French Spending on Military Space Research is Solid

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PARIS – Some 18 percent of the combined value of the research contracts that France’s arms procurement agency, DGA, signed with industry in 2004 were for space-related technology development , DGA officials said April 21.

Separately, DGA officials said they are in final negotiations with Italian defense authorities on an Italian role in France’s Helios 2 optical and infrared reconnaissance satellite program.

The first of two planned Helios 2 satellites was launched in December and declared operational in early April. Belgium and Spain already are taking part in Helios 2, each with a 2.5 percent share of the program.

Italy’s share is likely to be of a similar level, officials said, and Greece also has announced it would take a small share.

Italy and France are expected to sign a companion accord this year to permit each nation to use the other’s reconnaissance satellite capacity.

Italy is developing the Cosmo Skymed radar satellite system, whose first satellite is scheduled for launch in 2007.

Presenting the DGA’s 2004 financial accounts and perspectives, DGA head Francois Lureau said space-based research accounts for 18 percent of the agency’s annual research and technology spending on contracts with industry, which in 2004 totaled 454 million euros ($586 million).

DGA’s total research budget for 2004 was 1.3 billion euros, up 10 percent from 2003. That sum includes the payments to industry, plus payments to France’s aeronautical research institute, ONERA, and to the French space agency, CNES.

In addition to launching its own operational programs in space-based observation and telecommunications — the French Defense Ministry’s Syracuse 3A telecommunications satellite is scheduled for launch in late May — DGA’s strategy has been to launch demonstrator satellites on a French-only basis and hope for broader European support later on.

The demonstrator model is being used for space-based eavesdropping, missile warning and laser communications.

Lureau said France is pushing for a sizable research budget to be managed by Europe’s new European Defense Agency, which was created late in 2004 but so far has no real spending power. “It has no real budget now but we are working with our partners in Europe to give it one,” Lureau said.