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Leased Commercial Communications

DOD’s military SATCOM architecture consists of three segments: a protected segment that provides secure, jam-resistant communications; a wideband segment, which supports Army mobile ground terminals and Navy ships and submarines, among other things; and a narrowband segment, which provides complementary capability to the other segments, such as beyond line-of-sight secure tactical communications capabilities. In comparison, the commercial SATCOM architecture consists of two segments — fixed and mobile satellite services — which provide functions similar to the military wideband and narrowband segments, respectively. There is no commercial counterpart to the military protected segment.

The Department of Defense (DOD) uses satellite communications (SATCOM) to support land, sea, air, and space operations. For example, DOD utilizes SATCOM to support a variety of mission critical needs, such as surveillance being performed by unmanned aerial vehicles and communications between commanders and field units. DOD partially meets these communication needs through leasing commercial SATCOM services. The Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) portion of commercial SATCOM because it represents the largest percentage (over 70 percent) of DOD’s annual expenditures for commercial SATCOM for fiscal year 2012 and also because it favors long-term purchases of bulk commercial SATCOM capacity that might benefit from a multi-year contracting strategy. DOD has become increasingly reliant upon commercial SATCOM, which now represents a significant portion of the DOD SATCOM architecture.

On 8 November 1993, the Defense Department promulgated new policy guidance for the use of commercial satellite communications. This policy was an outgrowth, in part, of the congressionally mandated Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative studies and the demonstrable benefits available from an increased use of commercial SATCOM for military applications.

The CSCI studies demonstrated the applicability of commercial SATCOM to a variety of command, control, communications and intelligence missions. The new policy guidance establishes the framework to integrate the department's efforts for implementing commercial capabilities and will guide the resulting commercial service investment strategy to ensure a cost-effective augmentation of military satellite capabilities by the department.

The policy states, to the extent operationally and fiscally practical, the DoD will augment its military SATCOM capability with both domestic and international commercial services. To ensure maximum savings are achieved through economies of scale, all acquisition of commercial SATCOM services shall be consistent with the approved Defense Information Services Network acquisition strategy and shall be acquired through the auspices of the Defense Commercial Communications Office of the Defense Information Systems Agency, as a single manager.

As the use of commercial SATCOM increases throughout the Department, basic interoperability among Fixed Satellite Service terminals will be established and maintained through the use of appropriate standards, and in a manner consistent with advancing commercial technology. To the maximum extent practical, all new military transportable FSS earth terminals shall be acquired with the ability to access both the commercial C and Ku frequency bands.

In support of this tasking, the department hosted a defense wide commercial SATCOM conference which allowed for the exchange of ideas on the use of commercial satellite systems. DISA captured this information into a program plan and for the first time, fully laid out a comprehensive departmental commercial SATCOM strategy.

The Navy's Commercial Wideband satellite communications systems are used to provide wideband connectivity and Quality of Life communications services to the fleet. Commercial Wideband SATCOM leverages Commercial Satellite Communications to provide high data rate connectivity (1.544 Megabits Per Second (Mbps) to deployed Naval Forces. Connectivity provides for voice, video and data in support of C4I and Quality of Life requirements.

There are two primary contract structures through which DISA procures bandwidth through these vendors. The first is known as the Managed Transponder Contract (MTC). It was competitively awarded in 1995 to one vendor, and served as the primary acquisition vehicle for several years.

The second is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) multiple-award contract structure known as the Defense Information Systems Network Satellite Transmission Services-Global (DSTS-G) contracts. They were awarded competitively in February 2001, after users found the MTC contract to be inflexible, too costly, and limited in terms of the breadth of services it could provide. Awards were made to three small business vendors that acquire bandwidth for DISA from the ultimate service providers. DISA has been relying increasingly on this second contract structure.

Television Direct To Sailors (TVDTS)

Television Direct To Sailors (TVDTS) started when Secretary of Defense Perry and CNO Admiral Boorda, on separate occasions, noticed the beneficial implications of the reception of live television at sea for Sailors and Marines. These implications included higher levels of morale and quality of life, as well as access to current, real-time news and information. Subsequently, Dr. Perry directed that all deploying ships have the ability to receive live television at sea. Admirals Davis (N6) and Pease (CHINFO) jointly embarked on a program to provide equipment and satellite time to accomplish the TV-DTS objective. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service arranged for the commercial satellite leases and provides the bulk of the television programming. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command is supplying the shipboard antenna systems. The Naval Media Center, which provides shipboard receiving and decoding equipment, operates the television programming facility and is responsible for programming content.

TV-DTS is designed to improve the situational awareness and quality of life of deployed Sailors and Marines by providing shipboard access to real-time news, sports and entertainment programming. This programming consists of two television channels, two audio music channels, one radio news channel, and a data channel capable of supplying print media.

One of the television channels provides sitcoms, movies, network news programs, and prime sports (World Series, etc.). The second television channel provides CNN, Headline News and ESPN programming. Programming is specifically targeted to Sailors and Marines at sea for extended deployments. The print media currently provided over the data channel includes Earlybird, Timesfax (condensed New York Times), StripesLite (condensed version of Stars and Stripes) and various CHINFO and Navy news services.

The Navy was producing and inserting its own commercial spot breaks into the programming to provide Navy-specific command information to Sailors and Marines at sea. In addition, the Navy produces and airs a two minute news update five days per week as a hard-news supplement to the weekly Navy/Marine Corps News broadcast news program. Future plans for the television programming include increasing the content of Navy unique programming, and including local newscasts from homeports such as Norfolk and San Diego. The future for the data channel included homeport newspapers and base newsletters.


In 1999 the DOD Inspector General [DoDIG] released the fourth in a series of reports resulting from the audit, "Communications Capability Within DoD to Support Two Major Regional Conflicts Nearly Simultaneously." This report discusses the management, procurement, and usage of commercial satellite systems within the DoD. Report No. 97-187, "Communications Capability Within DoD to Support Two Major Regional Conflicts Nearly Simultaneously," July 14, 1997, discusses military satellite communications and the requirements determination process for deliberate planning related to the national military strategy. Report No. 98-009, "Demand Assigned Multiple Access Terminals," October 14, 1997, discusses the management of the fielding and funding of multiple access terminals. Report No. 99-009, "Coordination of Electromagnetic Frequency Spectrum and International Telecommunications Agreements," October 9, 1998, discusses the coordination of electromagnetic frequency spectrum and the management of international telecommunications agreements.

The overall audit objective was to evaluate DoD communications capabilities to support two major theater wars. Specifically, the DoDIG evaluated the management, procurement, and usage of commercial satellite systems within the DoD. The audit also reviewed the management control program as it applied to the overall audit objective.

As of 1999 DoD could not determine the total leased commercial satellite communications bandwidth capacity, the total costs associated with that capacity, the type of transmission media used for long-haul telecommunications services, or the total capacity available to supplement military satellite communications and the two major theater war scenarios. As a result, the DoD communications decision makers' ability to use historical trends to predict future capacity and cost requirements was impaired, the Joint Staff deliberate planning process was hampered, and current and future capabilities to support the two major theater war scenarios could not be determined.

DoD had not implemented, as of 1999, an efficient system to centrally monitor and track the inventory of international maritime satellite equipment and airtime costs. Further the total number of DoD-owned international maritime satellite terminals and the associated airtime costs could not be determined. As a result, the ability of communications managers to effectively oversee the acquisition and management of satellite equipment and airtime costs was degraded and economies of scale could not be achieved through combined purchases. Further, communications managers could not effectively plan for integrating the use of future personal communications services capabilities into the deliberate planning process (Finding B). The $1.4 billion Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative was not providing, as of 1999, technically efficient or cost-effective satellite communications services to support the missions of many warfighters. As a result, warfighters were continuing to lease commercial satellite communications through multiple commercial contracting vehicles and not all economies of scale, as intended by Congress, were being achieved.

The DoDIG recommended in 1999 evising DoD Directive 4640.14 to require monitoring and tracking of long-haul communications by type of transmission media, accumulated contract costs, and the total available leased commercial satellite capacity, and an assessment of the mix of DoD-owned and commercially leased satellite capacities on a periodic basis to support the communications deliberate planning process. The DoDIG also recommended designating personal communications services equipment as long-haul communications assets; creating procedures for acquiring, monitoring, and reporting of all personal communication services equipment and airtime services for inclusion in the deliberate planning process. The DoDIG further recommended retention of the Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative contract for large bandwidth users, awarding a new contract for those warfighters that cannot be serviced by the contract, and establishing a program for obtaining sufficient quantities of technically adequate terminals to access available bandwidth capacity.

The Senior Civilian Official, Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence), concurred with these 1999 findings and recommendations and stated that DoD does not accurately track leased commercial communications capacity and costs or quantities and associated costs of INMARSAT terminals. He also stated that some organizations have circumvented existing policy, and contracted outside the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization for terminals and service. The Senior Official agreed that these inadequacies need to be remedied and stated that, in conjunction with the Defense Information Systems Agency, they will improve procedures for tracking and accumulating usage and cost data. In addition, the Assistant Secretary stated that procedures would be established for centralized procurements. In addition, they would reevaluate whether commercial satellite personal communications should be part of a long haul or separate communications policy that recognizes its role in tactical support to deployed mobile forces.

The Joint Staff concurred with the 1999 finding and recommendation. The Vice Chairman stated that the Defense Information Systems Agency had been tasked to conduct a media assessment and the U.S. Space Command was to assess satellite communication capacities to support warfighter requirements. The Vice Chairman further stated that the Joint Staff would lead a media assessment in CY 2000 to assess the right mix of commercial and military-owned satellite communications. The Director, Defense Information Systems Agency concurred with the findings and recommendations and stated that a migration strategy that will integrate provisioning information between the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization is being pursued.

In late 2003 GAO found that some major DOD users of commercial satellite bandwidth services are dissatisfied with DISA's process. They viewed the process as being too lengthy, particularly for time-critical military operations, and they believed that the cost was too high. They also indicated that the contracts resulting from the process are often too inflexible. As a result, some users are bypassing the DISA process, either by formally obtaining a waiver or by procuring services without a waiver.

In fiscal year 2002, nearly 20 percent of DOD's reported spending on satellite bandwidth services occurred outside the process, and one DOD official stated that the true percentage is probably much higher. By allowing users to bypass the DISA waiver process, DOD is hampering its ability to ensure that its communications networks are interoperable and to minimize redundancies.

Further, DOD did not know exactly how much it was spending on commercial satellite bandwidth services, nor did it know much about its service providers or whether customer needs are really being satisfied. Without this knowledge, DOD cannot take steps to leverage its buying power, even though it is the largest customer for commercial satellite bandwidth. Moreover, neither DOD nor DISA was making a concerted effort to collect forecasts of bandwidth needs from users and ensure those needs can be met by the commercial sector. These are also important steps toward optimizing DOD's spending.

DOD depends on commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) to support a variety of critical mission needs, from unmanned aerial vehicles and intelligence to voice and data for military personnel. Data from fiscal year 2011 showed that DOD spent over $1 billion leasing commercial SATCOM. In prior work, we found that some major DOD users of commercial SATCOM were dissatisfied with the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) acquisition process, seeing it as too costly and lengthy. These users also indicated that the contracts used were too inflexible.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 included a provision for DOD to provide a report detailing a 5-, 10-, and 25-year strategy for using a mix of DOD and commercial satellite bandwidth, and for us to review DOD’s acquisition strategy of the report, issued in August 2014. DOD procurement of SATCOM is fragmented and inefficient. DOD policy requires all of its components to procure commercial SATCOM through DISA but some components were independently procuring SATCOM to meet their individual needs.

Guidance from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff requires the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to procure all of DOD's commercial SATCOM. However, because DOD has not enforced this policy, the combatant commands and military services (known as DOD components) independently procure commercial SATCOM to meet their individual needs. As a result, DOD misses opportunities to achieve cost savings by consolidating its commercial SATCOM purchases.

Once commercial SATCOM is procured, U.S. Strategic Command, the DOD agency responsible for providing satellite capability for military operations, assumes operational responsibility. Although the Joint Chiefs' policy sets the foundation for a centralized commercial SATCOM acquisition and management approach, according to DISA and Strategic Command officials, neither DISA nor Strategic Command has enforcement power to ensure that all components adhere to the policy. To begin addressing this policy goal, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council recently approved the commercial SATCOM Centralized Management Concept of Operations, which intends to implement a three-phased approach to centralize management of military and commercial wideband SATCOM.

Some combatant commands and military services believe they can acquire commercial SATCOM faster, better, and cheaper than DISA. Moreover, having an ability to quickly procure commercial SATCOM on their own has helped the military services meet pressing needs in recent military conflicts. While we recognize DOD is often confronted with addressing immediate needs to help ensure mission effectiveness, particularly in times of conflict, this fragmented approach to acquiring commercial SATCOM places DOD at risk of not leveraging its own buying power through efficiencies, such as combining acquisitions. Utilizing a central point of contact could better position DOD to not only meet mission needs but to do so both effectively and efficiently. In the commercial SATCOM usage report, DOD reported that — contrary to the Joint Chiefs' requirement — approximately 34 percent (about $290 million) of its fixed satellite commercial SATCOM services was procured outside of DISA in 2012.

The Defense Business Board found in 2013 that DOD’s strategy and management structure for procuring commercial SATCOM was not optimized and recommended that DOD designate a single lead organization for overall satellite communication strategy. Specifically, the report recommended that DOD designate and resource a single organization, possibly DISA, to acquire and manage all SATCOM assets—including fixed and mobile services as well as DOD’s procurement of commercial satellites—under a managed service-type approach in the same manner that the Defense Logistics Agency is a one-stop shop for the military services' common logistical commodities. Under this construct, all commercial SATCOM acquisition and management would be handled in a managed service type approach, with the designated organization maintaining an inventory of available resources, ensuring their disciplined use, and procuring SATCOM resources in manner to obtain the best value.

As of September 2017, DOD has not addressed GAO’s recommendation from July 2015 that the DOD adhere to its policy that all commercial satellite communications are to be procured by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). DOD published Instruction 8420.02, titled “DOD Satellite Communications (SATCOM),” in September 2016. This instruction prescribes the actions DOD component heads should follow in requesting commercial SATCOM capability through DISA, as required by the 2013 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 6250.01E, "Satellite Communications". It also outlines methods by which DISA can obtain and the DOD Chief Information Officer can analyze data that could inform commercial SATCOM resource usage, allocation, and requirements.

DOD’s 2016 SATCOM usage report estimated that over 30 percent of commercial SATCOM is bought independently by DOD components, even though DOD found the average cost of commercial SATCOM bought through DISA is about 16 percent lower than independently bought commercial SATCOM. Fragmentation such as this limits opportunities for DOD to bundle purchases, share services, and streamline its procurement of commercial SATCOM.

DOD is taking steps to improve its SATCOM procurement and address challenges through “pathfinder” efforts aimed at identifying short- and long-term options. For example, DOD intends to study the potential benefits of using innovative contracting approaches as it procures military and commercial SATCOM, and refine its understanding of DOD’s global SATCOM requirements. However, it may be several years before DOD is able to evaluate the results of its pathfinder efforts. For example, all of the 10 pathfinders planned or already underway are expected to be completed in or beyond fiscal year 2017. DOD’s efforts to improve its procurement of military and commercial SATCOM will also be hampered by two long-standing challenges — lack of knowledge of what DOD is spending on commercial SATCOM and resistance to centralized management of SATCOM procurement.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2018 18:16:41 ZULU