Satcoms still a struggle under JP2008

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The ADF has a need to communicate with deployed forces around the world. Space based communications support global, long-range, high-capacity communication links for the effective and efficient exchange of information between Defence networks, systems and deployed forces that are beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) or in a terrain-constrained environment.

Australian Army soldier Signaller Dave Price of 3rd Combat Signal Regiment checks a satellite dish during Exercise Brolga Run in Townsville training area.  

To support this communication need, Defence raised JP2008 Military Satellite Communications over a decade ago. The multi-phased project aims to provide the ADF with a range of strategic and tactical satellite communication capabilities. As part of Phase 4, the Commonwealth signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Government to secure an agreed level of wideband communications satellite capacity and service from the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) constellation of satellites providing global coverage in X and Ka frequency bands.

The full capability of this $1 billion investment has yet to be realised thanks to a number of delays in the program that saw Phase 3F, awarded to BAE Systems in 2009, listed as a Project of Concern. As previously reported in ADM, delays in this phase have seen the company go unpaid for over three years under the contract provisions.

Both BAE Systems and the program office were unable to provide ADM with an update about the phase (or the wider program in the case of the program office) in time for this edition. However, sources close to the program expect a ‘good news’ announcement about this phase before the end of 2017.

Phase 5B2 proposes to deliver a Satellite Ground Station (SGS-E) to provide anchoring of WGS satellites visible from the east coast of Australia as well as providing the overarching wideband satellite communications Network Management System (NMS).

The facilities and infrastructure required to support capability delivered under the JP2008 Phase 5B2 Project include a facility to house the satellite equipment and associated communications system at a suitable location.

In early 2017, Phase 5B2 achieved Second Pass, with Initial Operational Capability scheduled for Financial Year 2020/21. This approval included funding for the facilities and infrastructure component.

The Phase 5B2 facilities project will deliver fit-for-purpose SGS-E facilities and infrastructure for the strategic anchoring of wideband satellite communications within the Kapooka Military Area (KMA). These facilities will considerably enhance existing Defence satellite communications capability by delivering an operational east coast wideband satellite ground station capability.

SGS-E is proposed to be an unstaffed facility (apart from visits by maintenance personnel) and will include:

a. three 13.5 metre dual X / Ka-band satellite Earth Terminals (also known as satellite dishes), including foundation infrastructure supporting the three satellite dishes (concrete antenna pads and pit and pipe);

b. Transmission building of approximately 850 square metres to house the specialised communications and radio frequency equipment; and

c. supporting infrastructure including backup generators, heating ventilation and air conditioning, fencing, bulk earthworks to establish stormwater control, the sealing of external roads to site, connection to base utilities and services and connection to the Defence Terrestrial Communications Network (DTCN).

The facilities and infrastructure work that supports SGS-E1 and will be undertaken at KMA, Wagga Wagga, NSW under the auspices of a $233 million contract let to Northrop Grumman with support from Optus and ViaSat.

SGS-E, as a major Defence strategic BLOS communications bearer, has a requirement to integrate with the DTCN. The DTCN provides the terrestrial communications connectivity needed by SGS-E to project the Defence strategic networks to deployed ADF assets in support of operations. The DTCN at Wagga is currently being upgraded under the JP2047 Terrestrial Communications Project for existing Defence needs.

The estimated out-turned cost of this facilities project is $33.9 million, excluding GST. The cost estimate includes construction, professional services fees, management fees, contingencies and escalation.

The operating costs will increase as a result of the proposed works due to the ongoing operation and support services required by the new facilities. Subject to Parliamentary approval, construction would commence in early 2018, with completion anticipated by late 2019.


The Commonwealth has announced a $223 million contract with Northrop Grumman Australia for the acquisition, construction and support of the second satellite ground station in the east of Australia under JP2008 Phase 5B2 in July of this year.

The contract will also deliver an integrated wideband SATCOM network management system to improve robustness, capacity and efficiency of the ADF SATCOM capability.

An artist's rendering of the Kapooka based JP2008 Phase 5B2 facility 

Australia joined the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system program in 2007, providing funds to expand the constellation in return for a worldwide share of WGS bandwidth.

Northrop Grumman and its partners ViaSat and Optus will provide a network management capability aligned with and functionally similar to the one developed for the US that successfully manages and monitors the WGS system. ViaSat will incorporate its dual-band satellite terminal with Optus providing its extensive Australian operating experience.

The Satellite Ground Station is planned to anchor three satellites simultaneously in X and Ka Band and will be built at Kapooka in NSW to avoid bandwidth clashes that would have occurred at Canberra’s naval communications station, HMAS Harman.

Operating out of Orlando, Florida, Northrop Grumman has been providing the US with satellite communications software tools for nearly 20 years that are critical in the activation and operations of the nine WGS satellites in orbit. The company’s Satellite Communications Operations and Planning Element (SCOPE) aligns with the US system and provides an integrated operations and network management software that models, plans, schedules and monitors satellite communications and ground station networks.

“Northrop Grumman’s SCOPE core capabilities are the foundation of this proven, operational system that manages and monitors satellite communications today,” chief executive Northrop Grumman Australia Ian Irving said. “That experience forms the ADF sovereign capability, providing benefits to Australia while reducing program risk.”

Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said Australian company Hansen and Yuncken will start construction later this year, subject to Parliamentary Works Committee approval.

“The Kapooka ground station will operate in conjunction with a satellite ground station in Western Australia to provide Defence with the level of wideband satellite communications, capacity and survivability needed in the future."

This article first appeared in the November 2017 edition of ADM.

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