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The ADF now has a 400 per cent increase in UHF satellite communication (SATCOM) capacity thanks to the successful launch of the Intelsat IS-22 satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier this year.

Through a UHF Sharing Memorandum of Understanding that expands the Australian and United States partnership in SATCOM, the UHF satellite communication payload was on board the satellite as it was launched.

Potential capability gap

In 2008 Defence identified an urgent need for government to consider the replacement of the UHF narrowband capability over the Indian Ocean. The LEASAT 5 satellite, which provided this capability, was reaching the end of its fuel and life. It was also identified that a future gap over the Pacific Ocean would occur following the end-of-life of the Optus C1 satellite.

Future phases of Joint Project 2008 were not scheduled to replace the expected loss of UHF capability until 2016, and Defence found it exceedingly difficult to source other leased services using existing satellites due to coalition and NATO forces competing for the same scarce resource.

Studies identified that no excess military or civilian UHF capacity would be available for lease in the foreseeable future, and that opportunities to procure a hosted UHF payload occurred only once every 12 years.

A market survey identified the launch of Intelsat IS-22 over the Indian Ocean as an opportunity to provide a significant increase in UHF capacity for the ADF. The satellite was going to place a civil telecommunications payload in the right space at the right time. This survey was followed by a formal request for interest, selection process and a contract with Intelsat for a hosted payload on board IS-22.

Government approval

Through the combined efforts of the Capability Development Group, the Chief Information Officer Group, and the Defence Materiel Organisation, the acquisition was accelerated through a combined first and second pass government approval process to ensure the UHF payload was included in the design of the satellite. In April 2010, government approved procurement of the full UHF hosted payload on the IS-22 satellite.

The UHF payload was accepted on May 21 and, at the time of printing, was anticipated to be in ADF use by
mid-June. Intelsat is contracted to operate the satellite for 15 years after launch.

These initiatives will ensure that Defence maintains access to UHF SATCOM across the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions and the rest of the world beyond 2025 and 2030 respectively.

Defence gained a financial and schedule benefit from leveraging off an existing launch to have its payload hosted on the IS-22 satellite. Also, because the number of channels on Boeing UHF payload exceeded the ADF’s requirement, the surplus channels were offered to the United States, which also required extra UHF capacity over the Indian Ocean. In return, the United States will provide Australia with UHF channels over the Pacific Ocean later in the decade. This was formalised in the UHF Sharing Memorandum of Understanding, which facilitates the sharing of global UHF bandwidth, providing significant benefits to both nations, and ensuring ADF access to this scarce and vital resource beyond 2030.

This $269 million program was delivered five weeks ahead of schedule and within budget.