30 May 2023

Government adds Defence SATCOM ground station to Projects of Concern list

| Andrew McLaughlin
Join the conversation

The JP2008 Phase 5B2 SATCOM ground station terminals at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga. Photo: Google Earth.

The Federal Government has added a third project to its Projects of Concern (POC) list as it seeks to remediate over-schedule or underperforming Defence projects.

The two projects already on the POC list are the Australian Army’s AIR 9000 Phases 2/4 MRH 90 Taipan utility helicopter, and the AIR 5431 Phase 3 Civil-Military Air Traffic Management System, otherwise known as OneSKY-CMATMS.

The MRH 90 will soon be remediated by the premature retirement of the helicopters in favour of new Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks from 2024, and will thus likely disappear from the POC list at that time.

But OneSKY is a more problematic project, as AIR 5431 is a three-phased project which has featured on the POC list regularly in the past decade. Phase 1 – a Defence-only Deployable Defence Air Traffic Management and Control System – was removed from the POC list at the same time AIR 5431 Phase 3 made a return to the list in October 2022.

READ ALSO Australian Defence Force to establish space capabilities

Thales Australia was named as the prime contractor for OneSKY in February 2015 to build a joint civil and military air traffic control system which would integrate radar and other ATC elements from civil and military systems at joint-use airfields into a single common picture.

But by August 2017 the two parties had failed to get some aspects of the project under contract, and it was subsequently placed on the POC list at that time. The contract issues were settled in February 2018, at which time the project was removed from the list.

Fast forward to October 2022, Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy announced its return to the POC list “because of significant schedule, technical and cost challenges”.

“It is my expectation this listing brings more high-level attention, resources and energy – from both Defence and our industry partner Thales Australia – to the task of remediating this project,” Minister Conroy said.

In early December it was announced the minister had held a Projects of Concern Summit with the Thales Australia’s CEO and senior Defence, Infrastructure, and Airservices Australia officials in Canberra, at which a set of principles for remediating the OneSKY-CMATS was agreed.

“Top-level focus is essential to ensure we put this project on track to deliver a new civil and military air traffic management system for Australia,” the minister said in a 2 December release. “The measures we agreed today will strengthen the process and provide leadership of project delivery.”

READ ALSO Lockheed Martin selected for Defence satellite communications project

Little change to the project’s status was apparent at a second summit in March when the parties had a “constructive engagement” and “identified pathways to improve efficiency and timely delivery”.

Joining OneSKY and the MRH 90 helicopter on the POC list last week was the Joint Project (JP)2008 Phase 5B2 Satellite Ground Station – East (SGS-E) and Wideband SATCOM Network Management System.

Awarded to a team led by Northrop Grumman Australia and including Optus and Viasat in 2017, the project is designed to deliver a satellite communications (SATCOM) ground station at the Kapooka Military Area (KMA) near Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina.

The ground terminals will be visible to military communications satellites over the Pacific Ocean, specifically the Optus C-1 satellite on which the ADF has a payload, and the US Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) system, in which Australia has a stake.

It will also be key to maximising a new sovereign SATCOM capability from the end of this decade for which a team led by Lockheed Martin Australia was selected to fulfil in April under Project JP9102.

A 22 May ministerial release states “while infrastructure for the project has been delivered, including three large ground antennae, it is facing ongoing schedule delays due to other technical challenges”, and its listing on the POC “will increase the momentum between Defence and Northrop Grumman Australia to remediate the Wideband SATCOM Network Management system component of the project”.

In response to a question from Region, Northop Grumman Australia said: “We have been working closely with the Commonwealth and CASG (Defence’s Capability Acquisition & Sustainment Group), and a robust remediation plan based on our existing project execution strategy has already been agreed.

“We welcome this move, which better enables us to effectively elevate and resolve issues, and we continue to build on the highly collaborative relationship we have established with our stakeholders. We are confident we have a solid direction and great team in place to deliver the capability Defence needs.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Capital Retro9:38 am 31 May 23

This biggest challenge will be getting the project to function on 100% renewable energy.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.