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COMM OPS - Going Down Under for Afghan Satcom Support
by Marc LeGare, CEO, Proactive Communications, Inc.

As a young soldier in the U.S. Army, I often heard jokes about the mess hall being out of food once you advanced through the line. I would then relate the same joke to other situations I encountered in which my main resource was no longer available. At Proactive Communications, Inc. (PCI), I have often challenged my staff to go back to the mess hall to find more bandwidth for Afghanistan.

PCI supports a broad customer base of U.S. military and DoD agencies in Afghanistan for satellite communications, and for the past three years our requirements have remained stable and predictable. However, in 2008, the strategic picture for our Afghanistan-based customers started to change. We projected large increases in customers and circuit sizes. Unfortunately, as we searched for this type of capacity in the area, we received many “no more Afghanistan bandwidth in the mess hall” replies.

Afghanistan is a marginally covered area of the world, and until the war started, there was not much demand for satellite capacity in that country. However, in 2001 the country became center stage in the war on terror. Although Iraq has overshadowed Afghanistan in terms of Coalition resource investment, that has all changed with the new U.S. Administration — communications resources that support that area are now at a premium. In light of this shift in focus, the dilemma at PCI became how to expand our satellite coverage capacity for our customers while still being postured for changes.

Satellite Challenges
Afghanistan presents some unique challenges for providing satellite communications that are not present in Iraq. As mentioned before, Afghanistan has no real commercial requirements for satellite coverage at the retail/consumer level, and the geography itself is extremely challenging because the mountain ranges often block low-look angles.

While C-band is sometimes available, frequency coordination with the Joint Task Force J6 is still required at any Coalition base or camp. Ku-band footprints with any usable capacities are often “up and down” and therefore subject to other countries’ regulation and local ISP schemes. Every U.S. military and affiliated customer is going to need to have unfettered access to .mil and .gov websites; therefore, the IP scheme needs to be “friendly.”

The last two challenges are cost and supportability. To remake the IP scheme entails a dedicated line or MPLS cloud. This is often expensive and time consuming to deploy. Finally, any support plan needs to be sustainable in terms of teleport maintenance, import/customs timelines, and language translation.

The Solution
PCI has had to think “out of the box” on a number of large-scale U.S. Government IT projects in Iraq, but to overcome the bandwidth hurdle in Afghanistan, PCI actually had to think “out of the continent.”

This search resulted in a relationship with NewSat, a publicly listed Australian company (ASX:NWT) with an engaging sales force, technically adept engineering staff, a willingness to be flexible to PCI’s requirements, and the ability to offer a significant piece of the puzzle — bandwidth over Afghanistan.

As a result of this engagement, NewSat has expanded PCI’s resource pool by using NSS-6 with teleport facilities in Adelaide, Australia. This combination of satellite, teleport, and partner staff tripled PCI’s Afghanistan service and has also provided additional capacity to Iraq and Northern Africa, all while operating from an established “safe haven” of a Coalition partner country.

NewSat’s technical heart is the two teleports it operates from Adelaide and Perth. These teleports are manned around the clock every day of the year, offer military accreditation, and boast a total of 26 antennas, many up to 13 meters in diameter. The teleports connect to 13 satellites, including those of NewSkies, Intelsat, and others.

Bringing New Services to Afghanistan
With this expanded bandwidth capability, PCI is now able to deliver the industry’s first Unified Communications solution to customers in the region for a rich media environment of fully integrated voice, data, video and secure messaging over a satellite communications network infrastructure. The package optimizes feature functionality, reduces configuration and maintenance requirements, and provides interoperability with a wide variety of other applications.

The Unified Communications framework will permit rapid deployment of emerging applications such as desktop IP telephony, unified messaging, telepresence, mobility, desktop collaboration, enterprise application integration with IP phone displays and collaborative IP contact centers. Instead of relying on a third party for VoIP capability, PCI developed its own VoIP service internally which will allow for lower prices and greater customer support for PCI’s customers.
The increasing U.S. and international focus on Afghanistan will bring on new communication challenges for soldiers, government officials and civilians. The country’s sparse infrastructure and mountainous terrain, along with increasing demand for advanced communication technologies, add additional complexity to this challenge. Working together, PCI and NewSat have created a solution that will help Coalition forces coordinate their efforts as the war in Afghanistan continues to escalate.

About the author
Mr. LeGare became CEO of Proactive Communications, Inc. in 2006 after serving as the company’s Chief Operating Officer and Operations Manager since 2003. Under Mr. LeGare’s leadership as CEO, Proactive Communications has become the first U.S. company to work directly with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.

Prior to joining PCI, Mr. LeGare was Senior Consultant and Operations Manager for Force XXI Battle Command Brigade of TRW/Northrop-Grumman. From 1981 to 1999 Mr. LeGare served various command and staff positions for the U.S. Army worldwide including Battalion Commander from 1999 to 2001. LeGare earned a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point, a Master of Science from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the School of Advanced Military Studies.