DISA, Navy seek new approach to commercial satcom

The Defense Information Systems Agency wants to move to a mobile leasing approach for acquiring commercial satellite communications services for the Navy. This would be a wholesale change from the current method of purchasing individual rights to commercial satellite bandwidth.

DISA issued a request for information Oct. 27 that asks industry to come up with innovative ways to manage commercial satcom capabilities to maximize available resources and minimize cost. The Navy’s new approach should pool available satcom resources across an area of coverage rather than reserving satellite capacity in advance.

Currently, the Defense Department leases transponders and reserves guaranteed numbers of links at specified data rates. This provides static capability but does efficiently manage the available resources. The new approach should allow Navy users to pull satellite capability without concern over the specific satellite, the Land Earth Station that received the transmission or the terrestrial path that brings the data to the endpoint, according to the RFI.

In seeking a new contract strategy, DISA is asking industry to provide a comprehensive solution that will include acquiring, managing and operating commercial satcom services for the Navy, the RFI states.

DISA’s RFI fits into its ongoing plans to shift to a utility model of procuring information technology services. Earlier this month, DISA announced five contracts with a potential value of up to $700 million that will be used to purchase server processing at all DISA data centers on an hourly usage basis. Also, in July DISA awarded a $17 million contract to IBM for collaboration tools that would also be funded on a pay-per-use basis.

The RFI also represents DOD's recognition that it will be increasingly dependent on commercial satellites for remote data transmission in the near term. Army chief information officer Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle told reporters recently that more than 80 percent of the Army’s satcom went through commercial providers at a cost of more of $1 billion in 2005.

In the long term, DOD plans to rely on various military satellite projects that are in development but face extended delays. For example, the Transformational Communications Satellite program is now set for deployment in 2015 at the earliest.

DISA will host an industry day Nov. 3 to explain its thinking on commercial satellite mobile leasing.

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