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Troubled Defence satellite project still not off the Projects of Concern list

Defence has not yet removed the decade-long satellite capability improvement program JP2008 phase 3F from its “Projects of Concern” list – despite statements to the contrary from its head of capability acquisition to a Senate Estimates committee hearing recently. Tenders for JP2008 phase 3F first went out in 2007, with the main work to build a new satellite ground station in Western Australia and an upgrade to an existing ground station at HMAS Harman just outside Canberra.

 Kim Gillis, deputy secretary of Defence's Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, told the estimates hearing that the project had been superseded by a newer project and that it had finalised terms to recover costs from prime contractor BAE late last year.

 “We signed a settlement deed with BAE in November last year. That was for the completion of the ground base station west. But we have terminated the east coast requirement. The terms of the settlement are a full recovery of all those costs,” he told the hearing, adding: “We consider that one as having been removed from the Projects of Concern list.”

However, following inquiries from Space & Satellite AU, Defence denied that it was out of trouble just yet. “At present JP2008 phase 3F remains on the Projects of concern list,” a Defence spokesperson told us.

JP2008 phase 3F, part of the Australian Defence Satellite Communication Capability Terrestrial Enhancement program, entered the Projects of Concern list back in 2015 due to cost and time over-runs. When it entered the list it was already five years behind schedule.

The project is a critical component in providing communication to Australian troops via the US Wideband Global Satellite constellation, which Australia is a partner in. However, deputy secretary Gillis told the Estimates hearing that one of the core lessons from the failed project was the selection of a company that did not have a strong history in certified ground based links to the WGS system. “So, in hindsight, it was a poor selection,” he said.

Following questioning from South Australian Labor senator Alex Gallacher, Gillis said that the west coast installation had now been completed but the requirement for the east coast portion of the project had been terminated.

“There is another project that will take on that capability, and we have now sought, through a settlement deed, a full recovery of those costs from BAE. That's been finalised,” he said.

The project to take on the capability in the east will be lead by Northrop Grumman Australia in partnership with Optus and ViaSat and was announced in July last year. Under the $223 million contract, Northrop Grumman will build a new satellite ground station at the Kapooka army base just outside of Wagga Wagga in NSW.

Meanwhile, details of the compensation deal between Defence and BAE have not been made public. A spokesperson for BAE Systems Australia told Space & Satellite AU that late last year the company had received final acceptance for the Satellite Ground Station – West and that BAE Systems is now supporting the new ground station in Geraldton. BAE is also continuing to support the Defence ground station at HMAS Harman under a five-year support contract. Geoff Long, Commsday