British military demand for Skynet satellite bandwidth is expected to decline with troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting Paradigm Services, a division of -Astrium, to expand its commercial offering to include civil service monitoring and data collection for government and private-sector customers.
Paradigm'scontract with the U.K. Ministry of Defense, valued at £3.6 billion ($5.6 billion) through 2022, provides military-hardened, precise satellite communications worldwide. The contract, signed in October 2003, gives Paradigm ownership of the satellites and the rights to sell X-band satellite capacity to other governments and to NATO, once British military demand is met.
Paradigm has ordered four Skynet 5 satellites. Three are in orbit, with a fourth slated to launch later this year.
In 2009, the U.K. Defense Ministry adjusted its bandwidth demand forecast, taking into account the time-limited nature of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.“Clearly, demand has remained high as we continue in current operations,” says Simon Kershaw, divisional managing director of telecom services at Astrium Services. “As troop withdrawals take place, then we would expect that to diminish over theaters of operation in terms of the additional capacity that is used to support such operations. But the ministry will continue to take off the base capacity for Skynet for its normal operational communications.”
Today, says ministry spokesman Lex Oliver, there are no plans to order a Skynet 5E. “The three current satellites are operating extremely successfully in support of U.K. operations,” Oliver says.
In 2009, Paradigm also started gaining traction with its High Integrity Telecommunications Services (HITS) program, providing resilient communications in support of civil security operations.
“One of our growth intentions is not just a focus on ministries of defense but a look across governments. HITS has been used to support the U.K. Cabinet Office in international high-profile sporting events in the U.K. and other high-profile national events,” Kershaw says. “We see growth not just in the U.K. but in other countries of operation across the whole civil security, not just defense, but across all government departments.”
HITS is a resilient Skynet 5-based communications system that can also deliver secure data and voice communications in the event of a national emergency using mobile terminals that can be deployed anywhere in the U.K.
Skynet 5A and Skynet 5B entered service in April 2007 and January 2008, respectively. Skynet 5C was launched in June 2008. Skynet 5D is scheduled for launch by early 2013. The satellites were designed, built and launched by Astrium Satellites for Paradigm. The current Skynet 5 contract runs through 2022.
In addition to Skynet 5, Paradigm continues to operate three legacy Skynet 4 satellites, one of which is now over 21 years old. Rounding out the constellation is an earlier NATO satellite purchased by Paradigm after the alliance decommissioned it. However, Kershaw says only the Skynet 5 satellites are necessary to meet Paradigm's core obligations to the ministry, allowing the company to sell capacity on the other four spacecraft to other governments.
NATO currently leases capacity aboard British, French and Italian military telecom satellites in the SHF and UHF frequency bands. But the contract expires in 2019, leaving little time for NATO to initiate procurement of a follow-on agreement.
“We know there are internal discussions going on in NATO in terms of an acquisition strategy and the nations are contributing to that so the program is just starting up,” Kershaw says. Under the current construct with NATO, Italy and France provide capacity with their nationally owned constellations. In the U.K., where the constellation is privately owned by Paradigm, the U.K. contracts with the private sector to provide its share.
“What we are not yet clear on is whether or not NATO will want to do the follow-up program by direct relationships with industry or through governments,” Kershaw says.
Paradigm is also looking forward to the launch of the Anik G1 satellite this year. Owned by Telesat of Canada, the Ku-band spacecraft will fly an X-band payload that Paradigm Services will lease for the full 15-year service life of the satellite, providing coverage of the Pacific Ocean.
“We have a good relationship with a number of organizations in the U.S. and we continue to work with them to try to find ways of helping them to meet their needs,” Kershaw says of the company's efforts to sell X-band capacity on Anik G1.
Franco-British cooperation in satellite telecom is another recent development Paradigm is monitoring, but it remains to be seen whether the administration of President Francois Hollande will take to the idea.
“It inevitably becomes a balance between the benefits of cooperation and for some elements of these programs the need to ensure national sovereignty,” Kershaw says.