France Uncertain About Adopting Galileo’s Encrypted Service

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PARIS — The French government is not yet convinced that the encrypted, government-only signal to be carried on Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing satellites will be secure enough to permit its wide adoption by French defense forces, the head of the French arms procurement agency, DGA, said.

The French position, outlined even as the U.S. military prepares to make wide use of Galileo alongside the U.S. GPS constellation, suggests that what remains one of Galileo’s most promising domestic markets — European militaries — has not yet been fully won over.

“We are looking for a strategic autonomy in positioning and timing,” DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon said in July 1 remarks to the French Senate at a hearing on space policy. “In this case we need guarantees of robust security for defense, equivalent to the GPS [military] code.  For PRS, the production controls and the export controls need to cover the security needs of the member nations.”

PRS, or Public Regulated Service, is the Galileo equivalent to the GPS military-code signal, which is available to NATO member nations.

After an initial argument, notably between France and the United States, on what frequencies would be used by PRS relative to the GPS M-code, PRS is now using frequencies that do not overlap the M-code and thus offer a backup in the event that GPS signals were knocked out in a conflict zone.

This has increased Galileo’s appeal to the United States, and is one reason the U.S. government was among the first non-European governments to request access to PRS.

U.S. AIr Force Gen. William Shelton. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz
U.S. AIr Force Gen. William Shelton. Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz

“Galileo represents an opportunity for Europe and the United States to cooperate,” Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, said in July 22 remarks to the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“In fact, receivers are already being built that will receive the Galileo signal and the GPS signal and integrate both,” Shelton said. “So in times of GPS outages or perhaps localized GPS jamming, maybe Galileo gives you different geometries. So the sky’s the limit in terms of using both capabilities, and I think you will see us going to receivers that are both Galileo- and GPS-capable.”

Several nations have already begun testing PRS with the four Galileo in-orbit validation satellites currently in service. The first pair of a planned 22 full-operational-capability Galileo satellites are scheduled for launch in late August aboard a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in South America.

Two more Galileo satellites are tentatively scheduled for launch before the end of the year, with more to come in 2015.

The European Union’s executive commission, which owns Galileo, has agreed to let all EU member states use PRS receivers and develop a domestic supply base once they have set up a designated Competent PRS Authority validated by the European Global Navigation Satellite Services Agency, based in Prague.

It remains unclear how many nations will decide to use PRS on an extensive basis — for police and emergency service providers, for example — and license a local PRS receiver manufacturer.

Collet-Billon said his concern is that the firewalls designed to prevent PRS technology from escaping the control of the European GNSS Agency might not be sufficient.

“What I understand is going on now is that negotiations between individual nations and the European Commission have not been very productive,” Collet-Billon said. “We need to get past this, otherwise this system will never be accepted by operators as a guarantor of sovereignty and national security.

“These negotiations underway need to be concluded,” Collet-Billon said. “If we end up with the opinion that Galileo is not reliable and controlled, we will not use it.”

GPS’s commercial success, for receiver builders and applications providers worldwide, came as an unintended consequence of a military program that has since been reclassified as a dual-use effort overseen by several U.S. government agencies, not just the Defense Department.

Galileo, built for a civilian agency, maintains a commercial ambition. How big a role PRS services will play in realizing this is uncertain, but PRS no longer appears controversial among European Union nations.

The British government, through the U.K. Space Agency, is trying to stimulate early work on PRS applications in industry with an investment of about 7 million British pounds ($12 million) for PRS prototypes following a government-ordered study that found a sizable future market for PRS.

The study, called the Innovation Growth Strategy, concluded that PRS could generate more than 1 billion pounds per year within 20 years.