November 8 2013
photo by Reuters/Petar Kujundzic
This commentary appeared on U.S. News & World Report on November 7, 2013.
Reports earlier this year that the U.S. Department of Defense leased a Chinese satellite to support military operations in Africa sparked concern that the arrangement could compromise control over U.S. military communications, or, worse, allow Chinese intelligence gatherers access to privileged military data.
The $10 million, one-year contract is for the Apstar-7, operated by APT Satellite Communications of Hong Kong, which has close ties to the Chinese government. It is one of many commercial satellites the Pentagon has been using for years to help meet its voracious appetite for bandwidth. In fact, virtually all commercial satellite capacity used by the DoD is owned by offshore interests. The Pentagon said it was a simple matter of supply and demand — and that the Apstar-7 was the only alternative over Africa.
Two potential issues have been raised: that the data flowing through foreign-controlled satellites may be compromised and that the owner might turn the satellite transponders off at a critical moment.