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 Commercial satellite services seen as essential to military capabilities

The Australian Defence Force sees commercial satellite services as a key resource to provide flexibility in its military operations according to air vice marshal Andrew Dowse, Australian Defence Force head of ICT operations for national and regional security. And that experience is also consistent with overseas defence forces, according to panellists at the Australasian Satellite Forum.

“Our planning processes don't allow us the flexibility to call on services at the speed which we can get them from commercial providers,” Dowse said, providing the recent example of support operations for Cyclone Debbie in Queensland.

He said the ADF was able to provide communications from the WGS military satellite constellation and from its payload on the Optus C1 satellite, both to the makeshift headquarters it established and to Navy ships up the coast. However, this was not enough for all of its needs.

“Whether it was army teams deploying around the state or whether it be assistance with remediation of towns that didn't have any communications, in that respect we were absolutely reliant upon commercial services,” he said.

SES Asia Pacific exec James Hopper also told the forum that an estimated 80-90% of communications at the height of the Iraq war were supplied over commercial services. But he said it was also the capability that commercial providers brought that was important.

“First you get access to new technology in many cases much faster than you're going to get through a typical defence acquisition process. You gain operational flexibility. There are some concepts we've worked on and deployed for customers where you can bring some new tools to bear. For example, you can use conventional widebeams to support a mission, or you can use a high-throughput LEO system to backhaul lots of ISR data,” he suggested.  

“It's not necessarily just an augmentation capability but it gives you a range of tools and a range of options that you wouldn't get solely by the use of military systems,” he added.

Meanwhile, Inmarsat COO Jason Smith noted that cost was not the only consideration in choosing to use commercial providers. “I don't think anyone has sufficient funds to do all they would choose to do on their own even if they could. But regardless of that I think there's such a benefit for the ability to disaggregate and add interoperability and so on that there's actually operational benefits that flow. It's not just a matter of appropriate funds,” he said.

Geoff Long, CommsDay - talk Satellite