Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A European fantasy

With approval having been given for construction of the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system, two consortia are now vying for a contract to deploy and operate the equipment They both submitted final bids today in a tight contest expected to be decided next month.

The two bidders are iNavSat, made up of European aerospace giant EADS, France's Thales, and Britain's Inmarsat, and Eurely, made up of France's Alcatel, Italy's Finmeccanica, and Spain's AENA and Hispasat. A decision on which group would awarded the contract will be taken in mid-February and likely made public in early March.

Amazingly, both bidders list the US Aerospace giant Boeing as one of their non-European partners, a bizarre twist, especially in the case of EADS, Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer and the biggest shareholder in aircraft maker Airbus Industries.

Only recently, these two giants have been at loggerheads over a subsidy dispute, involving the EU and the US government in WTO proceedings, which is now to be negotiated bilaterally.

The iNavSat company is backed by about 40 companies that are expected to provide equipment and services, and they include Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the US, and CASC of China.

It is a measure of the fantasy world in which this project exists that either contractor believes that Boeing could – or would be allowed to – participate in a project which has serious military and strategic implications for the US.

Already the US Congress has expressed serious reservations about the transfer of military technology to European countries and has even blocked transfers to the UK because of fears of "leakage" to other European countries, and thence to China.

With China an active participant in the Galileo project, it seems inconceivable that Boeing can be an active partner – unless, of course, the idea is that the US company should furnish "self-destruct" micro-chips to shut the system down when it starts threatening US interests. Now there's a thought.

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