PARIS — Faced with a French-British standoff, the European Commission has not yet decided whether to permit European defense forces to make use of the encrypted, jam-resistant Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal that will be provided by Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system, according to European government and industry officials.
The British government has long sought to reserve Galileo for civilian uses and has said its military forces will not use the signal. The British government has further sought to deny military use of PRS by any of its European partners.
French officials have said they fully expect to arm their future forces with PRS, just as they plan to use the U.S. Global Positioning System’s military code, a similar service to what will be provided by PRS.
GPS is owned and operated by the U.S. Defense Department, which has struck agreements with NATO and other allies on access to the GPS military code. These nations will be provided with “keys” to access the system.
Galileo is being financed by European transport and research ministers and will be owned by European governments jointly, with a private-sector consortium to be selected to manage the system for 20 years.
In an attempt to gauge European governments’ view of PRS, the European Commission polled 15 of its member governments and found that all but two — Britain and Germany — said they would use PRS, assuming pricing and other conditions were acceptable.
“Germany has yet to decide about PRS,” one European government official said. “Partly it’s because of concerns over what it will cost, and partly it’s just a matter of delaying a decision.”
French government officials have long suspected that British opposition to PRS military use is a camouflaged way of defending GPS’ military code and its use by allied governments.
Ian Taylor, a former British space minister and currently a member of Parliament, said he too suspects this is behind the British position. But Taylor said here June 12 that financial factors also may be playing a role.
The U.S. government withheld support for Galileo until the European Commission agreed to move the PRS service away from the GPS military code. An earlier Galileo design had overlaid PRS on the frequencies to be used by the GPS military code, raising strong objections from the U.S. government.
Europe and the United States in June 2004 signed a cooperation accord in which both sides agreed to make GPS and Galileo interoperable and mutually compatible. A full text of the agreement and its various annexes has not been made public.
Patrick Bellouard, Galileo program coordinator for the French prime minister’s office, said permitting European military forces to use the Galileo PRS “will not generate any excess costs and so should not cause special charges.”
Bellouard, addressing the 8th European Interparliamentary Space Conference here, said military use of satellite navigation is spreading and that “the tendency is now irreversible.” He said the U.S. Defense Department retains control of the encryption modules for the GPS military code and could one day decide to restrict its use by certain nations.
Bellouard said the NATO Consultation, Control and Command (C3) Agency, which is based here, has commissioned a study of NATO members’ thinking on whether Galileo PRS should be added to the GPS military code in NATO members’ future armaments purchases.
Bellouard said French government support for Galileo would be put into question if the European Commission were to decide to ban PRS use by military forces. “None of the European Union members involved in Galileo should be obliged to use PRS, but we cannot accept the idea of being denied to use it.”
PRS’ use will be restricted to government and emergency-services agencies such as police and ambulances. The frontier between civil and military use becomes clouded because in some nations, such as France and Italy, the local police forces are legally a part of the nation’s military corps.
One industry official involved in Galileo negotiations said the debate over a military use of PRS has recently featured discussions over whether PRS use for battlefield deployments — including the maneuvers of tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters — could be permitted, while its use on missiles and bombs would not.
The European Commission has said that by the end of 2006 it will publish a proposal on PRS uses so that the issue may be settled when Galileo enters service around 2011.