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Defense kicks off satellite communications contract

The Defense Information Systems Agency has kicked off a follow-on procurement for commercial satellite services that could be worth $500 million a year and may attract a large field of bidders, ranging from small businesses to large systems integrators.

Tom Eaton, president of Arrowhead Global Solutions, one of the three vendors on DISA's current Defense Information System Network Satellite Transmission Service-Global (DSTS-G) contract, said his company intends to bid on the follow-on procurement, known as the Future Commercial Satellite Services Acquisition. He said DISA should widen the scope of the procurement to include mobile satellite services as well as the fixed satellite services covered in the current contract, which expires in 2011.

Eaton said DISA also should consider bundling satellite terminal hardware into the Future Commercial Satellite Services Acquisition, along with mobile services, to cut down on administrative overhead and consolidate all commercial satellite communications requirements into one contract vehicle.

Eaton said that demand for satellite communications bandwidth far outstrips the capacity of military systems, a gap that can be filled by commercial satellite services.

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, director of DISA's program executive office for satellite communications, told the Federal Networks conference held by Telestrategies and Suss Consulting last month that slightly more than half of the capacity of DSTS-G serves Defense units operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. DISA needs commercial providers that can deliver satellite communications "into the foxhole," she said.

The Defense Department has mandated that all the military services use DSTS-G, Cowen-Hirsch said, which leverages the department's buying power. DISA's cost for satellite services is 25 percent below the industry average. The agency said in its request for information for the Future Commercial Satellite Services Acquisition that it wants to maintain this "price competition, while ensuring maximum effectiveness by considering lessons learned, market evolution and anticipating future DoD needs."

It appears that a large pool of vendors stand ready to meet these requirements, and not just the small businesses that won the DSTS-G contracts in 2001. Eaton estimated that about 50 bidders submitted written responses to the new RFI, including his company and the two other DTTS-G incumbents, Artel Inc. and Spacelink, acquired by DRS Technolgies in 2006.

A number of large systems integrators also may compete for contract. Ed Laase, director of communications services for Boeing Services Co. said the company intends to bid. Boeing Services currently provides commercial satellite communications service to the Air Force VIP aircraft fleet.

Laase said Boeing has the consolidated buying power needed to meet DISA's price requirements and believes its experience as a systems integrator will provide added value to management of commercial systems crafted to serve Defense requirements.

DRS did not respond to a request for an interview and Artel did not make executives available for an interview.

DISA said it will hold an industry day on the Future Commercial Satellite Services Acquisition at the Westin Tysons Corner from Tuesday, March 11 through Thursday, March 13. The hotel is located at 7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va., 22043.

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