A European Commission-ordered assessment of Europe’s space-based security policy has concluded that harmonizing current telecommunications and reconnaissance programs to assure interoperability is a higher priority than any big new hardware-development efforts.

The authors also say a European space-surveillance program to monitor what assets are orbiting over European territory should be backed by European governments.

Nearly a year in the making, the “Report of the Panel of Experts on Space and Security” — known as Spacesec — will be one of the tools used by the European Commission in determining funding levels in its next seven-year financial package, for 2007-2013.

Indications should be given this spring of whether Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, who is responsible for most European Commission space and security spending, will push for new space investment as part of the seven-year financial package.

The Spacesec report does not offer a clear roadmap for Verheugen. Industry officials, asked to comment on it privately, said the final document was diluted as the panel of experts was widened to include representatives from each of the European Union’s 25 member states.

Some nations want a full-scale space-security effort that would encompass military and homeland-security functions. Others hesitate to propose anything for fear of what it will cost. Still other nations are concerned that a European space-based security program could strain the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance.

“The document is a compromise, and some good ideas were taken out of it,” said retired Gen. Bernard Molard, military advisor to EADS Space and chairman of the security and defense panel at Eurospace, which represents Europe’s space-hardware manufacturers. “But it has valuable elements, especially the introduction by Verheugen and the assessment of what Europe is already spending in space-related security.”

Verheugen says in the introduction that dual-use space systems to cope with disasters such as December’s tsunami in Asia as well as more defense-related missions are needed in Europe as it seeks “information independence [to reduce] the current capability gap.”

The gap in question is the huge difference — about 15 to 1 — in military-space spending between Europe and the United States. European government officials recently have invoked China, India and Japan as other nations that are investing more heavily than Europe in space technology.

The Spacesec report is notable for its authors’ refusal to present a shopping list of proposed space assets, although it does call for a doubling of current security-related space spending, which today amounts to about 950 million euros ($1.23 billion) per year.

Mike Dillon, the Spacesec report coordinator and managing director of the Esys plc aerospace consultancy in Guildford, England, said the Spacesec goal was to improve Europe’s security posture, not to carry out European industrial policy.

“The point here was to look for real operational requirements and determine how to meet them,” Dillon said. “Space is a cheap and easy way to do that in many areas such as border control. Why can’t the cost of a single [satellite] transponder be shared between Eurocontrol, Europol and the European Defense Agency as part of a multicast replicated database system for security applications? If I had a larger balance sheet, I would create such a system myself.”

Eurocontrol is Europe’s air-traffic management authority. Europol is a European law-enforcement agency.

The Spacesec report points to current European military-space investment practices as exactly the wrong way to ensure that Europe provides for its own security inside its borders and is a reliable partner of the United States and others in multilateral engagements around the world.

Five nations — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — are investing separately in military satellite telecommunications programs. France, Germany and Italy are developing separate satellite-reconnaissance systems that will not be interoperable without substantial investment in new ground hardware.

And these nations have made clear that they will not be donating these assets to the European Union. The current thinking, summed up by the commonly used phrase, “Satellite data is not shared, it is exchanged,” means European authorities will need to finance access to the existing national systems.

“Multi-agency collaboration and sharing of data is the biggest stumbling block for very obvious reasons,” Dillon said.

Molard said some European governments may be surprised to learn that European Union nations now are spending more than 900 million euros per year in space-based security, in part because of several new programs that are in the middle of their development cycles.

“What the Spacesec report calls for is not something revolutionary,” Molard said. “No one is saying we should match what the U.S. does. What it does suggest is that we gradually increase spending to 2 billion euros per year by 2012 to maintain what we have in observation and telecommunications, and to start new efforts in signals intelligence, early warning systems and space surveillance.”

France, Germany and Italy have begun initial efforts in tracking orbital objects with ground-based radars. The Spacesec report urges a broader effort, saying Europe’s dependence on the United States is untenable. “This situation could change in the near future, and the data provided are not exhaustive or made available at the needed time,” the report says.

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