In July, the U.S. Space Force (USSF) announced a 5-year contract for Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (pLEO) satellite-based services valued at up to $900 million, with Hughes named as an award winner. The pLEO contract is simplified and flexible, designed to achieve the USSF Vision for Enterprise Satellite Communications (SATCOM) objectives set forth in 2020 by Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, USSF, and Commander, U.S. Space Command. His vision is to evolve SATCOM into a single enterprise that can meet the global secure connectivity needs of the joint forces––Air Force, Navy, and Army warfighters––in contested, degraded and operationally-limited environments for decades to come. Here, we explore the implications of the new pLEO contracting vehicle.
What are Proliferated LEO satellite services?
LEO satellites orbit the Earth at relatively low altitudes, typically between 100 to 1,240 miles above the Earth's surface. Orbiting closer to the Earth results in faster signal travel times (lower latency) compared to satellites in Mid-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary Orbit (GEO). A network of LEO satellites can provide comprehensive coverage around the world, including over oceans and the Polar regions, as well as to austere or underserved regions where traditional infrastructure might be lacking and where warfighters often deploy. In addition to the ability to deliver resilient communications anywhere, LEO is especially suited for applications that require real-time or near-real-time communication, such as the remote control of unmanned vehicles or transmitting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data from land, air or sea.
What are the USSF’s objectives for the pLEO contract?
The USSF objective is to rapidly expand and integrate the use of LEO––to proliferate its services––throughout military SATCOM networks. To that end, the pLEO contract is now the USSF’s primary contracting vehicle to provide worldwide low-latency, pLEO communications services to the US and Allied Mission Partners to meet mission needs. It allows the U.S. Department of Defense, other federal agencies and international coalition partners to procure fully managed satellite-based services and capabilities for all domains (space, air, land, maritime and cyber) with a consistent, quality-backed, low-latency communications solution from Hughes and other contract winners. Whether the defense agency is seeking a custom solution, exploring diverse routing, overlaying LEO on an existing GEO deployment, or striving to create a hybrid network that utilizes GEO, LEO and MEO transports, the pLEO contract is the way forward. To win the awards, contractors like Hughes demonstrated the ability to deliver end-to-end solutions with established infrastructure, service plans, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and the ability to deploy within 36 months of the contract. The pLEO contract is the first multiple award contract model for government LEO SATCOM procurement that can deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster and at lower cost.
What is the benefit of the pLEO contract for defense agencies?
To make Gen. Raymond’s vision a reality, agencies can now move ahead with plans to evolve their SATCOM networks. The contract was deftly structured so that agencies would not be locked into specific technologies. Rather, over time, they can take advantage of emerging SATCOM technologies and commercial innovation to ensure flexibility and future capabilities. With the pLEO contract in place, the procurement process will also be streamlined, enabling agencies to deploy solutions quickly and efficiently. Ultimately, the pLEO contract is a clear path for agencies to deploy better, more integrated solutions and purpose-built SATCOM systems that will ensure warfighters have the resilient communications capabilities they need to fight and win.
What can Hughes offer defense agencies through the pLEO contract?
As a Value Added Reseller (VAR) on the contract, Hughes will utilize the OneWeb constellation to deliver pLEO broadband service. Hughes is an investor, distribution partner and ground system technology supplier for the OneWeb constellation. Hughes also developed a new Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) based user terminal for exclusive use with the constellation. The lightweight, low power consumption ESA is low profile and contains no moving parts, making it ideal for both fixed and mobile connectivity.
Hughes LEO broadband services are currently operational with fixed terminal services available in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and northwestern Europe. By late 2023, the full OneWeb constellation (648 satellites) and additional ground network locations and infrastructure will be up and running. This will increase the global coverage area to 25 degrees north and south, with land and maritime mobility services as well as aero capabilities added over time. Leveraging this robust portfolio of LEO services and capabilities, Hughes will be able to tailor and deliver unique end-to-end solutions to defense agencies and their partners.
Under the pLEO contract, Hughes is also offering our global S-band based Internet of Things (IoT) services for narrowband applications like radio communication and emergency response services. Construction for a global S-band mobile satellite service (MSS) network is already underway by EchoStar, parent company of Hughes. The 28-satellite constellation will feature an advanced software-defined radio with onboard storage and processing to power smart two-way device connectivity. The satellites will be enabled with the LoRa® (meaning “Long Range”) protocol for connecting very low-cost, long-lived devices. With support for 5G non-terrestrial network (NTN) services, the constellation will serve as a foundation for engineering 5G New Radio (NR) based NTN capabilities according to 3GPP release 17 specifications.
With the pLEO contract in place, the DoD has the opportunity to fulfill Gen. Raymond’s SATCOM vision and meet the global secure connectivity needs of the joint forces for decades to come.
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