France, US to work together in space — if not in Africa

France, US to work together in space — if not in Africa

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper greets French defense minister Florence Parly at the Pentagon on Monday (TMN photo by Tom Squitieri)

WASHINGTON — France and the U.S. will conduct joint exercises in preparation for the militarization of space, the two nations’ top defense officials said Monday. A NATO role in space may be forthcoming.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Monday that “there will be exercises, common exercises, with each other” in response to a question by TMN. She and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Pentagon reporters after a 90-minute meeting at the Pentagon.

“Our respective space commanders have strong dialogue together,” Parley said, adding that space cooperation was part of the just-concluded 90-minute discussion. She acknowledged it could be a topic at the upcoming meeting of NATO defense ministers in February.

The U.S. and France established stand-alone space forces in September 2019. France’s Space Operations Command is based in Toulouse and, like the U.S. Space Force, is part of the Air Force.

Although France has promised to abide by guidelines against weaponizing outer space, one reason President Emmanuel Macron pushed for the entity was to protect satellites from Chinese aggression, Last year Parly acknowledged that France intends to have weaponized satellites capable of destroying other satellites in orbit by 2030, with French satellites armed machine guns and lasers.

“We do not want to embark on a space arms race,” Parly said last summer. “We will conduct a reasoned arsenalization.”

Esper said Paris and Washington expect to continue working together in space. “Our nations have been in space for many, many years,” Esper said. “It’s just been recently that both China and Russia pushed us to the point where it became a war-fighting domain.”

The U.S. now works with other nations regarding space operations through the Combined Space Operations Center.

Last week French General Michel Friedling, the head of France’s new Space Command, warned of “grey actions” in space that stopped short of being hostile. ”But all space powers are developing capabilities and systems capable of spying, neutralizing and even destroying,” he said, according to news reports.

He said France is looking for “capable partners with ambitions,” Italy seems ready to create a space command and join. Not all NATO nations agree, however.

Japan, not a member of NATO, plans to begin a space force as part of its Air Force this spring.

Parly seemed less successful in convincing Esper not to reduce the U.S. military assistance to France in Africa.

Esper declined to respond to questions about the reported drawdown of U.S. anti-terrorist forces in Arica, other than to say it is part of a larger review of all operations. The Pentagon has about 6,000 military personnel across Africa, while about 4,500 French troops are deployed in what is known as the Sahel — sub-Sahara Africa — with a strong focus on anti-terrorism activity in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Parly said the U.S. support is crucial.

“I will mention again that U.S. support is critical to our operations, and its reduction would severely limit our effectiveness in our operations against terrorists,” she said. “Our friends in the Sahel are in a situation where our assistance is critical, and I have expressed the hope that both the United States and France will keep on supporting them.”

Since the French intervention in Mali 2013, the U.S. has been aiding French troops with intelligence, aerial surveillance and in-flight refueling.

Esper said that “I give France great credit for what they’ve done. I think it’s time for other European allies to assist as well. That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”

 

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