The UK’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, says £6 billion in new contracts are opening up for contractors, as the government announces a search for a new operator of its satellite-based military communications system, SKYNET.
SKYNET is constellation of four satellites that serve the communication requirements of the UK armed forces. The first SKYNET satellites were launched in 1969. The current system’s programme, SKYNET 5, ends in 2022.
SKYNET 5 saw Airbus’s EADS Astrium contracted to build and deliver the Skynet 5 satellites, with subsidiary company Paradigm responsible for providing services to the MOD under a services contract that included leased ground terminals.
Airbus also leases “X-band” communications capacity on the satellites to “allied nations who need high grade resilient and secure communications services.
The constellation will be replaced by next generation satellites that will create the SKYNET 6 constellation, with the first launches scheduled for 2025.
The upgraded system will have an array of new capabilities that will be used for defence purposes. The system will be able to transmit secure communications between ships at sea and be critical in supporting unmanned aerial vehicle operations.
The British air force is currently also updating its fighter jet complement with fifth-generation Lockheed F-35b fighter jets.
These jets are heavily reliant on data and the upgraded systems would allow for secure uploads of operational data in real-time.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace commented at a defence event: “Fifty years ago Britain put its first satellite, SKYNET1, in space.
“Today we’re having to deal with increasing threats to satellite-based navigation and the need for robust communications has never been more vital. That’s why we’re developing SKYNET6 which will give our forces unparalleled capacity to talk to each other in any hostile environment.”
The winner of the SKYNET 6 Service Delivery Wrap (SDW) contract will be tasked with operating and maintaining the satellite constellation. It will also be required to handle the UK’s access and contribution to communication systems that are operated and owned by the UK’s allies.
The contract winner will also be in charge of operating the UK’s ground stations and ground terminal infrastructure.
In coming weeks other aspects of the programmes will also go out to tender, with contracts of some £6 billion landing, the government said.
Julian Knight, Head of Networks at the MOD’s Information Systems and Services organisation (ISS) commented: “We are about to enter a vital phase of the SKYNET programme. This competition is a significant opportunity for industry to work at the very heart of our programme – delivering improved flight and ground operations.”
“We are seeking an innovative partner that will ensure effective and consistent Defence Satellite communications and will look to continually maximise performance and value for money.”