PARIS — The attempted jamming of a French Syracuse 3 military telecommunications satellite’s Middle East operations is one of several recent events that have reinforced France’s decision not to farm out military telecommunications operations to the private sector, according to the deputy director of the new organization doing the work.
Marcel Raffin, deputy director of Dirisi, a joint forces structure that is gradually taking over the operation of all French military and some civil-government telecommunications infrastructure, said the French insistence on strategic autonomy is incompatible with dependence on the private sector.
In a Dec. 13 interview, Raffin said the August decision by France Telecom to sell its mobile satellite telecommunications business to Apax Partners, a private-equity group, is another example of why French military officials are reluctant to let strategically useful assets slip out of government control.
“We were opposed to that transaction, even if I understand its industrial logic,” Raffin said of the France Telecom sale to Apax. “But I can tell you that for us, this deal set off flashing yellow lights. A line was crossed and we are now going to have to reconsider how we use L-band communications links.”
France Telecom Mobile Satellite Communications is a large reseller of Inmarsat mobile satellite communications services. The French Defense Department is one of its largest customers, and these contracts are now managed by Dirisi.
Raffin said the sale to a non-French government-affiliated entity opens the possibility that the French military’s use of L-band transmissions will be examined by people that Dirisi would prefer to keep out of its intimate communications loops. The result, he said, is likely to be the transfer of certain types of communications to the French Syracuse 3 satellites, which broadcast in encrypted SHF frequencies.
Syracuse 3A was launched in October 2005. Syracuse 3B was launched in August.
Raffin said that during last summer’s conflict in Lebanon, Syracuse 3A was subjected to intentional jamming attempts that occurred off and on during the fighting, and then ceased after it ended. He declined to say who France suspects as the source of the interference, but said Syracuse 3’s anti-jamming capability was able to isolate the source and nullify its effects on Syracuse operations.
While France made quiet diplomatic protest with several capitals in an attempt to put a stop to the jamming, it never raised a public fuss despite the fact that it was a clear violation of international law.
The French decision to keep control of its Syracuse 3 generation military satellite communications system and the ground telecommunications infrastructure is in contrast to the British government decision to contract both jobs to private consortia. The operation of Britain’s Skynet 4 and the Skynet 5 satellites set for launch starting in 2007 were contracted to Paradigm Secure Communications, a consortium owned by EADS Space Services.
French and British authorities continue to debate the relative merits of their decisions, and especially whether either one offers a clear advantage to taxpayers.
As Britain was establishing Paradigm — Britain several years ago had outsourced its terrestrial telecommunications services to the private sector — France was creating Dirisi, a French acronym for Joint Forces’ Directorate for Defense Network Infrastructure and Information Systems.
“We call this a kind of internal outsourcing,” Raffin said. “We are creating a new organization to operate laterally among all the armed forces.”
Dirisi currently counts about 7,000 personnel drawn from land, ground and air forces. By mid-2008 it will reach its operational size of 12,000 people.
Echoing comments made by U.S. military space officials, Raffin said one of the biggest near-term challenges for Dirisi will be creating a common operational culture out of the differing ways of thinking that distinguish army, navy and air force personnel.
Dirisi also is handling France’s contribution to the NATO alliance’s satellite telecommunications service. France, Britain and Italy are sharing responsibility for SHF and UHF satellite services for NATO under a contract signed with the three governments.
The NATO obligations, plus smaller, separate contracts with the German and Belgian armed forces and France’s domestic military demand has already filled up Syracuse 3A completely. Syracuse 3B is 90 percent full.
French defense authorities are expected to exercise an option with Syracuse 3 prime contractor Alcatel Alenia Space for a third satellite in 2007. French officials said this satellite might be purchased in a bilateral deal with the Italian Defense Ministry, with the two nations operating separate communications payloads aboard the same satellite platform.
Dirisi also is beginning to coordinate the French military’s scattered demand for commercial satellite telecommunications. For example, at a given French embassy, three services — the French secret service, its diplomatic corps and its military attaches — need access to satellite capacity.
“We realize that harmonizing our purchases is something we need to improve on,” Raffin said.