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Digital Battlespace

Australia wants sovereign SATCOM space

6th May 2021 - 00:00 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch

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Australia wants a sovereign SATCOM capability. (Australian Department of Defence)

Australia is demanding a sovereign SATCOM capability to wean itself off reliance on foreign powers.

To reduce reliance on its American ally, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) launched a tender on 22 April for a sovereign SATCOM capability.

Issued under Joint Project 9102 (JP9102), the RfT covers delivery, through-life support and space, ground and control segments of a Sovereign SATCOM Component (SSC), which will provide Australia coverage at home and of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The RfT said the SSC will increase the ‘capacity, resilience, agility and flexibility’ of the ADF’s military SATCOM capability.

The ADF currently relies upon a SATCOM capability acquired through JP2008, including the US military’s Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) network as its backbone. The WGS features a constellation of ten satellites offering high-speed connectivity to the US and close allies Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

When Australia was battling out-of-control bushfires in 2019-20, the ADF relied heavily on WGS. The US granted additional coverage within 24h of a request being made, but having to go through this process reminded Canberra of the need to furnish its own SATCOM. Furthermore, overseas operational deployments to places like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Gulf of Aden showed the ADF that it needs high data capacity, especially as new assets such as the MQ-4C Triton and MQ-9B SkyGuardian come on stream.

If the US was facing a contingency of its own, access may be limited, or US satellites could come under attack in a conflict. Understandably, to avoid satellite communications being delayed, compromised or degraded, Australia wishes to strengthen independent SATCOM capabilities through JP9102.

JP9012 has been promised funding of up to A$3 billion ($2.32 billion) out to 2029. It will deliver the Australian Defence Satellite Communications (SATCOM) System (ASDSS), a major capability project for next-generation SATCOM coverage.

The ASDSS comprises the SSC (geostationary communications satellites covering the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as Australia itself); an International Agreement Component encompassing international partnerships with allies for assured access to global coverage; and a Commercial SATCOM Component acquiring commercial coverage for any global gaps or a surge capacity.

The recent RfT is divided into the following areas: (a) space segment with ADF- or commercial-owned and operated geostationary Earth orbit satellites; (b) ground segment with facilities and fixed infrastructure anchor stations to grant connectivity between satellites and Defence Single Information Environment; (c) control segment with infrastructure and an information technology-based management system; and (d) support system to ensure the equipment can deliver specified levels of SATCOM service for its 15-year life of type.

Two satellite operations centres will be located at HMAS Harman (in Canberra) and RAAF Base Edinburgh (Adelaide) to accommodate the workforce.

The ASDSS should offer high-capacity wideband for fixed locations and platforms such as warships or aircraft, as well as high-mobility narrowband SATCOM for deployed forces. It is expected that four satellites will be needed to grant the coverage required by the ADF: two narrowband and two wideband satellites.

Prospective bidders are the likes of Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and ViaSat.

Responses to the tender are due by 25 October. Following that is 7-9 months of tender evaluations. A decision for the down-selection of bidders for offer definition and improvement activities should be made in Q3 of 2022.

Australia is currently using the Optus C1 satellite until 2027, after commencing utilisation of it in 2003. Since 2012, Australia has also subscribed to 20 UHF channels on Intelsat IS-22 for Indian Ocean coverage.

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