PARIS — French President Francois Hollande’s affirmation that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance would be top priorities after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris comes at a time when France’s already-stressed defense budget is committed to major capital spending on three space programs.

The 2016 budget now midway through French parliamentary review is likely to face substantial revision in the coming weeks as the government assesses the financial cost of the measures Hollande outlined in a Nov. 16 address to a rare joint session of the French parliament.

French President Francois Hollande addressed a joint session of parliament Nov. 16. Credit: Office of the French President
French President Francois Hollande addressed a joint session of parliament Nov. 16. Credit: Office of the French President

The measures include 3,000 additional troops to be stationed on French soil in addition to the 7,000 already here under previous anti-terror measures and a tripling of France’s air-strike force deployed against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq with the positioning of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

But given the priority afforded to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), France’s 2016 military space spending appears likely to escape major revision. The programs under way or soon to be under contract are: the three-satellite CERES electronics intelligence system;the next-generation military satellite telecommunications program, Comsat NG; and a high-resolution optical satellite system now joined by Germany.

In his speech, Hollande said defense and security intelligence would be a prime focus of French investment. Hollande and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian both stressed that the Nov. 13 attacks appear to have opened formerly closed doors to U.S. intelligence.

U.S. assets, they said, have been combined with French aerial reconnaissance to target Islamic State targets including energy depots and training centers.

The French parliament had been expected to approve the budget by mid-December. Whether that date will be maintained given the new security- and defense-related spending measures is unclear.

The major space programs being examined by French legislators are as follows:

  • Comsat NG is France’s follow-on to the existing Syracuse 3 telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit. With France and Italy placing separate payloads on the Sicral 2 satellite launched in April, France’s immediate need is to replace two of the three Sicral 3 satellites, with at least one launched by 2020.French defense officials have said the Comsat NG contract, to be awarded to a joint Airbus Defense and Space/Thales Alenia Space industrial team, is likely to be signed before the end of the year given the 2020 deployment deadline.
    Budget documents say Comsat NG is likely to cost 827 million euros ($881 million), including the associated ground network. But the payments will be spread out to delay the spending peak until 2019. For 2016, the program has been budgeted at around 70 million euros.
    Comsat NG spending in 2016 will be used to define the user ground segment and the national cryptographic components, according to the budget documents.
  • CERES, a French acronym for Space-based Electromagnetic Intelligence Capacity, is France’s long-promised operational eavesdropping system after several in-orbit demonstration missions.CERES is designed as three satellites flying in formation in low Earth orbit to intercept and characterize potential adversaries’ electronics emissions and to determine their exact locations.The constellation is being built by Airbus Defence and Space, Thales Airborne Systems and Thales Alenia Space, with a planned 2017 critical design review and a launch in 2020. The total program cost is estimated at 340.45 million euros. Spending in 2016 is budgeted at 94.5 million euros, up from 68 million euros in 2015.
  • MUSIS, or the Multinational Space-Based Imaging System, is the French optical surveillance program to follow the military Helios 2 and the two Pleiades civil/military satellites in orbit.Until mid-2015, MUSIS was multinational in name only and represented the failure of France and its European allies to join forces in space-based defense to save money —— just as France and Italy have done. Comsat NG and CERES are both French-only programs.But with Germany’s agreement in mid-2015 to finance a third MUSIS high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite, built in France, the program will expand not only to two nations but also to include Germany’s SARah radar reconnaissance system of three satellites.France’s original MUSIS design was for two identical satellites at different altitudes in polar low Earth orbit. The lower-orbiting satellite would provide extremely high-resolution imagery to be used to identify specific installations that had been spotted by the lower-resolution satellite in higher orbit.

Germany’s entry into MUSIS means more-frequent passage over a given area for the optical satellites, and a ground segment now including terminals capable of capturing both MUSIS optical and SARah radar satellite data.

MUSIS’s total budget is estimated at 682.59 million euros. About 106 million euros will have been invested in 2015, with another 133 million euros to be spent in 2016.

The budget documents evoke, without detailing, “difficulties in the development of the optical segment, which have now been overcome,” that resulted in a shift in launch schedule. The first MUSIS satellite is now planned for launch in 2018, with the second in 2019 and the third in 2021.

Airbus Defence and Space is prime contractor for the three MUSIS satellites, with Thales Alenia Space responsible for the primary imaging instrument. Major subcontractors on the program include Sodern, Thales SESO, Sofradir, Sonaca and Air Liquide.

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