A ‘New Chapter’ in Government Procurement of Satellite Solutions

Skot Butler, President, Intelsat General Corp.

At the end of 2018, division chief Clare Grason and her entire satellite communications team at the Defense Information Systems Agency moved over to work in the same capacity under Gen. John (“Jay”) Raymond at the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). As she said of the transfer in November at the Global MilSatCom conference in London, “We’re ready to start a new chapter.”

The change has been a long time coming. We industry veterans here at Intelsat General and our colleagues at other commercial satellite providers have been pushing for reform for the past decade. This move is not simply a shuffling of the deck chairs. Rather, it is an important step toward a future wideband SATCOM architecture that defines a clear role for COMSATCOM.

Several Air Force leaders, including Gen. John Hyten and Gen. Jay Raymond, have long been advocates for the USG solidifying the COMSATCOM role in the DoD space mission and taking full advantage of commercial capability. Gen. Raymond, in particular, was instrumental in supporting the decision to shift commercial satellite services procurement from DISA to the Air Force, which is also responsible for the nation’s military satellite constellations. As Grason said at Global MilSatCom, she now wants “to elevate commercial satcom to where it needs to be, as vital infrastructure.”

We were also very pleased to hear Grason say that once her group is part of AFSPC, she will change their procurement practice of primarily using “lowest price technically acceptable” (LPTA) evaluation criteria. As she said at the conference, “Over the next year we have an initiative to compete our contracts on a best value tradeoff basis while we develop a more comprehensive acquisition strategy for buying and using satcom differently.”

We long have argued that LPTA contracting does not provide the end user—often a warfighter—with the best satellite solutions. Quite the opposite: it often rewards bad behavior. I think both taxpayers and our lawmakers would be stunned to know that companies would bid on a DoD LPTA contract with a premeditated plan to change the technical solution after award—as we saw in a recent COMSATCOM acquisition. Ask yourself: Why would they need to change the technical solution before it was even implemented? While this may or may not violate federal rules, it is clearly not the intended use of LPTA—which is meant for use in purchasing commodities that are identical regardless of supplier.

After years of industry input that at times seemed to fall on deaf ears, we are excited to see significant change in how the U.S. military will be using commercial satellite services. The changes could not come at a better time for Intelsat General, as we complete the final piece of our Intelsat EpicNG high-throughput satellite constellation. The Horizons 3e satellite, launched in September, has entered service with coverage over East Asia and the Pacific. With H-3, military and other government users will have access to a seamless global fabric of high-throughput spot beams overlaid with Intelsat’s constellation of widebeam satellites, providing coverage of operations around the world.

The global Epic coverage is the underpinning of our fully managed FlexAir service, providing a variety of mobile communications solutions for the military’s manned and unmanned aircraft operations. FlexAir takes advantage of the high data rates provided by the Intelsat EpicNG constellation, giving users up to 10 times the data throughput of other managed networks. FlexAir is a perfect example of how the COMSATCOM marketplace responds to the needs of the USG and DoD user.

With an integrated COMSATCOM—MILSATCOM architecture, there is so much we can do. From unique coverage and resilient hosted capacity, from beam forming to fully software-defined satellites even mission specific busses, the DoD’s change in how it acquires and uses COMSATCOM has the potential to be a game changer for both government and industry