US satellite partnership for defence force

The NZ Defence Force has signed up to a satellite partnership operated by the United States Department of Defence.

Defence Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said the deal, which would cost $83.2m over 20 years, would guarantee satellite communications for the next 20 years,

"This gives a significant boost to our forces' capacity both at home and overseas,"  Coleman.said.

The Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) programme is a network of nine military satellites. built by Boeing and operated by the US Department of Defence.

New Zealand joins Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in a joint agreement for access to the network in return for partially funding the ninth satellite. Australia has been involved in a similar agreement since 2007.

"It will increase our access to satellite broadband more than twenty-fold, with guaranteed access and at a fixed price, ensuring better value for money," Coleman said

Any unused capacity can be made available to other government agencies.

Defence forces deployed around the world use satellites to communicate with New Zealand, but NZDF currently purchases bandwidth on commercial satellites at spot prices. That can involve a premium of up to 100 per cent depending on demand, and which can also limit availability of bandwidth, he said.

"The Government is delivering on the priorities outlined in the 2010 Defence White Paper, which identified improving offshore communications as a priority to ensure deployed personnel are better supported," said Dr Coleman.

The $83.2 million will come from baseline funding already allocated in the Defence Capital Plan.

He said the current annual spending on satellite communications was $4.3m, growing at about 10 per cent a year.