Satellite Makers See Chinese Competitive Threat Differently

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WASHINGTON — Commercial satellite manufacturers disagreed March 19 on whether China, whose launch services industry is well established, presents a similar threat in satellite building.

Jean-Loic Galle, chief executive of Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, said the Chinese are unlikely to present a serious competitive threat in the near-term. Galle, whose background is in the area of air-defense and other radars, said China was viewed as a threat in air-defense radars 15 years ago.

Since then, he said, the Chinese radar manufacturers have been largely unable to crack a market still dominated by Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Thales. “I am not afraid of competition from the Chinese,” Galle said. “They have a ways to go.”

John Celli, president of Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., disagreed, saying too many high-quality engineers from China and other “proscribed” nations are graduating from top U.S. engineering schools but unable to secure residents’ status in the United States. Forced to return to their home countries — including China — these engineers ultimately will raise the manufacturing quality of their countries’ products.

“So long as we continue to have their top engineers at our colleges and then refuse to give them a green card and force them to go back — I’m a little worried about this,” Celli said. “They have unlimited resources and sooner or later they are going to be threatening us.”

Celli said Space Systems/Loral recently tried to hire engineering graduates from Ohio State University but could not because they were from nations whose citizens face hurdles before being given permanent-residence status.

Stephen T. O’Neil, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said he agreed with Celli that the permanent-visa policy is not helpful.

Chinese officials have made clear that their DFH-4 telecommunications satellite platform is being steadily improved after initial hiccups in satellites launched for Nigerian and Chinese customers. In the past few years, there have been fewer reported incidents of issues with the DFH-4, which is often bundled with a Chinese Long March rocket to offer turnkey systems to customers, many of them national governments that are seeking their first satellite.