Improved satellite communications for NATO
The NATO SATCOM Post-2000 (NSP2K) programme gives the Alliance improved satellite communication capabilities, which is important as NATO forces take on expeditionary missions far beyond the Alliance’s traditional area of operations.
Under the programme, a consortium formed by the British, French and Italian governments will provide NATO with advanced satellite communication (SATCOM) capabilities for a 15-year period from January 2005 until the end of 2019.
The satellite capacity is provided on the three nations’ satellites under a capability provision agreement which has the flexibility to be changed depending on evolving operational requirements. Compared to previous generation SATCOM capabilities, the programme benefits include increased bandwidth, coverage and expanded capacity for voice and data communications, including communications with ships at sea, air assets and troops deployed across the globe.
Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the programme provides NATO with access to the military segments of three national satellite communications systems – the French SYRACUSE 3, the Italian SICRAL 1 and 1Bis, and the British Skynet 4 and 5.
This new satellite capability has replaced the two NATO-owned and -operated NATO IV communications satellites, which stopped their operational services in 2007 and 2010, respectively, after a combined operational life of 19 years.
The NSP2K programme provides NATO access to Super High Frequency (SHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) communications. UHF (300 MHz) is used for tactical communications, while SHF (7-8 GHz) is used for static and deployed ground stations with larger antenna dishes.
The SYRACUSE, SICRAL, and Skynet 4/5 satellites can all provide SHF communications with military hardening features, while UHF communications are only provided by the SICRAL and Skynet satellites.
In May 2004, the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) selected the Franco-British-Italian proposal to provide SHF and UHF communications.
The proposal submitted by the consortium was determined by NATO to be the lowest priced, technically compliant bid. It came in below the Alliance’s funding ceiling of EUR 457 million for SHF and UHF.
The NSP2K Initial Operating Capability (IOC) started on January 2005 with limited SHF and UHF capacity and coverage, which was followed with a Final Operational Capability (FOC) as of 2008 with the full SHF and UHF capacity and extended coverage.
The NSP2K capability provisioning is controlled through a Joint Programme Management Office (JPMO) in Paris staffed by officials from the British, French and Italian governments who report to NC3A, which administers the memorandum of understanding on behalf of NATO.
NATO's Allied Command Operations (ACO), in conjunction with NC3A, plans and prepares the NATO operational requirements which are then discussed with the JPMO to ensure that suitable satellite capacity is made available to meet NATO’s changing requirements.
Day-to-day communications requests are handled by the NATO Communications and Information Systems Agency (NCSA) at NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. NCSA allocates user traffic to the satellite capacity. NCSA liaises with the co-located NATO Mission Access Centre (NMAC), which is manned by national contractors who provide the point of contact between national satellite control centres and the operators of the NATO network to manage and gain access to the allocated capacity.