Satellite Communications: Acquiring SATCOM in Tight Times

DoD, industry and Congress all acknowledged the need for new acquisition approaches for DoD's procurement of critical commercial satellite communications capabi...

Congress acknowledges the need for new acquisition approaches for DoD’s procurement of critical satellite communications capability. In the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers encouraged new acquisition models that both reduce cost for this capability and help to reduce the risk of not having sufficient commercial satellite communications where and when the military needs it.

So why is Congress worried about DoD’s acquisition of commercial satellite communications, or COMSATCOM?

Well as Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, wrote in a recent op-ed in SpaceNews, DoD’s process is inefficient because they are too often buying on the spot-market using one-year leases.

Buying on the spot market is defined as buying for cash at the current price. This is opposed to buying over a longer term and receiving better prices, or even as a managed service where you pay by the drink, so to speak.

DoD mostly buys satcom services on the spot market to support troops in theater and when they need extra bandwidth immediately.

Rogers says DoD spent one billion dollars in 2011–the last year figures are available–on COMSAT services.

In fact, the Defense Business Board found in a report issued last year that DoD buys about 40 percent of its commercial satellite communication services from the commercial market. Of that, the Defense Information Systems Agency buys 75 percent of it through one-year leases and 25 percent from the spot market.

The Defense Business Board found that DISA expenditures on COMSAT services is expected to grow to three billion to five billion dollars over the next 15 years.

On top of what many believe is overspending by DoD, the problem also is who DoD is buying these services from. As DoD shifts to the Asia-Pacific region, it may have to rely on commercial satellite services from countries or providers who are not necessarily considered friendly to the United States.

Congressman Rogers writes that buying from countries or providers in countries such as China or India may not have the best interests of the United States in mind all the time.

That is a growing concern for both DoD and lawmakers as cyber attacks and stealing of data continues and grows as concerns.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. William Donahue wrote in an op-ed in in Space News in February 2012 that there are other approaches.

He says one of them is for DoD to develop a long-term strategy to buy commercial satellite services. Donahue says the collaboration between DoD and the General Services Administration on the Future COMSATCOM Services contract is a good start. It offers mobile, fixed, and broadcast satellite services; quick deployment for emergency response communications; and support for continuity of operations and distance learning.

The Defense Business Board offered seven traditional and non-traditional approaches to commercial satellite services, such as buy lease or anchor tenancy.

The DBB also offers 10 other near term and long term recommendations, including designating a single lead for COMSATCOM strategy development and implementation.


Jason Miller is an executive editor and reporter with Federal News Radio. As executive editor, Jason helps direct the news coverage of the station and works with reporters to ensure a broad range of coverage of federal technology, procurement, finance and human resource news.As a reporter, Jason focuses mainly on technology and procurement issues, including cybersecurity, e-government and acquisition policies and programs.


Douglas Loverro is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy and is a member of the Senior Executive Service. In this role he is responsible for establishing policy and guidance to assure US and allied warfighters the benefits of Space capabilities and to help guide the Department’s strategy for addressing space- related issues. He also leads Departmental activities in international space cooperation. Mr. Loverro most recently served as the Executive Director for Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center where he also served as the Air Force’s Deputy Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Space.
Vice Admiral Lyle Bien is currently a defense industry consultant. Vice Admiral Bien was employed by Teledesic LLC from 1999-2002 in charge of the Government Sector. He has been a member of the MDA Graybeard Panel on National Missile Defense since its inception in 1999. He serves as an advisor to service Title X Wargames, multiple Exercises at U.S. Strategic Command, as well as the MDA Wargames, Schriever Series, and Simulations at the Missile Defense Integration Operations Center at Schriever AFB. He works extensively in the related areas of Space-based Communications, C4ISR, and Global Missile Defense.
Justin Johnson is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Doug Lamborn who is a senior member of the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees in the House of Representatives. Congressman Lamborn also co-chairs a number of active caucuses including the Missile Defense Caucus, the Directed Energy Caucus, and the Israel Allies Caucus. Justin is responsible for leading the Congressman’s national security team, which covers defense, veterans, homeland security, intelligence, and foreign affairs. Previously, Justin served as Legislative Director and Defense Policy Advisor for Congressman Todd Akin, who chaired the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
Brigadier General Tip Osterthaler is the President and CEO of SES Government Solutions. He joined SES in 2006 when he became the President and CEO of AMERICOM Government Services. Since then, the wholly-owned subsidiary of SES SA has grown and integrated with other government focused elements within SES to become SES Government Solutions (SES GS). During his tenure at SES, the U.S. Government business has been transformed from a product oriented sales channel into a solutions-focused independent subsidiary responsible for all aspects of SES’s US Government business, including planning for the next generation of satellites that will be needed by government users.

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