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06 Sep 06. The Defense Department’s use of commercial satellite-based systems to support various combat support operations has vastly increased since the global war on terror began in 2001, but until now the military lacked a coordinated, standardized way to quickly buy the technology it needed.

A new Army contract worth up to $5bn will provide commercial satellite terminals and associated services to all federal agencies, including those handling domestic disaster relief and homeland security missions.

Industry analysts said military users have the most technical expertise in using satellite technology, which is typically associated in the commercial world with transmitting and receiving radio and television signals. But satellites also support Internet and telephone connections, ATM transactions, and have been crucial during disasters such as last year’s hurricanes, when landline and cellular networks were overwhelmed or washed away. The technology has also proved essential in military operations.

“It’s almost impossible to do commerce and war fighting without a satellite link,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute. “The U.S. military’s global operations are increasingly held together by a satellite communications network.”

The Army last week selected Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., and four small businesses to compete under the five-year World-Wide Satellite Systems contract, which requires each vendor to provide comprehensive turnkey solutions — from satellite communications systems hardware to operations services to logistics support.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Army logisticians and medics dramatically increased the use of satellite communications to transmit unclassified information in support operations.

“People liked it because they got bandwidth they never had before,” said Kevin Carroll, the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Outside experts agree about the government’s increasing use of satellite technology. “Every time we go out to blow somebody up, it uses more bandwidth than it previously did,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank based in Alexandria, Va.

The Army had been doing on-the-spot contracts to meet its users’ needs, “but we didn’t get the competition we wanted to have,” said Carroll, whose office develops, acquires and deploys information technology systems and communications for the Army.

After recognizing that other Army offices also were exploring commercial satellite deals, the service established the government-wide contract vehicle to provide competition and standardization. The request for proposals was issued earlier this year and the deal covers static and portable satellite terminals and connections with actual satellite time supplied by the Defense Information Systems Agency, Carroll said. The General Services Administration also offers a satellite communications contract, but the Army award is broader in scope and includes cryptographic provisions that would enable more secure communications, according to service officials.

The Army deal was awarded Aug. 29 and in addition to Boeing and General Dynamics, the four small business awardees are: DataPath Inc., in Duluth, Ga., DSCI of Eatontown, N.J., Globecomm Systems Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y., and TeleCommunications Systems in Annapolis, Md.

Military industry analysts said both Boeing and General Dynamics could make $1bn each or more in revenue as the military increases its reliance on satellite communications for commerce and war fighting.

“Potentially this could provide revenue of over $1 billion to both Boeing and General Dynamics,” Thompson said. Because the award is an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract, “there’s an op

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