Supply Side
France debates outsourcing procurement of communications satellite

France’s Defence Ministry will go ahead with plans for an electronic-intelligence satellite and next-generation military communications satellite systems in 2015 despite many changes to the nation’s budget. According to an article in SpaceNews, it seems increasingly likely that the Defence Ministry may look to agree a sale-and-leaseback deal in order to generate short-term funds to meet requirements of its priority programmes.

French officials are also still considering whether to outsource their next-generation Syracuse military telecommunications system to the private sector, or to ‘inhouse’ with conventional procurement. Countries such as the UK have outsourced in the past, and Italy and Germany have also partially outsourced. Examples of successfully outsourced satellite systems include Skynet in the UK, SatComBw in Germany and previous Syracuse satellites in France.

In an Keeping in touch with modern militaries published in Satellite Pro Middle East last year, General Manager of LSE Space Middle East Nicolas Stephan explained the benefits of outsourcing satellite technology.

“Outsourcing is a cost effective solution,” says Mr Stephan. “The contractor’s personnel already has experience in similar systems and technical pre-requisites and most importantly, with quality control and service delivery.”

He says that successful operations in Europe have been the result of good relationships with the contractor, trust between parties, flexibility of the contractor, fairness of the armed forces and support of consultants to establish contracts.

Trust between parties is particularly important when it comes to military communications. Mr Stephan says there is a misconception that outsourcing satellite communication systems could pose a threat to security and confidentiality issues. He says this is why the management of cryptographic elements should remain under the military’s control, but that the need to ‘control’ the contractor completely also drives militaries’ misconceptions.

Mr Stephan says that trust and flexibility between parties is much more important. Misconceptions must be overcome because outsourcing such systems is beneficial to militaries. France has discussed the idea of a jointly owned satellite with Italian and British military planners. This would help France’s future military satellite communication needs and provide a backup for Italy’s and the UK’s primary satellite telecommunications.

A Ceres electronic-intelligence satellite has been a priority for the French Defence Ministry for several years, but has struggled due to waning budgets and a lack of interest from other European countries to join Ceres. Two of Europe’s biggest satellite manufacturers, Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, have expressed interest in managing France’s military telecommunications satellite programme and are already under contract for initial Ceres studies.