Thursday, March 24, 2005

Space – the great divide

In September last, we wrote of how, quietly, or so it seemed – and certainly without any noticeable publicity in the British media – the EU was gearing itself up to become a significant military space power.

That was in the wake of a meeting of the EU Council's "politico-military group" which recommended that the Union's member states should pool all their space navigation resources, fuse their civilian and military programmes and allow for collective access to them. The priority, the Council said then, "should be for Europe to define common standards for all planned and future Space programmes".

This is turn followed on from the publication in June of the Commission's White Paper on space which, as we noted then, bore the somewhat provocative title of "A New Frontier for an Expanding Union", more so when its sub-title was as "action plan for implementing the European Space Policy".

Considering that space policy does not become an EU competence until or unless the EU constitution is ratified, the very fact that the EU was undertaking serious studies on developing this area was, in itself, alarming, and it is very clear that the EU is proposing an extended European space policy to support, in its own words, "the achievement of the European Union's policy goals".

Effectively ignored by the mainstream media, policy development has continued apace and now a little-noticed provision stemming from the White Paper has come to fruition. That was the setting up of a "Panel of experts in the field of space and security" to provide the EU commission with a report "on the current EU needs for multi-use capabilities in accordance with the White Paper on European Space Policy".

The purpose of the panel of experts was to "define synergies and make proposals for inclusion in the European Space Programme", acknowledging the role of space "and the available capabilities for civil and military use".

After many months of toil, the report of the panel of experts is now available and very interesting reading it makes too. Writ large throughout the whole document are not only the space ambitions on the Union but, in that space assets have crucial military applications, what also come clear are the military ambitions.

What the panel is proposing is a network of satellite communications, space-based Earth observation platforms, a "signal intelligence" capability, space-based early warning systems, a navigation system – the Galileo programme – and a space surveillance system.

Ominously, though, while the report is larded with "touchy-feely" sentiments about humanitarian aid and details of civil applications – including disaster relief and co-ordination of emergency services – what comes over unmistakably is the plethora of military applications, and the central role of space assets in the organisation and functioning of the European Rapid Reaction forces.

With the European Defence Agency as an observer on the panel, it is also no surprise to see a prominent place in the report for “network enabled operations”, to which we drew attention recently in the context of the EDA’s ambitions. Clearly, the panel has recognised that modern military forces are totally reliant on space assets and it is determined that there should be a European capability in this important respect.

In this context, the report looks at "interoperability". In terms of military procurement strategies, it says, there is a very clear shift away from procurement of large platforms (i.e., tanks) towards network enabled capabilities. These are increasingly focused, is says, on the needs of joint and combined forces in which interoperability lies at the heart of the requirement.

"This is not just a buzz word", the report goes on to say. "It is the word":

Interoperability between communities of interest within Europe is seen to be essential. This increasingly means interoperability of command structures as well as network protocols. European should evolve its own view of network enabled capability and ensure that researchers, development teams and the operational users are all clear about the vision that this embodies.
There you have it. The space policy is the glue that binds all the military users of the EU member states together and the driver is "interoperability", to ensure that all the different national formations are harmonised to work to common standards - European standards.

What is not said is how essential it is that the systems should be interoperable with US forces. Yet, without a determined political will, from both sides of the Atlantic, this will not happen. In fact, it is not intended to happen. This report sets out a "European vision". Space is not only the final frontier. For the EU and the US, it is about to become the great divide.

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