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EADS Satcom Venture Sees Customer Shift on Afghanistan Drawdown

The European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. venture deploying a U.K. military satellite communications system predicted civil customers will gain importance as troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“There may be a shift in balance from purely military to more civil security usage,” Simon Kershaw, executive director of government communications at EADS’s Astrium Services unit, said in a telephone interview.

Next month should see the launch of the last dedicated Skynet 5 satellite built under the 3.6 billion-pound ($5.8 billion) private finance initiative signed in 2003. The final element will follow next year with the launch of the Telesat Anik G1, on which Astrium has acquired the highly secure X-band payload for the military to augment the Skynet 5 satellites.

“We are already seeing a reduction in usage from the austerity in Western governments and the drawdown,” Kershaw said. Demand for the available communications capacity is likely to be taken up by organizations involved in emergency management and humanitarian relief, he said.

Military demand won’t evaporate, even at a time defense spending is contracting, he said. As the U.K. and others reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan, the use of unmanned aircraft will rise, boosting demand for bandwidth, Kershaw said. The company has sold communications capacity to other forces, including the U.S. Department of Defense and NATO.

Skynet 5D, which is due for a mid-December launch on an Ariane 5 rocket sold by Arianespace, a consortium that includes EADS, Safran SA, and Thales SA, was delivered yesterday to French Guiana where the European spaceport is located, Arianespace said in a statement.

Presold Capacity

The satellite will allow Astrium to provide near-global X-band coverage with the constellation, Kershaw said. The number of UHF-communication channels will about double on the latest model, and the company has sold the “vast majority’ of capacity, Kershaw said.

The Skynet 5 program is about halfway through its life, with service provision to run until at least 2022, prompting initial discussions between Astrium and the U.K. government about follow-on plans. Technology studies are being undertaken, Kershaw said.

International cooperation may be possible. The French Syracuse communications satellite system will need to be replaced around the same timeframe as Skynet 5, he said.

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