Military operations and missions are, by definition, heavily information-centric. Chains of command, ability to react, soldier safety, and situational awareness – all depend on seamless streams of data and secure, reliable channels of communication.
This means a heavy reliance on satellite communication services and related terrestrial networks.
EDA’s ESM project fills this collective need. It offers its users satcom end-to-end services with transmission links and satcom terminals
for all commercial bandwidths. It also provides Communications and Information System services (CIS), including the integration of telecommunications with radio and IT networks and the management, or purchase, as required of hardware and software.
This diverse mix enables ESM users to access, store, transmit, receive, and manipulate information to meet their operational needs, whether at home or abroad.
“Demand for the ESM expands from year to year among the 33 members* that now participate,” said Jan Floderstroem, EDA’s Project Officer for Operations Support.
*Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia, Republic of Serbia, European Peace Facility, EUCAP SAHEL Niger, EUCAP SAHEL Mali, EUAM Ukraine, EUCAP Somalia, EUMM Georgia, EUAM Iraq, EUBAM Libya, EUPOL COPPS, EUAM RCA, FRONTEX and the European External Action Service.Widespread use
Indeed, the ESM links up European operations and missions from Ukraine to Georgia, and across the breadth of Africa. Its services are used by land, air and naval forces, be it complex full-range CIS networks
for mission headquarters or simple geo-location devices to keep track of force deployments or vehicle movements.
For example, its supports the EU’s Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) and all three of its military training missions in Mali, Central African Republic, and Somalia where they since 2018 are interconnected overa secure Wide Area Network.
The CIS services provided include e.g. email, filesharing, Voice over IP (VoIP) and Video and Tele conferencing (VTC). The ESM has long had ties to EUTM Somalia where it set up its first satcom link for the mission in 2015. For EUTM RCA, additional
CIS services for all HQ staff provided since 2019 includes email, VTC, VoIP, a terrestrial radio network, and 24/7 technical on-site support to the mission’s headquarters’ CIS staff.
ESM supplies several CSDP actors with push-to-talk
radio solutions, which obviate the need for radio infrastructure. It’s a powerful solution for missions with large areas of operation, enabling personnel to deploy safely to any location without losing vital communications. ESM also provides
deployments of smaller two-way satellite ground stations with a dish antennas to several EU missions e.g. in Mali, Niger, and Ukraine.
ESM’s roots stretch back to 2009 when it was launched as an EDA ad hoc procurement cell to test the idea of pooling demand for commercial satellite services among a small handful of EDA militaries. Five years later more of the Agency’s Member
States had joined. It was then renamed and given a more formal footing as a service open to all EDA militaries, CSDP operations and missions (both military and civilian) as well as EU entities and, subject to the EDA Member States approval, third
states which have an administrative arrangement signed with the Agency (currently Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine and Serbia).
Since then, it has watched the volume of its activity grow steadily. “Every
week we see the trend continue. Currently, on average, there is a new satcom order coming in every 1.5 days, ranging from matters as small as shipping out a few SIM cards to the on-site deployment and assembly of a VSAT [very small aperture terminal]
terminal,” observed Floderstroem, adding that the ESM by mid-May 2021 has handled more than 440 satcom orders since 2012.
Full service and efficiency guaranteed
Procuring and setting up such services is complex and requires
specific skills and experience that not every EDA Member State enjoys. Using the ESM means individual users do not have to run their own bidding processes while taking advantage of an efficient pay-per-use solution where members pay only for the ESM
The process is simple. After a customer defines its satcom requirements with the ESM, these are communicated to the ESM contractor for a straightforward offer. If it requires CIS, this can lead to a “mini competition”
between the ESM’s two CIS contractors to win the proposal. The ESM then checks and evaluates the order and it falls to the member to decide whether to accept it. Once an offer is approved, the ESM confirms the request for delivery.
Its support does not stop there, however. The ESM also offers:
- whole-of-project management, including governance
- support and advice to members for defining technical requirements and options
- synergies between civilian and military uses of secure satellite communication and CIS services
- administration of ad hoc budgets composed of members’ contributions for funding the services;
- invoice management and payment of services on behalf of the ESM members.
For example, if a satcom problem occurs out in the field that local mission staff cannot resolve, then on-site interventions by contracted experts is part of services offered without additional costs, said Floderstroem, adding that services “canalso
cover a complete computer network, fully supported on site by the contractor’s personnel, if requested.”
ESM’s services are provided via two framework contracts, one for the provision of Satcom services and one for the provision of CIS.
Once an order is firmed up, the ESM’s team can usually get things
up and running pretty fast after that. Flodedstroem commented “Normally, after we confirm a SATCOM order for delivery it takes around 30 days for the service to start.In Africa e.g., building up satellite infrastructure it takes a bit longer“.The
time required from request for proposals to on-site provision of initial services is only three months. The ESM team’s record for setting up a satcom link –from request to actual uplink to the member state – is 72 hours
Spike in demand as a result of Covid
Floderstroem said the Covid pandemic has led to an increase in demand from the CSDP missions. “They need more satellite capacity because their personnel is more spread out. As a result,
we have supported them with an increase in satcom capacities and mobile satellite services,” he said.