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Date:07/02/12

New Zealand joins US defence SATCOM pact

New Zealand has joined the US Department of Defence’s flagship wideband global satellite (WGS) program under moves to boost its communications capabilities, and ensure guaranteed access to communications at fixed prices and faster data throughput.

The WGS program, currently supported by partner countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, is operated by the US Department of Defence. New Zealand plans to invest NZ $82.3 million (US $67 million) over 20 years to help build a ninth satellite, while gaining immediate access to WGS’ communications systems.Baseline funding supporting New Zealand’s contribution is being allocated under the country’s defence capital plan.

Combined, partner countries earlier committed up to US $620 million for the WGS program. Each of these satellites, being built by the aerospace giant, Boeing, will cost an estimated US $1 billion.

Four WGS satellites are already in orbit, each supporting a maximum total throughput of 3.6 gigabits per second of data.
The most recent satellite was launched into orbit last week from Cape Canaveral, Florida — with WGS-5 and WGS-6 scheduled for launch by 2013.

Dr Jonathan Coleman, New Zealand’s Minister for Defence says the WGS alliance will boost New Zealand’s satellite communications capabilities, while guaranteeing the country’s satellite communications requirements this decade.

“This gives a significant boost to our forces’ capacity both at home and overseas. It will increase our access to satellite broadband more than twenty-fold, with guaranteed access and at a fixed price, ensuring better value for money.”

The New Zealand Department of Defence (NZDF) is driving the country’s participation in the WGS program.
An earlier defence white paper said modernising defence communications systems should be a “priority” — to support the forces and deliver cost-effective pricing and access arrangements. The NZDF currently purchases bandwidth on commercial satellites at “spot prices.”

There are concerns these spot purchases often involve “premiums” of up to 100 percent, depending on demand, while restricting access to high-speed communications and faster data throughout.
Any unused capacity from the New Zealand’s use of the WGS will be available for other government agencies.

New Zealand currently spends NZ $4.3million (US $3.4million) on satellite communications systems — with this investment growing by nearly 10 percent each year.

Among participating countries, Australia joined the WGS program in 2007, notes an (unclassified) Department of Defence submission to a senate enquiry. This submission says Australia relies on space systems for national security.

Australia is a proportionate partner in the US military wideband global SATCOM constellation and has invested AUD $927 million (US $972 million) in the program.
This investment will form the backbone of military communications until about 2025; and is by far the single largest Australian direct investment in space communications to date.

Space support for Australia’s defence force encompasses SATCOM, point-of-defence (PNT), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as meteorological and other environmental information supporting terrestrial defence activities.

Government agencies increasingly rely on defence space support for activities, including emergency management.

Wideband global satellites operate in the military X-band and the high-frequency Ka-band – these frequencies support the use of small dishes for “on-the-move” satellite communications for ground forces, or highly-mobile personnel.

Satellite systems support tactical communications to and between ground forces, at the same time, relaying data and imagery from surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
Future satellites are being designed to support data transmission from battlefield surveillance systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles.




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