Pentagon renews lease of Chinese commercial satellite

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 4:48am

The Pentagon will continue for another year the lease of a Chinese commercial satellite to provide communications for its Africa Command.

The use of China's Apstar-7 satellite will be extended under a US$10.7 million lease through a unit of Harris CapRock Communications, the Pentagon said.

The choice of a Chinese satellite by the Pentagon's Defence Information Systems Agency was criticised last month by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee that oversees space programmes.

It "exposes our military to the risk that China may seek to turn off our 'eyes and ears' at the time of their choosing", said Republican congressman Mike Rogers.

Apstar-7 is operated by APT Satellite Holdings. State-owned China Aerospace Science & Technology owns less than 40 per cent of Hong Kong-based APT.

The unit of Harris CapRock is one of 18 companies under an established contract the Defence Information Systems Agency uses for specialised commercial satellite services.

"Under close examination, Apstar-7 remained the only satellite solution available that meets Africa Command's satellite communications requirements, and operational necessity dictated that the lease be renewed," the Pentagon said.

"Simultaneously, we are actively working to identify future options" to support the Africa Command through "a more preferred solution in the future," the Defence Department said.

Harris CapRock spokeswoman Alix Hornig said before the announcement that "we currently provide managed satellite communications to thousands of remote sites worldwide utilising" capacity "across more than 60 different satellites".

Harris CapRock does not "own or operate any satellites directly", she said. "We lease raw satellite capacity from satellite fleet operators and incorporate it into satellite solutions designed to customer requirements."