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Drop in Defense Spending Will Result in Puts and Takes in Commercial Bandwidth

Kay Sears, President, Intelsat General


We have ample evidence recently that the U.S. military is going to be spending less money over the next decade than it spent in the past 10 years:

· The United States will be pulling the last of its combat troops out of Iraq at the end of this month, and the responsibility for fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan is slowly being shifted from NATO forces to the Afghan army.

· The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach agreement, which triggered an automatic $600 billion additional cut in the U.S. defense budget.

· Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he wants to cut up to $250 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next five years.

So does all this mean that the U.S. military will be using less commercial satellite capacity? Probably not overall, but we are likely to see a shift in geographic coverage and applications. We expect some puts and takes in terms of bandwidth. For example, capacity covering only Iraq is likely to be reduced while satellites that have footprints that span the SW Asia region and south into Africa are likely to remain attractive for military operations.

A major driver that will continue to drive bandwidth requirements is Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The main reason is summed up by what one NATO official said about Afghanistan at a recent conference: “We’re going from boots on the ground to eyes in the sky.” Those eyes are on board the manned and unmanned vehicles being used in Afghanistan and a number of other parts of the world where military and intelligence agencies monitor potential threats.

A huge part of this increased bandwidth demand is the result of UAV sensors and cameras becoming more sophisticated. Once an analyst views full-motion, real-time video feeds from a potential hot spot, it’s hard to go back to the days of waiting for black-and-white still photos to arrive.

Another factor is the sheer number of UAV missions being flown and the ability of UAVs to stay on station longer. The latest numbers available show that UAVs operated by the DoD flew 600,000 hours in 2009, up from 60,000 in 2006. One Air Force official said recently that he expects the number of UAV missions over Afghanistan to remain at 65 a day into the future – not decline as might be expected with the shift in responsibility from NATO to Afghan forces.

As a major supplier of commercial satellite services to the DoD, we at Intelsat General see our role as continuing to find ways to match our capabilities with the changing demands of our customers, in terms of coverage, capacity and value as budgets continue to contract over time. One example of this is described in the accompanying article on how our team “reverse engineered” older modems so that they could stay in service while also being remotely monitored under the Commercial Broadband Satellite Program contract. The creation of this remote command-and-control system will allow the Navy to make the best use of commercial satellite resources, and shows how a commercial operator provided an end-to-end solution to a complex problem.

We are prepared to be part of the solution as the DoD looks to make better use of its scarce resources and shifts to a new operating paradigm.

Intelsat General Enews.