Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Does the government know what it is doing?

China Daily, the Chinese government news agency, is stepping up its propaganda war on Galileo while the US has quietly put into service a new weapon designed to jam enemy satellite communications.

The Chinese move was announced in a release yesterday evening, with Fang Xiangming, deputy general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, reported as being "keen to stress that China intends to use the system for civilian purposes only." Crucially, he was speaking during high-level Sino-French dialogues in aviation and spaceflight, implying French approval of his stance.

As regards the US dimension, its anti-satellite equipment, designated as a "Counter Communications System", was declared operational late last month at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

This was revealed by the Reuters news agency which had questioned the Air Force Space Command last week, when it was admitted that it had on its inventory ground-based jammers which uses electromagnetic radio frequency energy to knock out transmissions from hostile satellites.

They can be used on a temporary and reversible basis, without frying components, the command said, following which "the space-based capabilities used by the adversary can return to its original state."

However, a pamphlet published by the Centre for European Reform last week, called "Europe in Space", indicated that this might not be enough. In a section on "European defence and space technology", it is revealed that financial provision has been made in the Galileo programme – which the pamphlet acknowledges is part of the "European military space system" – for adding a "jam-resistant military signal" to the system.

Under current US doctrine, the options for dealing with hostile satellites are described as the "five Ds" – to deceive, disrupt, deny, degrade or destroy targets. If Galileo is made jam-resistant, therefore, this ups the ante and makes it more likely that the US might have to destroy satellites if their signals are used against them.

With the Chinese developments, the increasingly close association between France and China, and with the US taking increasingly concrete measures to maintain its space dominance, we are insidiously creeping further down the line of the militarisation of space, with the UK allied to the EU as partner in the Galileo programme.

Once again, therefore, we must reiterate the question put by Allister Heath in this Sunday’s The Business, reproduced in this Blog: "Does the government know what it is doing?" And, given the lack of interest from most of the mainstream media, does anyone actually care?

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