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Military to increase dependence on commercial communications.

The satellite communications industry is bullish about future growth in military business. The industry's support of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq has helped solidify the relationship between the government and commercial suppliers, officials said.

The experience both sides have gained during the past three years has "led to the realization by the Defense Department, and the government in general, that a more cooperative approach leads to cost savings for government and profitability for industry," said Bob Demers, director of business development for Inmarsat.

Inmarsat is one of several commercial suppliers that provide communications services to the Defense Department.

Demers suggested that commercial satellite communications services are "critical" to the Pentagon's war-fighting capability, because it has become too costly for the military to rely exclusively on their own satellites. "Procurement is expensive and you run the risk of having technology that is obsolete. They started to build their own systems, but it took too long," he said, adding that on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon "found itself in a lurch."

A study by the Satellite Industry Association pointed out that 80 percent of all military traffic used during the Iraq invasion traversed many of the 232 commercial satellites orbiting the planet.

At the beginning "it was a gut-wrenching experience," he said referring to private sector's ability to meet the Pentagon's needs after 9/11. Inmarsat moved satellites into proper orbits and opened up bandwidth to enable a wider flow of information. "Inmarsat supported U.S. logistics personnel on their way to Baghdad," he said.

According to the study, the Defense Department usually leases satellite communications capacity on the open market and relies on short-term leases with the lowest bidders. This practice can cause a degradation of assurance-of-service.

With U.S. military personnel at 702 locations around the globe, the Pentagon will have to rely more on satellite communications services.

Inmarsat has rolled a regional broadband global area network system that provides data and voice connectivity in 99 countries outside a particular state's local communications infrastructure. The company is targeting government and businesses in the market for rapid deployment capability and security.

The association recommended that the Defense Department adopt a long-term block buy of commercial capacity to improve costs and benefits to both sides. It also recommended changes to the procurement process to include the elimination of overhead costs borne by providers and a unified program office dedicated to satellite communications matters.

Competing in the same market as Inmarsat is Globalstar, which is now reemerging from bankruptcy. With the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission, Globalstar is eager to accelerate the amount of business it does with the Pentagon and other U.S. government organizations. In April 2003, Globalstar provided one million minutes of morale calls to troops in Iraq. The company also provides telephone services to the Russian military and customs organizations.

"Our services are listed on the General Services Administration schedule and we're not experiencing any procurement difficulties," said Tony Navarra, president of Globalstar.

But the reality is that the big money is in high-speed data, a point stressed by Demers, who indicated that Inmarsat's new satellites will offer a "fully based Internet protocol network."

Globalstar's constellation of 40 satellites provided the backing capabilities for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's robot race project in March.

Joking that nearly all of the autonomous vehicles in the DARPA challenge broke down immediately, with the winner advancing a paltry seven miles, Navarla observed that "Globalstar's technology was the only one that worked on that day. The technology consisted of 70 satellite phones and 40 vehicle tracking kits.
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Author:Stanton, John
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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