Military struggles to find long-term solution to bandwidth needs

Issues with acquisition policies, requirements, government/industry partnerships and funding are limiting the Defense Department in its efforts to meet bandwidth demand and troop communications needs.

The Defense Department’s increasing reliance on commercial satellites for military communications is spreading logistical challenges into the acquisition world, a panel of top satellite officials and executives said March 15 at the Satellite 2011 Conference in Washington, D.C.

The growing use of new unmanned aerial vehicles and other technologies in combat operations require more and more bandwidth to support military operations and it’s creating a bottleneck in terms of meeting the needs with corresponding capacity, panelists indicated. A combination of evolving acquisition policies, logistical requirements, struggles with government-industry partnerships and funding are also factors that are limiting DOD in meeting the mounting bandwidth demand.

“DOD will always need commercial satellite to augment military satellites. We just can’t always foresee the needs. Requirements can’t always be defined,” Charles Edwards, commercial satellite communications deputy program manager, Defense Information Systems Agency, said during a panel devoted to discussion of the the Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA). Edwards offered as one example the sudden need for satellite capabilities that recently has arisen from the devastating natural disasters in Japan.

Though needs are being met for the moment, it underscores a risky cycle of meeting current requirements without sufficient planning for future needs, speakers on the panel noted.

“We’re victims of our own success,” Edwards said. “The warfighter has come to accept last-minute solutions.”

Balancing imminent and emerging requirements with foresight and planning for the future is an issue that has effects throughout the chain of command, from high-level acquisition strategies to accommodating troops on the ground, according to Ron Samuel, CEO of Eutelsat America.

At the acquisition strategy level, DOD is working to achieve that balance, and also to implement the right contracting vehicles, foster healthy competition and find the right combination of services that mostly efficiently meet satellite needs, according to the panel.

One possibility is further exploring government use of managed or shared services, which can be used on a pay-as-needed basis rather than traditional large, fixed purchases.

“A managed or shared service infrastructure can drive innovation, value and affordability,” said Jim Russo, program manager for SATCOM II, FCSA and CS2 at the General Services Administration.

But it’s a move that DOD seems hesitant to make, said David Cavossa, executive vice president and general manager, CapRock Government Solutions.

“DOD is still buying fixed bandwidth – they aren’t comfortable yet with shared services,” he said.