MoD extends Skynet contract

Fourth satellite to be launched in armed forces' communications system

For children of the 1970s, the name Skynet is synonymous with one thing: killer robots.

To the surprise of many devotees of the Terminator franchise, Skynet actually exists and is involved in military operations. Rather than developing cyborg killers in the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is a satellite programme that provides communications services to Britain's armed forces. The name also predates James Cameron's The Terminator in 1984.

The Skynet 5 programme is one of the largest private finance initiatives (PFI) ever signed off by the Ministry of Defence, provided by Paradigm Secure Communications, owned by the defence contracting giant EADS.

The MoD leases communications services for phones and internet using Paradigm's three "military hardened" satellites, and yesterday it signed a deal to launch a fourth and extend the contract for two years until 2022.

The National Audit Office said Skynet 5 would cost the taxpayer £3.6bn over the course of the contract, although the MoD pointed out that it is much cheaper to lease the systems than to build the hardware itself. Paradigm, a subsidiary of Astrium Services, itself a subsidiary of EADS, signed the deal with the MoD in 2003, since when it has provided military communications to conflict zones in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The fourth satellite will extend the service's capacity. Astrium's chief executive, Eric Béranger, said Skynet 5 was a "pioneering step" in providing military satellite communications through a commercial firm.

The satellites not only allow troops to phone and email home, they provide communications from command centres to those in the field and on sea. They also provide video support for intelligence-gathering vehicles such as the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Paradigm used an older generation of satellites before launching Skynet 5A, 5B and 5C between 2007 and 2008. They are designed to be effective against hostile or non-hostile interference with their anti-jamming antenna. The older generation was launched in 1988 after several delays, with the previous Skynet satellite launched on a US rocket in 1974. Paradigm said: "When the current Skynet 5 constellation became fully operational in 2008 it was the start of a new era in military communications, using some of the most complex military satellite communication satellites ever built."

Since 2003, Paradigm has also provided military communications to Nato and countries including the US, France and Germany by leasing the excess bandwidth that the UK does not use.

The fourth satellite, the 5D, will be designed and built by Astrium. The spacecraft, which is as long as three double-decker buses, is set to be launched in three years.

The craft will be built at Astrium's sites in Portsmouth and Stevenage, creating 100 jobs and sustaining the existing 800 in those sites and in Wiltshire and Hawthorn. Astrium will also fund the move by turning to "private financiers in the City" but would not disclose who or the size of investment they were looking for.

Lord Drayson, minister for Science and Innovation, said: "The UK's thriving space and satellite industry has been a real recession-buster – creating jobs and achieving exceptional growth. The latest success cements the UK's position as a world leader in satellite technology." He added that the sector is forecast to be worth £40bn to the UK by 2030.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'