The terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives in Paris Nov. 13 are bound to have near-term impacts on France’s defense spending plans, but three military space programs requiring substantial investments in the coming years should remain on track.
The programs in question are the Comsat NG military satellite communications system; the three-satellite CERES electronic intelligence system; and the Multinational Space-based Imaging System (MUSIS), an effort recently joined by Germany in an arrangement that gives France access to German radar satellites. The three programs, which are recently or soon to be under contract, are expected to cost more than $300 million combined in 2016, with funding profiles pointing upward for subsequent years.
All three contribute to the overall intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission, which French officials have identified as a top priority. This shouldn’t change as France gears up for its war on terrorism, both at home and abroad.
The immediate requirements for the fight include more security forces on the ground in France and an increased ability to project power in places like Syria, where the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks holds large swaths of territory.
But space-based communications and intelligence capabilities are keys that enable military forces to operate more efficiently and effectively, no matter what the mission. Space assets also have proved to be of direct assistance in locating terrorists and uncovering their plots.
If the U.S.-led war on terrorism launched after the Sept. 11 attacks is any indication, France’s fight will still be raging by the time Comsat NG, CERES and MUSIS are up and operating. Even if the Islamic State is routed by then, any number of new threats are likely to crop up in its place, and dealing them, regardless of the form they take, will require state-of-the-art ISR capabilities.
France has allies in its effort, including the United States, whose space-based capabilities are second to none. Having powerful assets of its own could give France bartering leverage for access to U.S. satellite data. In any case, there really is no such thing as too much when it comes to space capabilities among allies, especially at a time when satellites are said to be facing an array of threats.
Given financial stresses that never seem to go away for anyone, there are bound to be losers as France rearranges some of its military spending priorities. Space should not be one of them.