BRUSSELS — European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen said individual European governments should be permitted to use the Galileo satellite-navigation system for military purposes because denying them this right makes no sense.
Verheugen’s comments here Oct. 16 appear to be part of a commission effort to create a policy that respects Galileo’s civil pedigree — it is mainly financed by European Union (EU) research and transport ministries — while acknowledging that a prohibition on all military use is unfeasible.
Verheugen said governments will be free to choose whether to use Galileo’s encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS), which is Galileo’s secure signal designed for police forces and other emergency-response teams.
“If a country decides to do it, it can do it,” Verheugen said, referring to a decision by a given European government to equip its defense forces with Galileo gear. “But we have no intention of making it mandatory.”
The issue of who will be able to use PRS and in what context has been a source of friction among EU governments, especially Britain and France.
British government officials have said Galileo is exclusively civil in both ownership and application and that any military use by individual EU nation would need to be unanimously approved by all 25, soon to be 27, EU member states. They said they would block anyone — France was cited specifically — from deploying Galileo chipsets on weaponry.
French government officials have rejected that reasoning, saying they plan to equip their armed forces with Galileo’s encrypted PRS signal, much in the same way that they use the U.S. GPS today. French officials have said they plan to use Galileo alongside GPS for improved accuracy and reliability.
In remarks during a conference here on Europe’s future space-based security capability organized by Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels think tank, Verheugen said it is becoming impossible to draw lines between military and civil security.
In a crisis, he said, it is often military forces that are called in first, with humanitarian and other civil organizations following in short order – a mix of users that will all profit from Galileo’s capability.
Verheugen’s remarks followed the Oct. 12 European Transport Council meeting in Luxembourg. The council ordered the commission to continue to refine an access policy for Galileo’s PRS signal, and said “the use of the governmental service [by EU governments] will be on an optional basis… [T]he full operational costs of this service [will] be met by the users, on a non-commercial basis.”
Stephen Ladyman, British minister of state for transport, attended the Luxembourg meeting. In a statement issued Oct. 18, Ladyman appeared to retreat from Britain’s earlier hard line.
“I reiterated the UK’s position that Galileo was a civil program under civil control,” Ladyman said in the statement. He did not reiterate Britain’s insistence on a ban on all military use of the system.
Galileo is a 30-satellite constellation expected to be operational around 2011. Its deployment phase, during which the bulk of the satellites will be built and launched, is scheduled to be two-thirds financed by a private-sector industrial consortium negotiating to operate Galileo as a commercial business under a 20-year contract.
It remains unclear what level of guarantees EU governments will provide to permit the Galileo operating consortium to raise the needed funds and, eventually, to make a profit on the business.
Fears that government negotiators will promise the consortium too much future EU funding prompted the transport ministers Oct. 12 to order the commission to keep ministers informed of the contract’s terms, “particularly as regards the financial implications for the [EU] budget,” the council said in its summary of the meeting. The council said the 20-year contract will need to be reviewed to assure its “economic and strategic value and affordability for the EU.”
How European governments will be billed for their use of PRS is an open question.
Officials from the industrial consortium say charging a fee for the use of PRS by European defense forces will be an important source or revenue for a project whose long-term solvency is already a source of concern.
The council also asked the commission to propose rules for Galileo’s use outside Europe. China and Israel are already shareholders in the Galileo system, and other nations have proposed to join as well.
EU governments and the commission have been clear that no non-European nation will have access to the PRS signal, but the extent of non-European involvement otherwise has been left vague.
The transport ministers ordered the commission to produce “a control regime for transfer of sensitive Galileo-specific items and technology and intellectual property rights to third parties as soon as possible…. in line with existing export control and non-proliferation mechanisms in the [EU] preventing transfer of sensitive items and technology.”