“Foreign” Commercial Satellites?

The hawks in Washington were screeching when they heard the DoD was leasing bandwidth on APT Satellite’s Apstar 7 spacecraft, through Harris CapRock — a value-added reseller. “That’s a Chinese bird! How dare you put our military at risk by using a Chinese satellite?!” Blah, blah, blah. Did they fail to mention the spacecraft itself was built in France and launched by a Chang Zheng rocket from China in March of 2012?

The coverage area of one of the spacecraft’s Ku-band beams is just right and there are no alternatives in this part of Asia. With data encryption at either end of the circuit, there really isn’t much to worry about. And if it’s broadcast video, who cares? Forget that: the contract was renewed for another year.

Now the House Armed Services Committee is proposing to exclude foreign commercial satellite companies from contracting with the DoD in the bill for National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (H.R.1960). Will this bill also prevent other foreign-controlled or non-U.S.-based operators from contracting with the DoD? Or just the Chinese ones?

In reality, Intelsat and SES are both based in Luxembourg — but only SES is proud of it. Intelsat just likes the tax advantages, just as they liked Bermuda’s not too long ago. Both companies have substantial headcount in the U.S., but don’t expect that to last much longer. Headcount at SES in the U.S. has been steadily and regularly declining since they bought Americom from G.E. in 2001. And who could forget the bloodbath when Intelsat acquired PanAmSat? Another big operator with Central Asian coverage, Eutelsat, is based in France, and they do quite a bit of DoD business, too.

Congressman John Garamendi had this to say to SatelliteToday.com:

“We have to remain vigilant in protecting our communications data and in understanding any vulnerability in relying on any outside party. I am concerned about this, and I am equally concerned about the long-term national security implications of failing to cultivate the domestic capacity to respond to our defense needs,” said Congressman John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee in a statement to SatelliteTODAY.com. “In addition, I believe our Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets need to be better integrated to meet our national security goals.”

Does this mean foreign-controlled operators are about to lose U.S. government business? Probably not. However, allowing foreign investors to own critical defense communications infrastructure is something that could have been prevented — and preserved America’s continued leadership in space. Support your U.S.-based rocket scientists!

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