Procurement Process of Canada’s Next Military Satellite Project Stuck in the 20th Century

File photo: Artists concept of the Polar Communications and Weather. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The Department of National Defence (DND) this week released the long anticipated Request for Information for the Enhanced Satellite Communication Project – Polar (ESPC-P), or simply called Escape.

If rapid development and deployment was important to DND then they would be out of luck in getting this satellite project on-orbit and operational anytime soon.

It seems any type of military procurement takes more than a decade from start to finish. The procurement of ESCP-P could take 12 years.

A contract award for ESCP-P is anticipated at being no later 2024. By the time the satellite is launched and operational it could be 2029. The estimated costs in 2016 was $1.5B.

DND ESCP procurement timeline
DND ESCP procurement timeline. Credit: Government of Canada.

Why so long?

Blame the government. There’s no one else to blame. To design, manufacture, launch and deploy a satellite, even a sophisticated military satellite does not need to take 12 years. No, this is simply an issue of a government spreading out a procurement budget over a long period of time. And a satellite is much simpler to design, develop and build compared to a new ship or plane, and less costly.

To give you a sense on how fast things can change in the military procurement world, the Defence Acquisition Guide 2016 had the following anticipated timeline for ESCP-P;

  • 2018 Definition Approval
  • 2018 Request for Proposal Release
  • 2019 Implementation Approval
  • 2020 Contract Award
  • 2024 Final Delivery

Another factor to consider is that a procurement contract won’t be awarded until later in the mandate of whichever government is in power after the next federal election in 2019. Will the next government, if it’s not the Liberals, support this project? Likely, but there’s no guarantee.

There’s no question that lead times for military procurement are long. But satellite technology and development are moving much faster now.  This project could be completed much faster if there was a will.

The Procurement Details

According to the RFI the “ESCP-P compliments other DND initiatives such as the Mercury Global and the Tactical Narrowband SATCOM – Geosynchronous Projects which do not provide guaranteed BLOS (beyond line of sight) communications in the Arctic region.”

The objectives of this ESCP–P RFI are to:

  • Inform Industry of the Department of National Defence’s (DND) ESCP-P requirements;
  • Obtain input from Industry on the feasibility, deficiencies and proposed improvements with respect to potential options to meet the requirement needs;
  • Align this requirement with the Industry’s capabilities, as applicable;
  • Seek Industry input on potential economic leveraging opportunities; and
  • Obtain Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) costing estimates from Industry.

Background

DND has initiated the ESCPP project to deliver both narrowband and wideband satellite communications (SATCOM) in the Arctic to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and potentially to other government departments and agencies (OGDAs) or allied partners. The project could include space and ground segments where a satellite constellation and ground terminals would be acquired and upgraded for Arctic operations.

The Arctic is a longstanding Government of Canada priority which requires CAF presence, mobility, and reach in the region. Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canadas Defence Policy released on 7 June 2017 includes investment in SATCOM including Arctic coverage. This will enhance the CAFs ability to conduct its cores missions defending Canada, defending North America through the North American Aerospace Defense Agreement (NORAD), in addition to surveillance and search and rescue missions.

SATCOM is a well-recognized force multiplier for the conduct of effective military operations and are critical for the successful execution of operations in the high north. Despite the importance of domestic sovereignty and surveillance missions in Canadas arctic region, there currently exists only limited SATCOM capabilities north of 65° North (65° N) latitude that are available to the CAF. To address this capability gap, the CAF has a need for dedicated, secure, and reliable narrowband and wideband beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communications to support the execution of domestic and continental operations in the Arctic.

Those interested in this procurement have until March 15, 2018 to respond.

The Bidders

It will most likely be a very small group of bidders including MDA, Airbus Defence and Space, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and perhaps Magellan. Boeing is in the government’s doghouse right now but with such a long lead time, who knows if they’ll be in the running. There is a National Security Exception (NSE) attached to this procurement meaning that Canada can exclude the procurement “from some or all of the obligations in the relevant trade agreement(s), where Canada considers it necessary to do so in order to protect its national security interests specified in the text of the NSE.”

One of those agreements is the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which might not exist by the time the Request for Proposals is available.

MDA

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 18 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 25 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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