US Air Force: two high-capacity communications satellites made by Boeing that the Pentagon did not request

U.S. Air Force Wideband Global Satcom communications satellite. Credit: Boeing artist's concept

In a surprise last-minute add-on, House appropriators included $600 million in the Air Force budget for two high-capacity communications satellites made by Boeing that the Pentagon did not request.

The omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 funds two Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, WGS-11 and WGS-12.

The Air Force did not request funding for these spacecraft nor were these satellites included in any previous marks of the congressional defense committees, or in the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

This was a very large “out of cycle” addition, the consulting firm Jacques & Associates said in an email.

This action caught the satellite communicationsndustry completely off guard. Commercial satellite services providers, particularly, had been told that the Pentagon would not buy any more WGS satellites beyond number 10.

WGS-9 was deployed last year, and WGS-10 is scheduled for launch in 2019.

Air Force and DoD officials had been talking for months about a plan to move forward with a “hybrid” architecture for future military communications that would include a mix of government-owned satellites and commercial services.

The appropriators justified the additional funds for “Wideband Gapfiller Satellites”  as a necessary hedge, to ensure the Air Force is able to recapitalize multiple constellations that will require replacements in the coming decade — space situation awareness, positioning, navigation, and timing, weather, missile warning, wideband communications and protected communications.

The bill directs the secretary of the Air Force to “provide a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act, that examines the recapitalization plans for the major systems noted above, certifies that decisions to recapitalize versus continue production of current designs pose acceptable risks to constellation sustainment and the acquisition workforce, and considers budgetary constraints.”

In another blow to commercial satellite providers, the bill cuts funding for the “analysis of alternatives” study that has been underway since 2016 to examine ways to bring more private-sector services into the military’s communications architecture.

The bill slashes AOA funding for fiscal year 2018 from $14 million to $7 million.

The WGS constellation started out as a short-term project but grew over time. Boeing was selected to build the first two satellites in January 2002.

The Pentagon at the time was planning a sophisticated new constellation called the Transformational Satellite Communications System.

The TSAT was canceled in 2009 after years of cost overruns, and the WGS then became the military’s largest satcom system.

WGS is now a multinational system.

Through multilateral agreements, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand provided funding for the WGS-9 satellite that launched in March 2017.

The international partners receive a proportional share of the bandwidth provided by the WGS constellation based on their financial contribution.

The 2018 defense appropriation may be the one and only chance for Congress to add $600 million for two new satellites given how large of an increase the Pentagon is getting — $61 billion more than last year’s funding.

The House legislation provides $654.6 billion for the Department of Defense, including $589.5 billion in base funding and $65.2 billion for overseas wars.

It is billed as the “largest year-to-year increase in base funding for the Department of Defense in 15 years.”

The bill increases funding for space programs by 8 percent.


WGS 4 [Boeing BSS]

In early 2001, a satellite communications industry team led by Boeing Satellite Systems was selected to develop the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite (WGS) system as successors to the DSCS-3 series of communications satellites. This high-capacity satellite communications system is intended to support the warfighter with newer and far greater capabilities than provided by current systems. In March 2007 the acronym WGS was changed to Wideband Global Satcom.

A joint-service program funded by the U.S. Air Force and Army, WGS includes options for up to six BSS-702 satellites and their associated spacecraft and payload control equipment. Operational and logistics support and training are also included in the program.

WGS will augment DoD communications services currently provided by the Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), which provides Super High Frequency (SHF) wideband communications, and by the Ka-band Global Broadcast Service (GBS), which uses direct broadcast satellite technology to provide critical information to U.S. and allied forces. With an initial launch scheduled for mid-2004 aboard an Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, WGS will provide early transformational capabilities supporting government objectives for a Transformational Communications Architecture in 2009 and beyond.

WGS combines unique commercial spacecraft capabilities that Boeing has developed, including phased array antennas and digital signal processing technology, into a powerful, flexible architecture.

Based on the Boeing BSS-702 bus, the satellite will have a dry mass of more than 3,000 kg and will produce more than 11 kilowatts of power at the end of its 14-year design life.

The system provides tremendous operational flexibility and delivers the needed capacity, coverage, connectivity and control in support of demanding operational scenarios.

Capacity: WGS will offer 4.875 GHz of instantaneous switchable bandwidth.

The system will provide capacity ranging from 2.1 Gbps to more than 3.6 Gbps to tactical users, depending on the mix of ground terminals, data rates and modulation schemes employed.

Thus, each WGS can supply more than 10 times the capacity of a DSCS-3 Service Life Enhancement Program (SLEP) satellite.


The WGS design includes 19 independent coverage areas that can be used throughout the field of view of each satellite to serve warfighters between 65° North and South latitude.

This includes eight steerable/shapeable X-band beams formed by separate transmit and receive phased arrays; 10 steerable Ka-band beams served by independently steerable, diplexed gimbaled dish antennas, including three with selectable polarization; and one X-band Earth coverage beam.


The enhanced connectivity capabilities of WGS enable any user talk to any other user with very efficient use of satellite bandwidth.

A digital channelizer divides the uplink bandwidth into nearly 1900 independently routable 2.6 MHz subchannels providing any-coverage-to-any-coverage connectivity (including X-to-Ka and Ka-to × crossbanding) for maximum operational flexibility.

In addition, the channelizer supports multicast and broadcast services and provides an extremely effective and flexible uplink spectrum monitoring capability for network control.

The Block II satellites are similar to the three Block I satellites already in production.

Under Block II, Boeing added a radio frequency bypass capability designed to support airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms requiring ultra-high bandwidth and data rates demanded by unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Block II contract calls for the launch of F4 by the first quarter of 2011 and subsequent launches every year thereafter.

In January 2002, the customer exercised options worth $336.4 million authorizing Boeing to build the first two WGS spacecraft and to procure long-lead material for a third satellite. The first satellite was scheduled to launch in early 2004, with the second one to follow in

2005, both aboard a U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.

The program has been delayed to a first launch in 2007.

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force MILSATCOM Systems Wing have signed in October 2006 a $1.067 billion contract for up to three more Wideband Gapfiller Satellites (WGS), if all options are exercised.

The Option for WGS 4 and 5 was exercised in November 2006. WGS 6 was ordered in 2007 by Australia, which will get access to the WGS system in return.

The order for long lead items for WGS 7 was placed in August 2010.

The final contract for this satellite was awarded in September 2011, together with long lead items for WGS 8 and an option for WGS 9. WGS 8 was awarded in December 2011.

WGS 9 has been funded by Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and New Zealand.

The US Air Force is launching the craft and will perform the command-and-control functions during its 14-year life expectancy. WGS 10 was ordered in July 2012.

Boeing received in July 2012 an contract to install upgraded digital channelizers, which will boost capacity on the satellites by 30 percent, aboard the eighth and ninth WGS satellites. T

he upgraded hardware also will be installed on the planned 10th WGS satellite.

In March 2018, congress surprisingly added $600 million of funds for two more satellites, WGS 11 and WGS 12, which were not requested before.

Nation: USA (#8, 10); USA, multinational (#9)
Type / Application: Communication
Operator: USAF
Contractors: Boeing
Equipment: Upgraded Cross-band (X-band, Global Broadcast, 2-way Ka-band) payload
Configuration: BSS-702
Propulsion: R-4D-15 HiPAT, 4 × XIPS-25 Ion engines
Power: 2 deployable solar arrays, batteries
Lifetime: 14 years
Mass: 5987 kg
Orbit: GEO
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
WGS 8 (USA 272) 2016-075A 07.12.2016 CC SLC-37B Delta-4M+(5,4) (upg.)
WGS 9 (USA 275) 2017-016A 19.03.2017 CC SLC-37B Delta-4M+(5,4) (upg.)
WGS 10 (USA x) 2018 CC SLC-37B Delta-4M+(5,4) (upg.)
WGS 11 (USA x) CC
WGS 12 (USA x) CC


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