Earlier this week, SES Government Solutions announced that it had signed a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) with the Department of Defense (DoD) that will make its O3b medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellation available to the armed forces as a managed service.
This BPA effectively gives the DoD a contract vehicle in which to purchase satellite communications services via the O3b MEO constellation – opening the door for the military to increasingly incorporate this advanced high-throughput satellite constellation into its larger satellite infrastructure.
Although the O3b MEO satellite constellation is relatively new to space by satellite industry standards, its use by the federal government and DoD is not. SES GS has made multiple announcements about seemingly ever-increasing use of their constellation by the DoD.
To learn more about what this new BPA means for the DoD we sat down with Mike Blefko, the Vice President of Business Development at SES GS. During our discussion, we talked about the unique capabilities that MEO satellite delivers to the military, the advantages of acquiring satellite as a managed service and how this BPA will open the door to increased connectivity at the tip of the spear.
This is what Mike had to say:
Government Satellite Report (GSR): What does this BPA enable the military to purchase? Which organizations can utilize this BPA, and what services can they purchase through it?
Mike Blefko: The BPA will give the entire DoD access to end-to-end O3b MEO managed services. These managed services can deliver bandwidth in three month periods and in increments of 100 Mbps to an entire beam’s worth of capacity.
Since it’s an end-to-end managed service, military users will also receive the requisite terminals, including .85m, 2.4m, 4m+ terminals. They also get access to Field Service Representative (FSR) support, installation services, leased terrestrial backhaul, training, HNA support, shipping and ODC support.
Any DoD organization can utilize this BPA. And the BPA will give them access to literally everything they need to start using our O3b MEO constellation.
GSR: What can MEO satellite constellations deliver that the WGS and other military satellite constellations can’t? Why is this important in today’s military?
Mike Blefko: MEO is a great solution for today’s military in that it provides fiber-like connectivity via satellite at a price that is 30-50 percent less than typical geosynchronous (GEO) satellite managed services.
MEO satellite connections are low latency, making the user experience more real time. Files transfer faster, videos are transmitted in real time with no buffering, web pages load with no pixilation or buffering, and terabyte size files transfer in hours and not days.
There is a reason why 4G LTE service providers use O3b as backhaul for data AND voice networks.
GSR: SES GS has announced that this BPA covers managed services. What is a satellite managed service? How is it different from how satellite bandwidth is traditionally purchased? Why are satellite managed services attractive for the DoD today?
Mike Blefko: A managed service in its simplest terms delivers an Ethernet port at both sides of a customer link. What occurs in between with respect to satellite bandwidth, terrestrial connectivity, antenna terminals, and field support is transparent to the user for these services.
This differs from traditional purchased products in the satellite industry. In that model, satellite communications providers and hardware providers supplied all the elements of the service individually to the government. The government customer then performed the integration.
In a managed service environment, there’s a single “managed service” contract that takes the place of a contract for throughput, a terrestrial backhaul contract, an FSR contract, and a satellite terminal contract which were all individually bid and awarded. That’s attractive to the DoD because it’s simpler and enables them to have a single Service Level Agreement (SLA) that specifies a percent availability in which to measure the performance of the service provider.
In the case of SES GS and its MEO managed service, the typical SLA we provide to our government customers is at or above 99.5 percent availability.
Ultimately, traditional acquisition models diffuse the responsibility from the ultimate goal, reliably delivering ‘1s and 0s’ end-to-end for mission critical applications. By having a managed service provider that is responsible for the terminal, space segment, and terrestrial backhaul segment the DoD has one point of contact that handles and is responsible for everything.
GSR: The DoD is understandably risk adverse when it comes to rolling out new services and solutions. Has the DoD been testing MEO satellites for military communications prior to the release of this BPA? How have those initial MEO implementations impacted this contract?
Mike Blefko: When the lives of warfighters are on the line, it’s completely understandable why they’d be somewhat hesitant to just roll out new technologies and services without testing them extensively first. In fact, that’s exactly what they’ve done with SES GS MEO satellite services.
The DoD has been testing the company’s MEO services since 2014 – in demonstrations and with smaller contracts. SES GS has done demonstrations for virtually every branch of the military, every command and every disparate organization within the DoD over the past four years. As we’ve announced in the past, the DoD has leased MEO beams, as well.
In all of those demonstrations and in our past performance on contracts, the DoD has grown comfortable with our ability to deliver on what we promise – reliable, fiber-like connectivity from space.
For additional information on the new DoD BPA, click HERE to access the official press release from SES GS. For additional information on MEO satellite constellations and the capabilities they can deliver to government agencies, download the following resources: