PARIS — The French Defense Minister is calling for a 50 percent increase in the country’s military space spending and also is proposing a Europe-wide effort to beef up military space capabilities through reciprocal dependence on nationally owned space-based military assets.
Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, in what may be her last major strategic proposal before French elections this spring, says in a policy document published Feb. 15 that France should increase its annual military space budget to 650 million euros ($846 million) per year.
That would represent a 50 percent increase from the current budget, which averages 433 million euros per year in the six-year spending blueprint covering the years 2003 to 2008.
Under Alliot-Marie, the French Defense Ministry has embarked on a series of demonstrator satellites to test technologies for missile warning, eavesdropping, laser communications, and the detection and identification of ground-based radar systems. Her stated goal has been to stimulate a Europe-wide effort and demonstrate France’s belief in the strategic necessity of space-based defense.
French defense officials concede that the result up to now has not been encouraging. But Alliot-Marie and officials from the French arms-procurement agency, DGA, say they have begun to see a shift in thinking in Germany, Italy and other European Union nations.
These officials point to the agreement signed in December by six nations — France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Greece — calling for common development of a space-based reconnaissance system called Musis, or Multinational Space-based Imaging System.
Alliot-Marie’s Feb. 15 document, published in English and French and titled “Let’s Make More Space for our Defense: Strategic Guidelines for a Space Defense Policy in France and Europe,” follows a classified report on space-defense policy by a specially appointed group led by Francois Bujon de l’Estang, a former French ambassador to the United States.
The recommendations seek to remove a major obstacle to multinational military space cooperation by saying that, for the system to work, each nation would need to be dependent on the others for major elements of the military space network.
The recommendations say France should be less concerned about which European nation owns a given asset than with preserving a cadre of French specialists trained in interpreting and processing the satellite data.
The report says France is willing to be part of a European missile-defense effort, but it recognizes the difficulty of such a program given the geographical proximity of Europe to potential sources of missile threats.
“[H]ostile missiles should ideally be destroyed during their boost phase so that they fall back on the territory from which they were launched,” the report says. “Should this initial interception fail, we should also plan, as far as feasible, to provide continuous re-engagement capabilities, which implies early detection and tracking of the threat.”
France is expected to decide this year whether to join Italy in a military telecommunications satellite that would carry payloads for both nations, according to the director of DGA.
In a Feb. 13 press briefing here, Francois Lureau made clear that France, with two healthy Syracuse 3 satellites in orbit, is under no pressure to make a quick decision on an in-orbit backup to provide supplemental capacity for French and NATO forces.
“With the launch of Syracuse 3B in August and its delivery into service in October, our operational requirements are satisfied up to 2018,” Lureau said. Syracuse 3A was launched in October 2005. “What we are now thinking of is the possibility of a satellite to provide in-orbit redundancy, and for supplemental demand.”
The creation of the French-Italian Alcatel Alenia Space, merging French and Italian prime contractors, has made it easier for France and Italy to consider joint projects.
Currently two are under discussion. The first would be a military telecommunications satellite that would take the place of the Sicral 2 satellite tentatively planned by Italy and the French Syracuse 3A.
Italy’s requirement for a Sicral 2 satellite has only increased in recent months following the partial failure of the Sicral 1 satellite in late 2006. Italian Defense Ministry officials have attributed the problems to solar activity that perturbed Sicral 1’s electronics.
Industry officials say it’s not clear what caused Sicral 1 to stop communicating for several weeks last fall . It has since been returned to service, but it no longer has all of its pre-failure capacity, according to industry officials.
The Sicral 1 glitch deprived the NATO alliance of some of the UHF satellite capacity it has leased from a single consortium that was formed to offer NATO forces the capacity available on British, French and Italian telecommunications satellites. Italy is responsible for providing most of the UHF service.
Italy now expects to launch its Sicral 1B satellite by the end of the year, although no firm launch contract has been announced and open launch slots in 2007 are rare among European, Russian and U.S. launch-service providers.
France and Italy also are discussing the terms of a joint program to develop a Ka-band-only satellite called Athena/Fidus that would be used for both military and nonmilitary broadband communications that do not require jam-proofing or NATO-standard encryption levels. This satellite would be financed by the French and Italian space agencies.
Auroy said France has also the British and Belgian defense ministries about participating in the development of Athena/Fidus.