France Seeks Military Space Investment Partners

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PARIS — French defense officials said they are on track to increase military space spending by nearly 8 percent per year, on average, through 2014 but that the program and spending profile still depend in large part on whether other European nations agree to co-invest.

With electronic intelligence and missile alert demonstrator satellites already in orbit, France is ready to move forward on operational systems that are more likely to be built if there is at least some contribution by other European Union nations.

In Nov. 25 briefings here, French Defense Ministry officials also said they have begun studying how to integrate the future encrypted government-only service offered by Europe’s planned Galileo navigation and timing system into French military vehicles alongside the U.S. GPS military code.

French Air Force Gen. Gerard Lapprend, head of the space division at the French joint defense staff, said early work as part of a program called Omega is looking at various designs to place Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS) into chipsets already programmed for the U.S. GPS system’s military code.

The Galileo satellite constellation, funded solely by Europe’s civil government budgets, is unlikely to be operational before 2015. The financial and regulatory conditions surrounding military use of PRS are not yet clear. Nonetheless, French government authorities have long said they plan to use PRS to complement the GPS military code for their hardware.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a defense policy document published in June 2008, called for French military space spending to double in the next decade. As expected, it has been difficult to reconcile that strategic direction given all of the other programs competing for a share of the country’s annual defense budget.

Marc Leclere, who heads the space and operational information systems division at the French arms procurement agency, DGA, said current plans call for the military space budget to gradually rise to 600 million euros ($892 million) by 2014, compared with 380 million euros in 2008.

To that budget will be added 200 million euros per year for work on dual-use space technologies managed by the French space agency, CNES, which has both a civil and a military mandate. Leclere said the increase, which is called for inside France’s multiyear military spending plan adopted by the French parliament, follows the general direction of Sarkozy’s 2008 policy document.

The French joint defense staff is creating a Joint Space Command to be operational by July to better coordinate the use of France’s military space assets and to act as a referee among the different services and agencies demanding access to them, Lapprend said.

France’s four Essaim signals-intelligence demonstration satellites were launched in 2004 and are scheduled to operate until 2010. Another signals-intelligence demonstrator, called Elisa, is scheduled for launch in 2010. Essaim and Elisa are both French-only missions.

By 2016, France would like to have an operational signals-intelligence system, called Ceres, in orbit. Leclere said Sweden and Greece have both expressed interest in it, but that no commitments from them or any other European government have been made.

Meanwhile, two Spirale missile warning demonstration satellites were launched in 2009, and France wants an operational system in geostationary orbit by 2019. No partners have been secured.

France’s Helios optical and infrared reconnaissance system is an example both of what France hopes to achieve and of the challenges in space-based cooperation.

The two-satellite Helios 1 program, whose Helios 1A satellite was launched in 1995, featured Spanish and Italian contributions totaling 21 percent. But the 2 billion-euro Helios 2 program, whose first satellite was launched in 2004, secured financial support totaling just 10 percent — 2.5 percent each from Italy, Belgium, Spain and Greece.

Italy and Germany struck separate, bilateral agreements with France to exchange their national radar-reconnaissance satellite data for access to Helios imagery.

The result is that six nations have access to Helios 2, whose second satellite, Helios 2B, is scheduled for launch Dec. 9 as the solo passenger aboard Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

Each has its own Helios center that orders images that are processed and sent to the satellite without having to disclose the target areas to the other Helios partners.

Germany and Italy are outfitting their reconnaissance imagery-reception facilities with Helios 2 gear, and France has added antennas to receive imagery from Italy’s Cosmo-SkyMed and Germany’s SAR-Lupe radar constellations.

But despite the existing collaboration, these same six nations continue to struggle to create a common ground infrastructure, called Musis, for their next-generation reconnaissance satellite systems.

A letter of intent to create Musis was signed in November 2008. Leclere said a memorandum of understanding on Musis is likely to be signed in 2010, to be followed by a contract to design the Musis architecture.

Lapprend said France, which has already begun work on its next-generation optical reconnaissance system, had agreed to delay until the last minute any system definition that would not be compatible with Musis. He agreed that at some point, around the end of 2010, such decisions will need to be made to keep the next-generation system on schedule.