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An Evaluation of the Military Benefits of the Galileo System
2005-12-29 10:32:03

The U.S. government has publicly and privately expressed concern that Europe's planned Galileo navigation satellite system will adversely affect the integrity of its own Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) and duplicate its functions. The 30-satellite Galileo system will, if brought to fruition, be the most technically sophisticated and costly European space initiative to date. The system's technical features may exceed those of GPS in terms of enhanced accuracy, increased signal strength, and its contribution to the worldwide COSPAS-SARSAT search-and-rescue program.

However, from the perspective of a U.S. government intent on encouraging greater and more-effective arms spending in Europe, Galileo is a frustrating priority. In the words of Frank Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, it is difficult to understand how European members of NATO could spend "money duplicating a system when so many other needs exist."

Possible interference between Galileo's Public Regulated Service (PRS) signals and those of the new GPS M-code have caused consternation in Washington and prompted letters from sources as high as Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense. Many of the more cynical North Americans, however, expect that the strongest enthusiasm for Galileo stems from its potential as a job-creation program for European electronics engineers and as an impetus for preserving the market positions of various manufacturing enterprises.

Apart from some lingering questions about the security arrangements for Galileo's PRS, however, the U.S. government's disdain for Galileo may be misplaced. In reality, Galileo would resolve unfulfilled mili-tary needs in four areas: greater availability in northern latitudes, logistical automation through greater integrity, greater accuracy for all navigation satellite services through somewhat friendly competition, and improved availability in urban areas.

This last advantage is perhaps the most important in light of the campaigns and operations in which NATO forces may find themselves embroiled in the future. (We say NATO forces, not Euro-pean Union [EU] forces, because the kind of military structure that the EU might adopt remains unclear.) This article will examine these benefits in greater detail and assess the associated trade-offs, including the putative challenge to U.S. technology superiority.

Diverging Views Concern in Washington about Galileo may stem from a perception of pending loss of control over a key military and civil capability. Galileo will provide the governments of the EU and European Space Agency (ESA) member states with an extremely accurate satellite navigation system not subject to the operational control of the U.S. Air Force. This clearly has strategic advantages for the defense establishments of the EU member states. (Again, we do not say the EU's defense establishment, because it is still unclear what military role that organization will eventually adopt.)

As stated in the European Commission (EC) Directorate-General for Transport and Energy's December 2001 position paper about the subject, "If the Galileo program is abandoned, [Europe] will, in the next 20 to 30 years, lose [its] autonomy in defense." Because virtually every new weapon system and platform is incorporating satellite navigation technology, most new mili-tary products larger than small arms will depend on reliable space-based guidance in some way. Armaments manufacturers in EU member states will want to be able to sell precision guided weapons overseas without asking U.S. permission for the GPS Precise Positioning Service (PPS).

Also, the EU and ESA know that the overlay of the Galileo PRS signal atop the GPS L1 signal will greatly complicate U.S. efforts to jam Galileo signals without affecting GPS service, which they themselves want to continue to use. For all these reasons, building the Galileo navigation system is a very effective way to raise the marketability of European weapons systems.

Not So Simple Galileo, of course, will not necessarily liberate European countries from reliance on a nonnational authority for satellite navi-gation. The individual national governments of the EU member states will not, of their own accord, control Galileo. That will rest with the Galileo Joint Undertaking (JU), the Galileo System Security Board, the EU, or some other supranational controlling authority.

Last year the European Parliament voted to ask the EU/ESA Joint Undertaking on Galileo not to exclude the possibility for European military forces to use Galileo in the context of peacekeeping operations. But such uses could raise new complications for Europe. Whether the EC, the European Parliament, or the national governments themselves would indefinitely look the other way at all questionable uses of Galileo remains uncertain. For example, London and Paris might wonder what would happen if the Commission in Brussels disapproved of a British or French expedition overseas -- one that used the encrypted signals of the PRS to restore order on their terms. Even countries such as Belgium (in the Congo) or Spain (in Morocco) have reasons for military activities outside the bounds of the EU. Furthermore, the possibility of war between Greece (a NATO and EU member) and Turkey (a current NATO member and possible future EU member) raises questions about how the ESA and the EU would react. Scenarios such as these have not been adequately analyzed largely because to date the EU has not had to contend with strife among its members in these kinds of international situations.

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