Miller, president of Intelsat Government Solutions Corp., a subsidiary of Intelsat Ltd. of Hamilton, Bermuda.