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).

Busy times

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 services ordered.

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.”

Framework contract

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.

What added-value does the EU Satcom Market bring to the MPCC? 

The EU Satcom market project provides a huge scope of services to project members, inter alia MPCC, supporting them on CIS needs. This “toolbox” consisting of Framework Contracts can deploy at short notice and deliver worldwide standard CIS solutions as well as solutions tailored to specific use requirements. This technical and logistical perspective complemented by the direct support by EDA personnel for drafting tender specifications, leading the tender process and providing the contract management authority afterwards is a highly valuable support to MPCC and its staff currently planning and conducting three EU Training Missions (EUTMs) in Africa.
And for the EU’s Training Missions? 

EUTMs usually conduct a turnover of personnel after six months of deployment. With the already mentioned advantages of setting up and managing CIS contracts by EDA on behalf of the end user, EUTMs benefit from easy, efficient and quick procurement timelines. This supports seamless planning and implementation of projects with the same personnel deployed into theatre. In addition, the contract management provided by EDA facilitates the retention of corporate knowledge in an environment with a high turnover of personnel. It is a huge benefit for EUTMs to be able to rely on a trustable partner when putting such contracts in place. 

How do you see the EU SatCom Market evolve in the future? 

CIS means and capabilities are a fundamental support to any Command and Control process – it does not matter whether they are civilian or military. Knowing this and seeing increasing CSDP activities worldwide, I think the EU Satcom market project is already a very important and reliable partner for the conduct of EU missions and operations. I believe that the renewal of the framework contract for CIS and review of the services catalogue will add value. The renewal of the framework contract for satellite communications has already proven the ability of EDA to make good working things even more attractive. 

Factbox: EU Satcom Market

  • More than 440 satcom orders handled (as of mid-May 2021) 
  • Total value of orders made to date: €58.6 million 
  • Average yearly growth of over €7 million since first order placed in 2013 
  • Customer base includes national defence ministries, four CSDP military operations/missions, EU’s strategic headquarters in Brussels for all training  missions, and seven civilian (CSDP) missions

  • More information in the EU Satcom factsheet
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