France Reluctant Yet Hopeful on Cooperative Military Space Programs

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PARIS — The French military is hesitant to commit itself to pan-European programs in space surveillance, navigation and Earth observation because of concerns over these programs’ security and the difficulty of coordinating the desires of individual governments, the head of France’s new space command said April 5.

Brig. Gen. Yves Arnaud said France nonetheless remains hopeful that what appear to be obstacles to fully realizing these programs among European governments will be removed over time.

For now, he said, France will not commit its military resources, including the Graves ground-based radar system, to a European space surveillance effort until European authorities commit to guarantees of data security and clarify who will manage the system.

“This is a sine qua non for our participation even in the first phase” of a space surveillance program, now being planned by the 18-nation European Space Agency and the European Defense Agency, Arnaud said.

Addressing the MilSpace 2011 conference here organized by SMi Group of London, Arnaud said France has a separate set of concerns regarding Europe’s Galileo constellation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites.

France has long been the most outspoken in saying it plans to equip its military, including its armaments systems, with Galileo’s encrypted signal, called the Public Regulated Service (PRS).

That is still the case, Arnaud said. But given the uncertainties surrounding Galileo’s governance and its implementation schedule, French defense procurement officials cannot justify ordering PRS receivers.

Galileo is intended as a 30-satellite constellation. But its sponsor, the 27-nation European Union, has the resources to field only 18 satellites as of around 2014. The remaining spacecraft, and the budget to operate the system over time, will await decisions on the European Commission’s next multiyear budget, to start in 2014.

Some European officials have said that the initial 18-satellite system could provide a limited PRS. However, Arnaud said the cost of PRS receivers “is difficult to estimate at this stage, but it will be very high. There is no clear vision of the [date of] availability for the Galileo system. There are also questions about its governance.”

Whether Galileo ultimately will be transferred to an agency that has not yet been identified or to a private-sector operator has not been decided. Until that becomes clear, Arnaud said, France will hold off on procuring Galileo PRS chipsets.

France is one of the prime movers behind a six-nation effort to create a common ground infrastructure for future European military Earth observation satellites. The nations involved — Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain in addition to France — have been working for years to come to terms on what is known as the Multinational Space-based Imaging System, or Musis.

France went so far as to hold off on ordering its next-generation optical reconnaissance satellite system, hoping that the Musis partners would agree on how to proceed.

That has not happened. One Belgian Defense Ministry official said here that “Musis is nearly dead,” and that he regretted France’s decision to contract for two optical reconnaissance satellites, known as CSO, with Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space.

One French government official said the Belgian complaint was justified insofar as France appears to have closed off some avenues of collaboration with Musis partners on the two CSO satellites.

Belgium has a 2.5 percent equity stake in France’s Helios 2 optical and infrared reconnaissance system, now in orbit, as do Greece and Spain. Italy and Germany also have access to Helios 2 as part of bilateral agreements with France that include French access to Germany’s five-satellite SAR-Lupe radar reconnaissance system and Italy’s four dual-use Cosmo-Skymed spacecraft.

Arnaud said France has opened negotiations with Italy on a common ground segment for the CSO system and Italy’s planned second-generation Cosmo-Skymed program.

He said he hoped that once Italy and France have settled on a ground architecture, other Musis nations may join.

“We have had some difficulties in synchronizing” the requirements of the Musis nations, Arnaud said. “CSO is clearly open to cooperation based on the Helios community model. The rules will perhaps be changed, and we are waiting for an official policy. But you can be sure we are looking for cooperation, and we expect to offer to our partners the same operational use of the system [as Helios 2]. We don’t want to reduce it. But we may change the rules about governance, to be more free about the use of national images.”

 

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