DISA plans $2B Pacific satellite network

Looking to girdle the Earth with a high-speed communications system the Defense Information Systems Agency last week kicked off a potential $2 billion procurement for a broadband network covering the Pacific and Indian oceans. The agency also said it planned to launch a similar procurement for European services before year's end.

DISA put out a notice that it would release a draft request for proposals for the Defense Information Systems Network Transmission Services Pacific Network (DISN TS-PAC) on Oct. 1. The network is designed to serve - but is not limited to - Alaska Hawaii Guam Korea Australia Wake Island Diego Garcia Okinawa Singapore Johnson Island Kwajalein the Philippines and Japan at bandwidths ranging from T-1 to Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) circuits running at OC-48.

Industry pegged the total value of the 10-year contract at close to $2 billion.

Peter Smingler DISA's DISN contracting officer called it "premature" to put a price tag on DISN TS-PAC before industry even responds to the draft RFP but he did acknowledge the $2 billion figure as "the ceiling" for the procurement.

Col. Marlin Forbes DISA's DISN program manager said that due to the vast distances involved in the Pacific area of operations the agency envisions using every conceivable form of satellite communications to satisfy its requirements ranging from well-established geostationary satellite systems operated by the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) to low Earth orbit satellite services such as the Iridium system conceived and backed by Motorola Corp.

Regional geostationary satellite systems as well as Pentagon-owned and operated Milstar satellites will also play a role in DISN TS-PAC Forbes added. But he said the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the agency want to use fiber-optic cable to provide high-speed Sonet service to as many endpoints in the DISN TS-PAC network as possible.

That includes remote Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean which serves as a key staging and supply base for U.S. forces operating in the Indian and Pacific oceans Forbes said.

He acknowledged that Diego Garcia does not lie directly on major underwater fiber routes but then quickly added "We would like fiber [connections] to Diego Garcia.... We would like to leverage what is going on commercially and pay a [premium] for such service."

Executives of all three major long-distance communications carriers - AT&T MCI and Sprint - said the Pentagon should expect to pay a premium for all of DISN TS-PAC due to the limited fiber and satellite capacity in the region coupled with growing commercial demand.

Kevin McManus assistant vice president of AT&T Government Markets said "vastly increasing commercial demand in the Pacific [for communications circuits] is growing much faster than the supply.... DISA is going to have to pay a premium."

Diana Gowen director of Defense Department sales and marketing at MCI Government Markets agreed with this assessment of limited capacity. "There's not that much Sonet out there...and there certainly is not an excess of satellite capacity either. Today we can respond well to individual [circuit] requirements but it's another matter to put up an entire network."

MCI holds DISA's existing Pacific Commercial Telecommunications Network contract which will expire in 1998.

Bill Brougham director of Sprint's DOD program office cautioned that DISA's requirements alone "will not drive fiber build-outs" in the Pacific especially to remote areas.

Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based communications analyst said DISN TS-PAC "will not be cheap.... It's very different from domestic DISN where DISA was able to take advantage of and piggy-back on the competition in the industry that has resulted in a lot of capacity and very aggressive pricing."

DISA wants to develop DISN TS-PAC as a high-speed backbone capable of carrying voice video and data throughout the region.

Forbes said the agency also plans to use the new network as the "backbone" for the transmission of signals to a planned wideband Global Broadcast System that will support the Pacific theater.

Big Three Plan to Prime

AT&T MCI and Sprint all currently plan to bid DISN TS-PAC as primes partnering with a number of international regional and local communications companies to meet the requirements.

Suss said the three major players will have to line up sizable teams of "satellite providers as well as local communications companies.... It will be interesting to watch how the teams shape up."

Once DISA gets the DISN TS-PAC procurement rolling the agency plans to launch its DISN-Europe procurement with Forbes predicting a draft RFP on the street before the end of the year.

Forbes said the agency wants to structure the DISN-EUR contract so it will be in place to take advantage of the deregulation of communications in the European Community that will occur in 1998.

"That should increase competition and we would like to take advantage of it " Forbes added.

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