U.S. Space Pivot to APAC – Where’s the SATCOM Planning?

Global commercial satellite fleet operators will not be able to support the announced U.S. security “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region as robustly as they have supported military operations in the Middle East theater. This is because the investment required to do so cannot be defended as a logical business decision.

So says Tip Osterthaler, chief executive of SES Government Services, quoted in a recent Space News article. At the recent Global Milsatcom conference, Osterthaler explained that unlike the Middle East region, there is very little unused capacity for the APAC region among the global operators – SES, Intelsat and Eutelsat. Osterthaler estimated that 80 percent of current capacity is utilized and the fleets cannot support a large upsurge in usage.

To quote the article:

That is not likely to recur in the Pacific Ocean region,” he said, where the three fleet operators’ satellites are 80 percent full and unable to cater to a big spike in demand — even from a valued customer like the U.S. government.

Osterthaler said that while the U.S. government’s annual spending of around $1.2 billion on commercial satellite bandwidth makes it the single largest customer for commercial operators, the government purchases account for only around 10 percent of total commercial demand.

It’s encouraging to see Osterthaler make this case so clearly. As the article points out, Intelsat General has long called for a broader, comprehensive roadmap for the remaking of our country’s space architecture. This way the proper role of the commercial providers could be identified and the likely bandwidth needs of the government accommodated, in a way that made sense to shareholders.

The Space News article mentions that there are other SATCOM resources in the APAC region beyond the big three commercial fleets. However, many of these entities offer fragmented spectrum and are owned wholly or partly by governments.  What happens to that spectrum if the governments in questions oppose United States policy or operations?

The relationship between the government and commercial providers is changing, driven largely by the budgetary climate. This change will be wrenching at times. But as IGC President Kay Sears wrote recently here, it also presents an opportunity to redefine a partnership that has given the United States overwhelming space supremacy.

We need to work together to ensure this supremacy is maintained and strengthened through the APAC pivot.