On June 28, 2023, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the U.S. Space Force awarded SES Space & Defense a five-year Global X-Band Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). The $134 million BPA will be used to support critical U.S. Department of Defense operations through the delivery of Global X-Band satellite capacity, teleport, and network services.
To learn more about how the DoD will leverage the BPA, how it fits into the movement towards an integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM space architecture, as well as how commercial partnerships played a role in delivering this global solution, the Government Satellite Report sat down with Hugh Keane, Senior BD Manager at SES Space & Defense.
GSR: This BPA – which was awarded through DISA and Space Force – essentially gives military organizations a contract vehicle to procure military X-Band COMSATCOM services. What types of organizations and services within the military do you anticipate utilizing this BPA? Why would these military organizations need access to this capability?
Hugh Keane: We see several types of organizations using this BPA. At the combatant command level, we see various use cases for X-Band as part of PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) communications plans for main operating bases, or as a resource that they can distribute to their component users through something like a Satellite Access Request model – whether that’s for exercises or real-world missions.
For the services, some are already users of X-Band on well-established contract vehicles. We see the X-Band BPA as being able to support those users on proof-of-concept work or for short-term requirements that may lie outside the scope of their usual contracting mechanisms.
This vehicle is creating a simple path for all U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) end-users to get access to X-Band, whether that’s raw megahertz capacity or full end-to-end services. And it is the first time that such a vehicle has existed to give this type of X-Band access to the DoD and its end-users. It’s really going to facilitate rapid time-to-order and time-to-activate for those X-Band services.
Many of the organizations are equipped with hardware that will work on WGS in X-Band. So, depending on the mission of the individual end-user, they might not always have priority on WGS. The X-Band BPA will provide an avenue for them to get service without having to change out expensive equipment sets and move to Ka or Ku, for example.
There are also those missions that do require the capabilities that are either inherent to the frequency range of X-Band itself, or some of the capabilities that are inherent to those X-Band satellites.
GSR: Why is military X-Band important? What differentiates military X-Band from commercial Ka or Ku-band satellite services? Why would this be important for the DoD?
Hugh Keane: Military X-Band is important in many ways. It’s in wide use today because of the WGS satellites and there are many X-Band terminals out there, whether they are land, maritime, or aero terminals. The nature of WGS – and with a finite set of WGS satellites – means there’s not always sufficient capacity to fulfill all user requirements. As such, X-Band on commercial satellites supplements WGS very well, allowing those lower-priority missions to have non-preemptible capacity.
It also provides a greater battle space in which the DoD can operate with enhanced resiliency, by having access to both the military and the commercial X-Band satellites. In addition to that, one of the great advantages of the X-Band frequency spectrum, itself, is that it provides highly reliable and high link availability communications in regions where Ku band and Ka band might struggle due to the high rain fade. In fact, this makes it possibly the best solution in certain parts of the world.
“All the geographic combatant commands have access to X-Band capacity within their areas of responsibility (AOR) through the BPA…” -Hugh Keane
Also, given that X-Band is reserved for military and government use, the satellites themselves tend to be equipped with greater security than purely commercial satellites. With features like highly secure TTNC encryption, anti-jamming capabilities, and – in certain cases on some of the satellites – hardening against nuclear attack. All these features combined, contribute to the resiliency and the availability of the communications links, and as such, they become a bit more desirable for ”no-fail” missions.
GSR: SES Space & Defense has called the service that it’s offering the DoD a “global satellite capacity.” Is this solution truly global? Are there any locations or geographies where the solution will not be available?
Hugh Keane: The service offers the DoD global satellite capacity. All the geographic combatant commands have access to X-Band capacity within their areas of responsibility (AOR) through the BPA and there are multiple coverage options in many locations of significant activity; apart from a small gap in coverage in the Pacific. With regard to that, we will continue to explore options and opportunities throughout the life of the BPA to provide even greater coverage and alternative coverage as the customers need.
GSR: To deliver on this contract, SES Space & Defense claims to have, “partnered with several industry-leading players, including integrators, SATCOM, and teleport operators.” What does this mean? Why was a partnership with these other industry partners necessary to deliver a global solution for the military?
Hugh Keane: SES has a great X-Band asset capability in GovSat-1. This is a relatively new satellite launched in 2018 and it provides good, flexible coverage through both fixed and steerable beams for all types of missions, whether maritime, land, or aero missions in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
However, those regions demand flexibility, redundancy, and alternative solutions so we look to our trusted industry partners for additional capacity. And in part, the SES acquisition of DRS GES plays a role here, due to GES’ background as an integrator, and also as a long-term provider of end-to-end X-Band services to their customers.
Drawing on those relationships, we created partnerships to have access to all the commercially available X-Band fleets. That includes partnerships with XTAR for access to the XTAR LANT and EUR satellites, Airbus for access to Skynet, and also the future Syracuse satellites – Syracuse 4A and 4B. And with Anuvu for access to other satellites and their Holmdel teleport. On the teleport side, we have access to multiple teleports, with partners at Telespazio, Santander, MBS, and USEI that deliver services in every combatant command AOR.
“One of the great benefits of the BPA is its flexibility of the broad scope it has when it comes to the provision of X-Band and its enabling elements.” -Hugh Keane
The whole globe is covered in terms of teleport requirements. We also have a number of major antenna providers enabling access to a range of terminals, whether commercial grade terminals or a full build spec standard terminal – depending on what the customer requires.
However, not all those capabilities reside in-house, that’s why we partnered with several industry-leading players in order to offer the government the most comprehensive solution. The BPA also provides capacity throughout the life of the vehicle to update capabilities, so we can add new beams and new teleports as they become available.
GSR: What will the DoD need to utilize this global X-Band service? Will it have to buy specialized equipment and hardware – new antenna and terminal solutions?
Hugh Keane: One of the great benefits of the BPA is its flexibility of the broad scope it has when it comes to the provision of X-Band and its enabling elements. Through the BPA, we can simply provide raw megahertz of X-Band and we can provide end-to-end X-Band services. That is the space segment, the commercial teleport, and the terrestrial transport.
We can also lease or sell X-Band terminals. Because of WGS, if the user has an X-Band terminal that they use on WGS, they can utilize said terminal. The customer doesn’t need to buy any new equipment. And we can provide them with the service through the existing assets that they have, whether that’s simply bandwidth, or perhaps they also want to use that asset and access a commercial teleport and then have terrestrial backhaul to their home enterprise if needed.
Because of the flexibility of the BPA, if the customer doesn’t have the terminal today, or if they need to supplement terminals – we can provide them the full remote equipment set from scratch, both with buy and lease options. It’s very flexible.
In the end, if the customer already has the equipment, that’s great! We can provide them the services as they need it. But if they don’t have the equipment and they need access to it, we can do that as well.
GSR: How does this BPA play a role in the movement towards adopting the integrated MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM architecture that the DoD has been talking about for the past decade?
Hugh Keane: It certainly plays a role. We need to praise the U.S. Space Force for putting this BPA in place. Before we had this BPA, we worked with various DoD partners to provide an architecture that enabled roaming between WGS and COMSATCOM X-Band and that also included the provision of commercial teleports and peripheral backhaul.
“The BPA will have a positive effect – it allows rapid access to commercial X-Band satellite capacity and its enabling elements, not to mention greatly expands the capability sets of the DoD.” -Hugh Keane
I will say, though, in establishing the BPA, Space Force has now created an avenue that never existed before and is allowing all DoD users to access that type of service and capability for the integration of those MILSATCOM and COMSATCOM architectures. This is really enabled in the BPA allowing reduced time-to-order and time-to-activation of services. Space Force has greatly facilitated this integration by putting this vehicle in place.
GSR: What effect will the addition of this commercial global X-Band satellite capacity have on the military’s satellite architecture? Will it make it more secure? More assured? Why or why not?
Hugh Keane: The BPA will have a positive effect – it allows rapid access to commercial X-Band satellite capacity and its enabling elements, not to mention greatly expands the capability sets of the DoD. They now have COMSATCOM assets along with the ground infrastructure available in every AOR that can supplement and indeed work in tandem with WGS. By having that they increase the availability and resiliency of their communications pathways through access to a greater range of satellites, and ground assets.