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Skynet 5

The Skynet 5 program, managed by Airbus, provided the UK MOD with a suite of highly robust, reliable and secure military communications services, supporting global operations since 2003. The first of the satellites, Skynet 5A, was launched in March 2007, followed by Skynet 5B in November 2007, and Skynet 5C in June 2008.

Airbus has been involved in all Skynet phases since 1974 and this phase builds on a strong UK commitment to space manufacturing in the UK. The recent programme commenced by using the legacy Skynet 4 satellites and then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the Skynet 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D satellites between 2007 and 2012.

The Skynet 5 program has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks for the MOD, while ensuring unrivalled secure satcoms and innovation to UK forces. Through the many years of delivering an exceptionally reliable Skynet service the Airbus teams have managed to significantly extend the lifespan of the Skynet satellites many years beyond their design life, offering significant additional value for money and capability to the UK.

The SKYNET project is the largest ever Government Private Finance Initiative deal, working in partnership with Paradigm Secure Communications to deliver British Military communication satellites. The launch of the SKYNET 5a communication satellite in March 2007, the first of three to be launched under the £3bn plus programme, is a huge step forward supplying 2.5 times the capacity of the previous system – allowing us to pass more data faster. The satellite, with its world beating antenna technology and far greater power and data rates, provides a significant enhancement to global communications and operational capability for our forces, whether deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or at sea.

SKYNET 5 is the next generation UK Military Satellite Communications System. Subject to the granting of formal approvals, the Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive plans to replace its SKYNET 4 military satellite communications system, including the update and enhancement of ground equipment. The ISD is 2005. The MoD wishes to conduct a competitive two year programme of work to determine implementation options.

MoD wish to examine three ways of meeting their requirement, namely:

(a) International Project Definition (PD) collaborative programme between UK/Ge/Fr for the supply and delivery in orbit of satellites and the updating and enhancement of associated ground equipment.

(b) National PD programme for the supply and delivery in orbit of satellites and the updating and enhancement of associated ground equipment.

(c) Provision of military satellite communications service including the updating and enhancement of associated ground equipment through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) arrangement.

The proposed invitation to tender [ITT] for the National programme will be issued in parallel with those for the international collaborative and PFI programs. The objective of this study is to define a satellite communications system which meets the requirements of the system requirement specification (SRS) as provided by MoD (PE). Following the competition, a decision will be made to pursue either the international collaborative programme or the national PD programmes, in parallel with the PFI approach. The selection of the approach to be taken forward into implementation will be made following the evaluation of the results of the PFI Design Study and PD programmes.

Project Definition shall consider the space segment, ground segment, and system management segment as a single integrated system. Activities to be performed as part of Project Definition will include, but will not be limited to:

(a) Producing a detailed satellite management segment and ground system designs to meet the SRS.

(b) Producing detailed development plans. and migration plans for the current UKMSCS to the new system to meet the ISD of 2005.

(c) Development of critical items and technology required to allow initiation of the development and implementation work (Phase C/D) after completion of Project Definition.

(d) System support analysis with regards to logistics training and documentation.

(e) Provision of a detailed procurement specification for the development and implementation phase.

In order to achieve the 2005 ISD the MoD sought approval to follow the following programme timeline: late July 1997 invite tenders; late September 1997 receive bids; early 1998 contract let for Design Studies; end 1999 completion of Design Studies; end 2000 contract let for the implementation phase; 2005 ISD for the first satellite.

In April 1999 Matra Marconi Space was selected to perform design studies for the UK Ministry of Defence's next generation military satellite system. The Skynet 5 system will replace the current Skynet 4 satellites, also built by Matra Marconi Space, early in the next century.

The design phase contract is worth £30M over a 20 month study period and Matra Marconi Space will also contribute internally funded research and development effort. The design phase includes system study and technology prototyping activities, and will lead to a proposal for the provision of satellite communications services for the UK armed forces.

The program is challenging. The design phase study will focus on the procurement of Skynet 5 through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI). This approach will require the industry team selected to undertake implementation at the conclusion of the Design Phase to finance the satellite construction programme and to develop communications service catalogues, charging structures and billing systems. PFI has previously been successfully applied to a number of other MOD programmes. However application of PFI to the Skynet 5 system is regarded as a flagship initiative, both in terms of its total value and its position relative to 'the front line'. The eventual service provision contract with the UK MoD is estimated to be worth around £1 billion over 12 years.

Matra Marconi Space has assembled a world class industrial team to address the design phase, and has created a new special purpose company - 'Paradigm Secure Communications' - to address financing and communications service issues. 'Paradigm' will also be able to offer communications services to other military and commercial users. Companies supporting Matra Marconi Space in the design phase, and potential partners in Paradigm, include Motorola, Logica, Cogent, TRW and System Engineering Assessment. Commercial advice to the Paradigm team comes from Freshfields, Ernst and Young and Atlas Capital Finance.

The award of this contract and the recent successful launch of Skynet 4E, further enhance the Company's position as a world leader in the provision of military satellite communications systems. It reinforces the UK's industrial capability in this high technology market sector and should provide valuable spin-offs into the commercial satellite market.

MATRA MARCONI SPACE, the joint venture company formed by LAGARDERE (France) and GEC (UK), is Europe's leading satellite manufacturer. It employs 4,500 people, in France and the UK. With a turnover in 1998 of 1,262 million euros (US$ 1.5 billion), its activities cover science and Earth observation, communications and ground systems, military programs, launchers and orbital infrastructure.

Superseding the now obsolete Emergency Communications Network (ECN), High Integrity Telecommunications System [HITS] is an independent system that will continue to function when conventional landline and mobile telecoms are unavailable or degraded. Satellite-based security. Based on the advanced military Skynet 5 satellite network, it is available to police and other emergency services personnel at fixed sites located across the UK, with further transportable units enabling HITS to be deployed wherever and whenever the need arises. Allowing both voice and data transmission, as well as access to the internet, HITS will play a critical role in enabling uninterrupted communication between regional and national levels of crisis co-ordination during any kind of disruptive event.

An extra lines of communication will benefit personnel deployed in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, including the Falklands, Cyprus and on ships at sea. Skynet 5D was launched from French Guiana, South America. It is the fourth satellite of the Skynet 5 project to be put into space since 2007 under a £4bn Private Finance Initiative (PFI) programme with Astrium, who built the satellite and service providers Astrium Services. The Skynet project sustains approximately 800 jobs between the company’s sites in Stevenage, Portsmouth and Corsham, Wiltshire. When in space, Skynet 5D will travel at speeds of around 10,000 kilometres per hour and is expected to cover around 1.2 billion kilometres during its time in orbit.

2003 saw the RAF relinquish the role of satellite control through a private finance agreement to Airbus Defence and Space. 1001 Signals Unit, who were responsible for satellite control were disbanded, although many of the personnel still do the same job now as civilians. Skynet 5 Ground Stations are operated by contractor staff under the Skynet 5 contract. The chief satellite ground station commander post is fulfilled by Airbus under the Skynet 5 contract. A portion of the UK military Skynet 5 satellites, owned by Paradigm Secure Communications Limited, has been specifically designated under the UK MOD agreement with Paradigm to providing services to both the US DoD and other MODs under commercial terms

Following an agreement with NATO, in 2011 the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation secured ownership of the NATO satellite at no extra cost to the MOD. Control of the satellite and running of the two UHF channels has been incorporated into the MOD’s Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative contract and is managed by communications company Paradigm. The NATO satellite will be used to provide two extra Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tactical communications channels that can be used in Afghanistan. This additional satellite adds to the MOD’s three existing Skynet 5 series satellites which provide a worldwide satellite communications service.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne confirmed 17 March 2015 at the Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace (LIMA) exhibition in Malaysia, that Airbus will reposition one of the Skynet 5 satellites, providing the UK with secure communications and a greater ability to support regional humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. As part of a multi-million pound investment, Airbus Defence & Space – which operates the satellite on behalf of the UK Government – will also build a ground station in Australia. The move represents significant export opportunities for the UK as any spare communication capacity will be sold.

Defence Minister Philip Dunne, said: "Today’s announcement that Airbus will be moving one of the UK’s Skynet 5 satellites to the eastern Asia-Pacific region is clear proof of how much our relationships with our international allies matter. This is the first time that we have had a secure communications capability in the region, and shows the depth of our commitment to our allies and partners in the region, including Malaysia, in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations."

The Skynet 5 is a private finance initiative contracted to Airbus Defence & Space, who own and operate the Skynet 5 secure communications satellites and the ground network which provide all Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) communications to the UK Ministry of Defence. As part of the contract, NATO and other allied governments are able to use Skynet services to augment their existing communication services. It is intended that the Skynet satellite will be in position by the middle of 2015. A range of world leading British technologies are being exhibited at LIMA as the United Kingdom looks to strengthen industrial ties with Malaysia in the defence and security sectors.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2020 09:44:16 ZULU