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[infowar.de] WP, 20.3.03: Pentagon Scrambles for Satellites
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Pentagon Scrambles for Satellites
Military Buying Access to Commercial Vehicles to Meet War Needs
By Christopher Stern
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2003; Page E01
In the past few months, the Pentagon has been able to move more than
200,000 troops, 1,100 aircraft and dozens of warships within reach of
Iraq, but it is still trying to accumulate enough satellite capacity to
serve the communication and strategic needs of its vast invasion force.
Industry sources say the Pentagon has been scrambling to buy up access
to commercial satellites to bolster its own orbiting space fleet. The
military needs the bandwidth to support an information-age battle plan
that depends on the ability to transmit huge amounts of data to troops
in the field, planes in the air and even weapons in flight.
The Defense Department declined to comment yesterday, but in other
public statements officials have said the military is using 10 times the
satellite capacity it used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when there was
a similar scramble for spectrum.
The Pentagon "is hoovering up all the available capacity," said Richard
DalBello, president of the Satellite Industry Association, a trade
At the same time, the world's media organizations, including U.S. and
European broadcast networks, are competing with the military for
satellite time. Almost every news organization with journalists in the
region depends on satellites to transmit voice and video to their
editors and producers in offices thousands of miles away.
In recent months, several companies have announced deals with the U.S.
government to provide more satellite capacity. On Jan. 17, Space Imaging
Inc. won a five-year, $120 million contract to provide satellite images
to the secretive National Imagery and Mapping Agency. A rival company,
DigitalGlobe, won a similar contract but declined to discuss its price
Eutelsat SA, a satellite company based in Paris, won a $100 million
contract last fall, The Washington Post reported earlier this month. The
company declined to comment.
Intelsat, a Bermuda-based company that operates out of the District,
also declined to offer specifics about its work for the United States.
"We can confirm we have seen an increase in government and military
traffic," said spokeswoman Jodi Katz.
The international scramble for satellite time began to heat up suddenly
in November, but the ailing industry has been showing signs of life
since late 2001, when the United States launched strikes against the
Taliban in Afghanistan, according to Nathanael G. Chabert, chief
technical officer of the London Satellite Exchange, a British-based
broker of satellite time. "Afghanistan saved some satellite operators
from bankruptcy," Chabert said.
In addition to the satellite capacity the government is buying up from
commercial providers, the military has at least three orbiting fleets of
its own, according to Marco Caceres, senior space analyst with the
aerospace research consultant Teal Group Corp.
The military is probably planning to use much of its newly acquired
commercial capacity as a backup for its own satellites, Caceres said.
The commercial satellites are also used for non-military tasks, such as
communications between soldiers and their families back home or
importing television signals from U.S. networks.
The war in Iraq likely will put to the test a new generation of weapons
that depend on the military's ability to transmit huge amounts of data
through the airwaves. For instance, an unmanned drone known as the RQ-1
Predator is flown remotely by pilots who may be halfway around the world
but remain in control the craft via a satellite connection.
The Predator is a huge consumer of bandwidth, according to Thomas E.
Eaton Jr., president of PanAmSat Corp.'s G2 division, which is under
contract to provide satellite connections for the weapon.
Eaton said the company's government contracts have been on the rise
since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "We view this as an
important sector for the industry given the current situation" and the
needs of homeland security, Eaton said. He declined to say how much
revenue the company is generating through the deals.
In response to the sudden spike in demand for communications with Iraq
and the surrounding region, Inmarsat, a British-based satellite company,
redirected one of its spare satellites to the region. Many in the media
and even some in the military prefer Inmarsat because it has the ability
to transmit voice and large amounts of data, including video images via
Sharri Berg, vice president for news operations for Fox News, is
concerned that as the action heats up in the region Inmarsat will not
have enough capacity to handle all the demand. "There are 600 members of
the media embedded there, all using the same satellite phones," Berg
said. She noted that Inmarsat declined to sign contracts with media
companies that would have guaranteed access to a satellite. "I think
Inmarsat feels they need to meet the military's demand," Berg said.
An Inmarsat spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the company puts all of
its customers on equal footing.
Media companies such as Fox pay about $1.50 per minute for voice
communication via satellite and about $6 per minute to transmit video.
The shortage of capacity over Iraq is in part a result of the country's
historic refusal to allow companies to put satellites in stationary
orbit over the country, according the London Satellite Exchange's
Chabert. The communications satellites now serving Iraq are, in effect,
relaying signals to the region from other orbits.
But not all satellites are affected by the international restrictions.
Unlike geostationary communication satellites, which hover 22,500 miles
in space as they spin in sync with the earth, low-orbit satellites are
permitted under international law to spin around the globe at over
17,000 mph. There is no prohibition against the United States or another
country from using them to take highly detailed pictures of downtown
Baghdad as they fly just 423 miles above the earth.
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