Army uses quick-buy method for large satcom pact

The Army's satellite communications program office has embraced the principles of acquisition reform, proving that the same methodology that speeds the purchase of small, low-cost products such as PCs can work with larger, more expensive satellite Earth stations.

The Commercial Satcom Terminal Program (CSTP) office at the Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) recently bought 25 deployable Ku-band Earth terminals (DKET) that U.S. forces in the Middle East will use. The CSTP took four weeks to issue the solicitation and review the bids for the $18.2 million contract, said Raymond Sami, the CSTP project leader. "We had to wait another week to get the user money," he added.

The CSTP, based at Fort Monmouth, N.J., also imposed an equally fast delivery time on the winner of the contract, Datapath Inc. The company must deliver within 70 days of the July 31 award the first terminal to Kuwait for use by the Army Central Command. Other terminals from the Datapath buy will be installed in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Sami said.

David McDonald, sales vice president for Datapath, described the fast turn-around requested by Cecom as not unusual in the commercial, Earth terminal world. "We have a lot of [commercial] customers who, when they make up their minds, want to get the equipment quickly," he said.

McDonald said this was the first federal procurement the company has won, and he cited the streamlined process as "a plus'' in the company's decision to bid on the contract.

The DKET contract marks the second major buy managed by CSTP. Last year the office managed a contract to install 19 Earth stations in South Korea for a Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) network that serves U.S. forces there. CSTP recently awarded a follow-on to that contract, which was won by LNR Inc., Hauppague, N.Y., for an extra 15 terminals.

Julius Asmus, director of business development for government systems at LNR, called CSTP's approach to the purchase of satellite terminals for the federal satellite market "pioneering...very effective and very successful."

Eben Townes, vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a federal acquisition consulting firm, said the CSTP program's fast-track buy certainly fits with the goals of acquisition reform, but he also wondered if "breaking speed records is all there is.... What about performance measures?"

The terminals installed in South Korea and the Mideast will serve as the ground legs for transponders DISA acquired for Defense Department use through its Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative, Sami said. The first of the Datapath terminals is scheduled for installation in Kuwait for use by the Army Central Command and will replace a terminal installed by MCI Government Markets as part of a package deal that also included transponder time. Because DISA is supplying the space segment, Sami said the Army should save $3 million in transponder costs.

Christopher Nielsen, the CSTP marketing manager, said the program office wants to provide its expertise in this relatively rarefied acquisition area to all federal agencies. "We're looking at the entire federal sector, and [we] see a lot of opportunities in areas such as distance-learning networks,'' Nielsen said.

While CSTP has so far focused on Ku-band terminals, Sami said the organization stands ready to offer all types of satellite terminals to its customers, ranging from larger C-band Earth stations to smaller and advanced Ka-band terminals.

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