WASHINGTON: Airbus is angling for a bigger share of the US space and intelligence market with a reorganization of its US operations and an independent board of directors — with its eye squarely on NRO’s upcoming contest for commercial remote sensing providers.
The new entity, called Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, is based near the Pentagon in Rosslyn, Va. It brings all of Airbus’s US operations under one corporate hat.
While Airbus, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, has long had a Special Security Agreement that allows it to sell products in the US, the move to appoint an independent board of US citizens to manage the business will give it increased opportunities to break into highly-classified programs, explained Chris Emerson, the newly appointed CEO, in a roll-out brief with reporters today.
“The foundation to do business with the US is hinged around what we call a Special Security Agreement, because Airbus is based in in Europe. In order for us to establish the trust and bona fides to be able to work at every security level with the US government, we needed to set up an independent board of directors,” he said.
James Darcey, an Airbus spokesperson, clarified in an email to Breaking D that while Airbus has had SSA agreements in the past, as U.S. Space & Defense is a new corporate entity, a new one was required.
“So, while Airbus U.S. Space & Defense is not the first SSA company – and we’ve been selling to the U.S. government under SSA for some time – the new company is structured under a new board of directors, and is moving in new directions than previously,” he said.
The independent board of directors is loaded with household names in the defense community: former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Letitia Long; former Bush DoD exec Frank Miller; retired Gen. Willy Shelton, former head of Air Force Space Command; DoD Defense Innovation Board member Mark Sirangelo; and retired Rear Adm. Kevin Sweeney, former chief of staff to DoD Secretary Jim Mattis.
Further, the company just received a license from the Commerce Department that will allow it to sell high-resolution imagery and data analytics to the US government, as well as commercial customers, he said. (Commerce, via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, licenses all US commercial remote sensing operators.)
While Emerson said the firm’s primary focus is commercial users hungry for imagery, he said the firm also intends to respond to the NRO’s request for proposals (RFP) to expand its pool of commercial suppliers of imagery, including advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that has been traditionally supplied by the NRO’s own highly-classified satellites. As Breaking D readers know, that RFP is expected to be released by the end of the year.
It also is eyeing sales of data analyses to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); not to mention technologies to NASA for its space exploration efforts.
“As you know, from Airbus we have a pedigree — we’re probably the leader in commercial SAR capabilities,” Emerson said.
Airbus operates three X-band radar satellites, as well as two Pleiades and two Spot electro-optical satellites that utilize bandwidth into the near-infrared spectrum. Further, the company’s UK unit won a design study contract from the British Ministry of Defense for an ultra-high resolution SAR constellation, under a program called Oberon.
Airbus also is a 50 percent partner in OneWeb Satellite, based in Florida, that has been building satellites for OneWeb’s planned mega-constellation of 650 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for Internet connectivity. The fate of that operation has been up in the air because of OneWeb’s March bankruptcy.
But Emerson said that production for OneWeb is restarting, following the July 3 bid by the UK government, in partnership with Indian firm Bharti Global Ltd, to acquire the firm — with each partner contributing $500 million in investment. Further, U.S. Airbus Space & Defense is working to bring third-party US customers for the broadband communications satellites by modifying them at the Florida plant, he said.
“That is a critical asset for us that we are only going to continue to grow in the United States. You’ll see more than just one product coming from our capabilities in the US and, we’re committed and excited about the business that we have with with OneWeb Satellites,” he added.
Under Emerson, the new company will have three sub-units: Airbus U.S. Connected Intelligence led by Didier Cormary; Airbus U.S. Space, led by Debra Facktor; and Airbus US Military Aircraft, led by Jose Antonio de la Fuente.