EDA’s coordination of secure satellite capacities lies with its Governmental Satellite Communications (GOVSATCOM) project, whose roots stretch back to 2014 when the Agency’s constituency of national Ministries of Defence gave thenod for this ground-breaking work to begin. After several years of planning and coordination, during which the Agency garnered the Govsatcom operational needs of military and civil actors for national and CSDP operations, EDA and its participating MemberStates in 2017 mapped out ‘EDA GOVSATCOM’ as a demonstration project. Known as ‘GSC Demo’, it got off the ground with its initial three-year execution phase, starting in January 2019.

Ultimate example of pooling & sharing

EDA GOVSATCOM is the ultimate example of pooling & sharing between national capitals – hard to find a larger scale of ambition than space! Basically, it involves a small core of EDA countries pooling their national military or othergovernment-owned satellite infrastructure to provide the secure use by a larger number of Member States and institutional stakeholders. “Pooling-and-sharing is based on the pay-per-use principle with no binding financial commitments upfront forthe participants beyond the requested Govsatcom services. Contributing Member States also benefit from extensive EDA support throughout the service”, said Heinrich Krispler, EDA’s Project Officer GOVSATCOM.

“The benefit forour Member States is that we do most of the tedious footwork, making it much easier and faster for them to get the satellite support they need. It means they don’t have to deal on their own with heavy or slow procurement arrangements,” addedHolger Lueschow, Programme Manager for EDA’s Satellite Communication activities. “That radically simplifies the process of gaining access to satellite capacities for a military. Obviously, those who have signed up to each [activity] get easyaccess to both commercial and govsat services.”

Seven suppliers, many beneficiaries

GSC Demo is currently composed of 17 Member States, of which seven (Luxembourg, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece,Italy) belong to the suppliers of the pooled governmental satellite communication services. Services include space capacity leasing, anchoring, backhauling, satellite ground terminals (terrestrial, airborne, seaborne) lease services and associated servicessuch as technical support, engineering support, transport, logistic and training. They cover Continental Europe, Africa, Middle East, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea as well as the Atlantic Ocean partially.

Its membership also includesthe European Peace Facility, the EU’s new €5billion fund to help shore up the security of weak or failed states, particularly in Africa where more than half a dozen CSDP missions now operate. Secure and robust Satellite communication servicesare essential in such parts of the world for mission headquarters, VSAT ground terminals, satellite-based phones and geo-location devices that track the whereabouts of forces and equipment, for example.

So far, the GSC Demo has generated ordersworth well in excess of €1 million. These included two years of national support to establish communication lines within a Member State (wich started in 2019) and a service request in September 2020 to test the readiness and interoperability of theSatCom assets of another Member State’s navy prior to deployment under Operation IRINI, the EU’s CSDP mission in the Mediterranean to enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya.

More recently, in March 2021, yet another Member State(see interview in text box below) initiated a long-term service request for the project to support its national training and military exercises, and help prepare and train personnel for CSDP missions.


Huge potential

Indeed, such requests show that confidence at national level in the GSC Demo to provide reliable, secure, and cost-effective pooled capabilities is growing. When it comes to governmental SatCom resources, “this should be the preferred option for getting the full range of secure and guaranteed Satellite Communication services, whether for national, CSDP or EU initiatives in a wider international context,” observed Lueshow. “It can really mitigate communications shortfalls for such missions.”

As for the future, EDA is already coordinating with its Member States to extend the project’s life for four more years until 2025. Moreover, it is working to enhance GOVSATCOM’s portfolio of services to even better respond to its participants’ needs and expectations.

Supporting EU GOVSATCOM

As EDA’s member countries gain experience in pooling and sharing their satellite capacities, this can complement – and could be folded into – the EU’s parallel project known as EU GOVSATCOM. Here the European Commission is working with national capitals to get the platform of public-owned satellite generated services up and running in the coming years.

EDA GOVSATCOM prefigures that effort. As Lueschow explained, “we agreed with the Commission to set up EDA’s version of GOVSATCOM in 2016 so that, among other things, it would produce lessons learned for it and the Member States. Today we are working on how to prepare for EU GOVSATCOM’s arrival, but that won’t happen for another few years. Thus, we still have some time to further improve our GSC Demo. After 2024, national defence ministries will have to decide what to do with EDA’s project.”
 

Which were the main reasons for Belgium’s decision to use the GSC Demo project?  

Belgium has no national military Satcom program and therefore needs to fill its growing needs in bandwidth through collaborative engagements with Allies’ programmes, institutional projects or financing of hosted payloads. The consequence of this is a strong dependence on these other nations’ programmes. EDA’s GOVSATCOM pooling & sharing Demo project is the most adequate tool to cover such capability gaps. Due to their inherent characteristics, military missions sometimes imply quite heterogeneous user demands that our portfolio cannot always absorb. The contractual tool provided by EDA’s GOVSATCOM project allows us to fill our peak demands perfectly while improving the partner nation’s return on investment.
 
What are your experiences so far as a beneficiary of shared GOVSATCOM capabilities? 

Belgium is fully satisfied with the services delivered so far, namely gap-filling bandwidth in X and Mil-Ka band provided by Luxembourg on GOVSAT-1 together with temporary additional anchoring services as we are building-up our new anchoring station in Marche-en-Famenne. Up till now, Belgium remains only a user nation in the agreement but might also become a supplier once our structural Satcom capabilities will be fully operational. 

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