Support: June 24, 2002

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The Afghanistan war saw a revolution in combat communications. The secure internet (the encrypted SIPRNET, running on a separate network) allowed combat and support units to communicate using familiar Internet technology. There were also plentiful satellite cell phones courtesy of a special deal the U.S. government brokered in late 2000. The Department of Defense arranged to have the Iridium satellite telephone corporation assets bought at a bankruptcy sale. The alternative was to see many of the Iridium satellites allowed to be "deorbited" and made to burn up in the earth's atmosphere. This deal allowed the Department of Defense (and other U.S. government agencies) to get unlimited Iridium satellite phone service for the bargain rate of $150 per month per user. In practical terms, Department of Defense users pay about 25 cents a minute to use Iridium cell phones. Before Iridium LLC declared bankruptcy in 1999, it charged up to $5 a minute to commercial users. The new company invested more money to fund continuing operations, an arrangement made possible by Department of Defense contracts. The originals investors in Iridium will lose most of the $5.5 billion investment. But if the new owners can maintain service, and add new features the Department of Defense wants (encryption and Internet support), more Department of Defense business will be forthcoming to keep Iridium going.

 


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