Commercial satellite acquisition holds great promise

Bruce Bennett, director of satellite communications, teleport and services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, discusses the strategy behind the high-profile Future Comsatcom Services Acquisition.

Bruce Bennett is director of satellite communications, teleport and services at the Defense Information Services Agency. In that role, Bennett is in charge of some of DISA’s largest procurement programs — the recently created Future Comsatcom Services Acquisition (FCSA), a joint effort with the General Services Administration, being perhaps the most visible of them. He is also responsible for the upcoming Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) Global Services Management (GSM) procurement.

Defense Systems contributing editor Sean Gallagher interviewed Bennett and asked him to share his perspective on the status of FCSA and the growing demand for military satellite communications.

FCSA's Progress

FCSA is garnering a lot of support. We’ve gotten a lot of favorable comments from industry, the Defense Department and the federal sector because one of the things we did in putting FCSA together was actually listen to everybody, especially industry, in figuring out ways to make it a lot more simple to offer their services — not only to DOD but to federal, state and local governments.

Previously, there were approximately nine different processes that industry had to go through to offer their satellite services. That's nine times the cost and nine times the preparation, but it's not nine times the exposure. This way, we're making it much more simple — one place where they can offer new services. The contract has what's known as an evergreen clause in it, so the solicitation never closes. If someone comes up with a new technology or methodology, we can get it in weeks rather than years.

We released the final RFP in February. We expect to start making awards in the fall for both the bandwidth services and the managed services. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity portion of FCSA is probably about five weeks behind that. So we have three massive solicitations being done simultaneously.

The feedback from the component services has been fairly favorable. We've met with them a few times, and the idea that they can talk to us and we can talk directly to the vendor, rather than going through second and third sources to get things, cuts down on the disinformation, speeds up their time to get a service under contract — basically cuts out a lot of the overhead and makes everything more streamlined. Hopefully this process will increase their choices and reduce their costs. And anytime you can do that, they'll be pretty happy.

Building Economies of Scale

Everything — almost all of the DISA efforts, all of the GSA efforts — are moving toward FCSA. And I think you'll see more of the minor efforts across the federal government moving that way. Just our economies of scale will make it more affordable for them. Between DISA and GSA, we're probably talking three-quarters of a billion dollars a year.

Not all new DOD commercial satellite programs are going to move toward FCSA right away. We're assisting the Navy with the service’s Commercial Satellite Broadband program. Eventually, that program will be moved under FCSA, but they needed that now. So we went with a separate contract, a short-term contract to let us do that. That'll be four or five years long, to get that up and in place, and then we'll move them to FCSA when that contract is in place. It's just a timing issue.

The other biggest growth area is going to be in managed services. As DOD’s budgets come under more stress, it might not make so much sense to procure all of the infrastructure, such as the terminals and uplinks. We might be looking more to managed services where we lease the terminal, the uplinks — we lease the whole turnkey operation from our commercial partners. I see managed services as the biggest growth area going forward.

One of the results of the cancellation of the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) was a requirement by Congress that we build the capabilities that were lost into a new joint space communications layer architecture and a new joint aerial architecture layer. So we're taking a look at everything with the loss of TSAT, and now everything is on the table.

We’re in the process of designing a joint space communications layered architecture to fill those gaps. In the short term, what we have up, what's going to be launched, and what's going to be procured in the Wideband Global Satcom family should cover their initial needs. It's their long-term need that this layered architecture is looking at, for all the services.

We're looking at all potential possibilities. We're hoping that the layered architecture will begin somewhere this month, and we'll be able to roll it into the fiscal 2012 Program Objective Memorandum for filling some of the gaps. DISA and the Joint Terminal Engineering Office held a Terminal Technology Conference with military satellite communications stakeholders in March to examine some alternatives for the future joint architecture.

Internet Routing in Space

As you know, we're under a mandate to improve network centricity and to maximize our use of everything over IP. So we have the Internet Routing in Space system up and operational right now — that is a three-transponder payload on an Intelsat bird, and we are doing experimentation on that. We hope to begin to deliver services based on that sometime in the late summer, and that will allow us to prove out a lot of that technology.

We've got a joint IP modem program significantly under way, which will allow us to converge terrestrial and satellite under the same sort of routing architecture. And we're looking at potentially expanding commercial services — everything is on the table. Nothing is being excluded because we have the responsibility to provide to the Office of the Secretary Defense and Congress the best of alternatives possible so they can figure out how to do the next generation.

As with anything in technology, it seems, all of our communications needs are following a strict Moore's Law sort of format, doubling every 16 months. But you can't double your satellite capacity every 16 months. It's just not economically feasible. So we've had to look at ways to get better use of our bandwidth.

We're having to change the entire culture of our satellite community. Up until now, its' been pretty much telephony-based — point-to-point, single circuits. Now we're having to move to more network design where bandwidth is shared and prioritized based on need and use — a lot more sharing than we've had before. So we're having to take a lot of the terrestrial sort of service-level agreement standards and put them into space in a real-time mode.

Spike in Bandwidth Demand

The shifting of focus from Iraq to Afghanistan has not resulted in an easing of satcom burdens. The problem has been that Afghanistan is scaling up faster than Iraq is scaling down. And a lot of things you have to leave in place in Iraq as manpower multipliers are communication intensive. So we are at the level of being able to satisfy both arenas at the same time, so we're having to go to more sharing and prioritization of the bandwidth.

That means there's a double-bill in that theater for space-based communications. So we're having to move into some exotic ways of sharing bandwidth to satisfy both sets of customers. The demand for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services, such as additional Predator orbits, is placing an even greater proportional demand on satcom because there's just not a lot of terrestrial-based communications in those regions. If you need bandwidth, almost 80 percent of it is coming from satellites. So if you double the number of Predator orbits, you're going to have an 80 percent increase in your satellite demand. It's just a straight proportional factor.

We tend not to fight wars by services any more. We tend not to engage in conflict by ourselves. We support the Homeland Security Department and first responders, so we need to be able to share our information not only with our local, state and federal brethren but also our coalition partners. They've got the same needs we've got. If you don't share information, you're probably losing a lot of potential information to help us keep the conflict manageable. There's a large program within DISA just to set up those connections. We see an expanding need for satcom services for those networks.

Industry is working really hard to meet our dynamic requirements. They're looking at teaming arrangements to bring core competencies together, all of that. I think it's great, because it's really where we need to go. Not every need we have can be satisfied by Inmarsat. We need to have additional alternative vehicles for our customers, because their requirements change. So we need to be flexible to match that.

Commercial satellite communications isn’t going to meet all of those needs. As you know, our commercial partners put up satellites based on the ability to make profits. Unfortunately, the economies of Africa aren't a hotbed of profits, and there's not a lot of coverage over that area. And that's making us look harder to make what available coverage we have look like it's a lot more. We tend not to fight conflicts over first-world nations, where you have the infrastructure — we tend to go places where there's little or no infrastructure, and satellite's your only choice. And if it's not a big economic area, you can generally predict that there's not going to be a lot of satellite coverage over it.