hoto: Eric Lalmand/Zuma PressBRUSSELS—The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is preparing to expand its satellite communications capability with contracts worth about $1.85 billion later this year as it prepares to field a new fleet of drones.
The NATO Communications and Information Agency, which operates and defends the alliance’s computer networks and the missile defense command and control system, is slated to announce more than $3 billion in upcoming projects for defense contractors to bid on at a conference in Ottawa, Canada at the end of April.
The alliance is dedicating the biggest chunk of that money to expanding satellite-communication bandwidth for deployed forces and its headquarters.
NATO is acquiring five Global Hawk surveillance drones to be based at Signonella, Italy as part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance system. The first drone is due to be deployed to Europe later this year and will begin operations later this year or 2018.
A senior NATO official said those drones will create a huge demand for satellite data.
“The AGS drone is a huge collector of data, it is a vacuum cleaner of data,” said a NATO official. “Bandwidth is a problem for NATO, for most of the nations.”
In addition to the satellite contracts, NATO is set to move forward with contracts for cyberdefenses, the command and control of its missile defense systems and advanced software.
It can take up to three years from the announcement of a project to a contract to be bid and awarded, NATO officials said. Business consortia have been preparing to bid on the satellite contract, and the alliance is expecting to be able to move forward to receive bids on the project in late 2017.
The alliance provided no details of what companies might bid on the satellite contract. Typically companies put together consortia of firms from multiple alliance countries to bid on NATO contracts.