Australia, US in talks on military satellite deal

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WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) Australia may join an advanced US military communications satellite network and foot part of the bill for expanding it, said an executive of Boeing Co. , which is building the system.

Government-to-government talks are under way about partnering on the US Wideband Global Satellite Communications network, or WGS, said Roger Krone of Boeing's Network and Space Systems arm.

''Boeing is aware that there are discussions with the Commonwealth of Australia on participating in the program and helping to fund a sixth satellite,'' he told reporters yesterday at the annual conference of the Air Force Association.

Australian involvement would enhance two-way wartime communications with the United States and increase the system's coverage and capacity worldwide, said a person familiar the technology. Australia would be the only US partner in the network, this person said.

Russia and China have voiced concern over what they regard as tightening military ties among the United States, Japan and Australia, including for defense against ballistic missiles.

Air Commodore Graham Bentley, air attache at the Australian Embassy in Washington, said yesterday of the talks, ''We are discussing options to see what we can agree on.'' The US Air Force's Los Angeles-based Space and Missile Systems Center, which is responsible for acquiring the satellites, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The network's first satellite is due to be launched October 9.

Just that one satellite will provide more capacity for video, data and voice than the aging constellation of satellites it is due to augment and then replace, the Space and Missile Systems Center has said.

Five WGS satellites are currently planned, with the constellation due to be fully operational by 2012.

Precise figures on a sixth satellite's cost were not immediately available, but the total cost of a six-satellite system has been projected at 1.8 billion dollars, said Joseph Tedino, a Boeing spokesman.

Krone said Boeing was optimistic talks with Australia would clinch a deal for a sixth satellite, possibly by the end of this year.

Reuters KK VP0430

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