Britain's Skynet 5 system was financed by Airbus and is scheduled to end around 2020. Britain's next step is unclear. Credit: Airbus

PARIS — The annual Global Milsatcom conference opens Nov. 8 in London amid a host of questions about what the allied nations of North America, Europe and Asia wish to do together and apart in the coming years.

The U.S. presidential election occurs on the first day and by the start of the conference’s second day, Nov. 9, it should be known whether the U.S.-led military alliance, in NATO and with Asian nations, should brace for a radical shakeup.

Even assuming business as more-or-less usual with the new U.S. administration, there are changes afoot and little clarity about what the next 10 years looks like.

U.S. milsatcom recapitalization

The United States is preparing for what’s expected to be a large recapitalization of is military telecommunications satellite infrastructure. While almost everyone agree it’s coming, there is no consensus over what the new assets will look like.

Just as unknown is whether the internationalization of certain milsatcom programs — such as the broadband Wideband Global System, the narrowband Mobile User Objective system and the Advanced EHF — will decelerate, accelerate or stay about where they are.

Things in Europe are just as go-it-alone as ever. Despite a severe recession following the global financial crisis, European governments have been unable to come together on a single, more cost-effective satellite telecommunications program.

Can that last? It’s unclear. For now, Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany operate their own systems and France — whose current-generation satellites are nearing retirement — is already moving forward on its next generation. Luxembourg, with commercial fleet operator SES, is building a satellite it hopes to get NATO to use.

The 28-nation European Union is expected to release a defense strategy in December, following on from the overall space strategy published on Oct. 26.

Will the EU be allowed to federate European milisatcom?

The EU has long harbored ambitions of federating Europe’s milsatcom sector, promising hundreds of millions of euros in savings to European taxpayers.

But sovereignty still trumps solidarity and cost-effectiveness in Europe, especially when it comes to military satellites. The EU’s proposed Govsatcom program is nonetheless part of the new strategy.

The NATO alliance is a highly interested bystander to all this. NATO’s most likely move is to sign on to one or more member nation efforts to fulfill NATO’s satcom needs once the current contract, leasing capacity on satellites owned by France, Britain and Italy, comes to an end.

Since Global Milsatcom, organized by SMi Group, is held in London, Brexit will be a topic. Will the EU’s proposed Govsatcom effort be more or less likely to be realized with Britain out of the European Union?

Britain’s Skynet 5 military satellite telecommunications system, managed by Airbus Defence and Space, expires in 2022 and the satellites — which were financed and built by Airbus — return to British government ownership.

A year ago, British military officials hinted that they might want to modify the Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative by procuring at least one next-generation satellite on its own, without industry ownership.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.