Satellite comms a "revelation" for the military, says former IDF chief

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell  Posted:  06/06/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT

clip_image001INTERVIEW: Brigadier General Moshe (‘Chico’) Tamir

Tamir is Vice President of Defence and Homeland Security for Gilat having previously served for 28 years in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and held senior command posts including Brigade and Division Commander. Tamir is a graduate of IDF Command and US Army war college, and holds a BA in Middle East Affairs from the University of Haifa, and an MBA from the Interdisciplinary Centre Hertzelia.


“This is the revelation of the next decade for the military; the need for satellite communications is rising,” according to Brigadier General Moshe (‘Chico’) Tamir.

Tamir is a former Israeli Defence Force special operations officer who has now stepped into the private sector as the Vice President of Defence and Homeland Security at Petah Tikva-based Gilat Satellite Networks (NASDAQ: GILT. TASE). In an interview with Defence IQ this week Tamir explained why the military satellite communications market is so coveted by the communications industry and what technological revolutions will drive the sector over the next decade.

“For many years Gilat was focused on commercial communications but we were looking at growing our business into other areas,” Tamir said. “After reviewing the strategic options a decision was taken to move into the defence and homeland security market [in 2010].”

The company did so quickly and aggressively following the acquisition of radio frequency amplifier designers Wavestream for $135 million and RaySat, an antenna systems developer, for $25 million.

Tamir said that satellite communications in the military only used to be at the Division level, but as the technology improves and becomes more accessible it is crossing boundaries and being used at the Platoon and Company levels too.

“When we looked at this market we asked ourselves what will be the main drivers for satellite communication requirements in the forthcoming years, and we found that what is really happening is that the need for communications – non-line-of-sight communications on the frontlines – is driving a requirement for terminals to be deployed at very low echelons.

“So the importance of satellite communications is growing for sure … everyone has to be connected in all areas at all times,” Tamir said.

What about the future? What direction is the market taking and how is Gilat positioning for the evolution?

“The big development will be in automated solutions such as UAS’s on the ground and in the air, self-controlled systems and guided munitions, which in the past have been very big platforms.

“The future is for very small platforms but in very big numbers … What we’re seeing is a requirement for much much smaller and lighter platforms.”

clip_image002If “small” is the first keyword, “integrated” is the second. Tamir explained that “only an integrated system will work” so developing individual components will be ineffective, which is why Gilat is taking a more holistic approach. The terminal opposite is an example of Gilat’s integrated system development, with this specifically designed for a UAV.

Seeing dollar signs in the stars

In May the company reported revenues for the first quarter of 2012 were down 4.25% to $76.6 million, compared to $80 million for the corresponding period in 2011. Despite the slight downturn Erez Antebi, Gilat’s Chief Executive Officer, said, “we remain confident in our strategic direction … and as a provider of on-the-move solutions for the defence industry.”

The company shows no signs of toning down its focus on the defence sector. Tamir explained that he is targeting a number of high-growth regions.

“There is no doubt the U.S. DoD is the biggest market and the requirements there are changing,” said the ex-IDF Brigadier General.

The U.S.’s Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) programme is the main focus for Gilat as it seeks to gain traction in North America. “The WIN-T programme is a huge one for us and it’s pushing technology forward, moving away from fixed satellites and towards Satellites-on-the-move (SOTM).

“A second area we are very interested in is South America where Gilat has a very strong footprint … we’ve already delivered a few projects in Brazil on the defence side. It has a growing economy and a strong need for border security as well as internal homeland security issues are creating a huge demand for satellite communications, especially in the areas which have little existing infrastructure.”

India, Russia and China were also highlighted as key growth market for the military satellites communications market.

Although growing economies, particularly those in Asia, are important, Tamir said that because of the high demand for satellite communication technology, “the market is very stable” and is generally not being adversely affected by the defence budget cuts.

Indeed, David Leichner, Gilat’s Vice President of Corporate Marketing, made reference to the last U.S. defence budget, which underscored its commitment to the technologies closely aligned with satellite communications.

In January, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said:

“When you say, what’s new over the last 10 years, I would say notably three things:  the capability and role of special operating forces, ISR and cyber.  And I’m confident that each of those three new and emerging and more important capabilities are adequately funded in this budget.”

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