The FCSA process has been a long road, but the final contract in the series, called CS2, was awarded in August to Intelsat General and seven other prime contractors. This latest contract could be the most important because it allows the awardees to provide managed end-to-end solutions. This is something the commercial industry has wanted for many years and now we have the chance to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can deliver.
Part of what makes FCSA so important is that the program will allow contractors to provide not just bandwidth, but custom end-to-end solutions to government customers that can include terminals, terrestrial networks, engineering, and a range of other services. Rather than being a simple transition to a new contract vehicle, CS2 is an opportunity for the government user and the commercial provider to fundamentally re-examine how they work together.
Implementing CS2 demonstrates a shift in how the government and military think about end-to-end services, and how they move from ownership of a particular component to a service level agreement-based contract. Rather than defining performance on individual components, such as bandwidth speed or terminal performance, the government user will be measuring results on the overall reliability of a network. After all, who cares how an individual component performs if the overall network fails to meet expectations?
Some types of government operations, such as logistical support, have already required more end-to-end services from commercial providers. But others, such as UAV operations, rely on commercial satellite bandwidth but have been largely run over government-owned networks and terminals.
Initially, the government will likely not contract for UAV-type services on an end-to-end basis. The U.S. military will probably continue to be in control of terminals in war zones, but these terminals could become part of a larger commercial network, a process that will require a re-definition of how operations are monitored and carried out.
The challenge in this new relationship will be defining the specific role for commercial services on one side while supporting government-owned equipment on the other. Although we are moving in the right direction, it is clear that industry and government still have to iron out many details. The signs of change, however, are unmistakable.
The award of CS2 ushers in a new way of thinking for many government customers. Its success will depend on how comfortable commercial providers can make users who are accustomed to owning and operating their own networks. We’re up to that challenge, and ready to accelerate the current momentum.