Inmarsat gets $1b from US Navy for 10 years of satellite data

Outsourcing national defence didn't work so well in Ukraine

The US Navy is outsourcing its satellite data comms to Inmarsat Government up to $980 million over 10 years, despite the current ructions over who actually owns the orbital bit biz.

Under the new US Navy Commercial Broadband Satellite Program (CBSP) Satellite Services Contract (CSSC II), Inmarsat Government will provide the US Navy with "worldwide managed telecommunications services," the company said

Those services will include satellite communications on the Ka-, C-, Ku - and X-band frequencies. Inmarsat Government "will also provide commercial teleport services; backhaul connectivity; monitoring and control; operations; information assurance and cybersecurity."

The new deal supersedes a previous contract the Navy had with Inmarsat Government through which it served as the branch's prime satellite communications contractor for the past decade, said Inmarsat Government CEO Susan Miller. 

"We look forward to continuing our support to their highly demanding operations at sea, in the air and on the ground, anywhere in the world," Miller said. 

Damn the merger, full speed ahead

The contract award comes at an interesting time for British-born Inmarsat, which has seen more organizational changes in the past few years than almost the whole of its 43 years in business.

Along with providing service to military, shipping and government partners, Inmarsat also supplies in-flight Wi-Fi for multiple airlines and other consumer satellite services. It's that arm of the business that likely made it an attractive purchase prospect for investors, the first group of whom bought the company in 2019

The purchase by private equity group Triton Bidco came with a number of plans to grow the company, which US-based Viasat agreed to carry out when it bought the company from Triton Bidco late last year.

That $7.3 billion purchase is now held up in the UK, where the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) expressed concern that the merger of Viasat and Inmarsat would give the two-headed giant an unfair advantage over smaller satellite companies in bids to provide airlines with Wi-Fi. 

Responses from Viasat and Inmarsat are due back to the CMA today, otherwise the matter will be referred for a deeper investigation. As of publication, responses haven't been uploaded to the CMA's page for the case.

There could be a cause for concern from the military community over the merger, too. Viasat, which stands to become Inmarsat Government's new parent company, had its satellite broadband service in Ukraine hampered in the early days of Russia's invasion of the country, and for a rather embarrassing reason, especially when national security could be at stake.

A poorly-configured VPN allowed an attacker to access the trusted management section of the Viasat KA-SAT satellite network, and while the satellites themselves weren't affected they were used to push malicious commands to residential modems. The code wiped part of the flash memory in affected modems, rendering them unusable until being reprogrammed. 

Viasat also offers satellite communications for the US government, hopefully with more security than its consumer service in Europe. ®

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