Tuesday, October 26, 2004

An EU Space, but not just yet

A recent report in DefenseNews appears to pour cold water on the ambitions of the EU to have its own space programme, encompassing both civil and military dimensions. The report, covering a conference held recently in Paris, suggests that "lingering sovereignty issues" make this unlikely.

The conference itself, on 30 September, was devoted to the highly technical subject of "Space Imagery in the Service of Defense and Security," organised by the Foundation for Strategic Research. Various officials attending the conference said that progress in harmonising European nations' strategic interests still had a long way to go.

But Col. Yves Blin, deputy head of the space office in the French joint defence staff, gave the game away, saying that, "I don't imagine we will have a common EU imaging system in the next ten years." "Governments will co-operate, perhaps in association with the EU. But the EU will not own the system, because strategic intelligence is not shared, it is exchanged."

Nevertheless, in the past five years, the French have compiled a document, called Common Operational Requirements, that attempts to harmonise the space-based defence needs of European nations, and a half-dozen EU member states, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, have signed the document.

On that basis, while dismissing the idea of immediate integration, Blin did not rule out full integration after ten years. Bearing in mind that it cannot happen until after the constitution has been ratified, and there is much technical preparation work to complete, a ten-year plus programme is not unrealistic, and is but a short time for commission programmes.

Already, France, Germany and Italy are sharing data from their own military network of satellites, while the Galileo satellite constellation and other sapce assets will be EU-owned, facilitating the march of integration.

Meanwhile, according to ISR Journal, the US Defence Department has upgraded its ability to keep tabs on the orbital environment, and is considering further upgrades in the US space surveillance capabilities.

The National Security Space Office is working to raise the awareness of space control throughout the military and plans to brief Air Force Undersecretary Peter B. Teets at the end of this month, on the results of several recent studies on what it will take to achieve it.

Currently the U.S. military relies primarily on ground-based telescopes and radars for space situational awareness. Improving U.S. capabilities in this area will require upgrades to these assets as well as deployment of space systems such as the Space Based Space Surveillance System, now in development, and the Orbital Deep Space Imager.

And, effectively confirming the capability of the US to down hostile satellites, the Strategic Space 2004 conference held in Washington earlier this month, Air Force Maj. Gen. William Shelton, director of policy, resources and requirements at U.S. Strategic Command, said that "a debate would take place” before the Pentagon deployed any anti-satellite weapons."

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