PARIS — France and the United States are quietly sharing strategy and some advancements in development of military space technology to protect existing satellites and to create capabilities to fight back in space.
Both nations announced this year that they would establish space commands to better coordinate efforts in the new battle ground. Creating a command is considered a forerunner to the establishment of an independent military space force for each nation.
France has the biggest space program in Europe, and its Ariane rockets are well-regarded and often sought by companies for use in the commercial launch market. The program has a planned budget of $4 billion for space defense spending from 2019 to 2025.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and French defense minister Florence Parly discussed each nation’s emerging space entities as one of the topics during their recent meeting in Paris, Pentagon officials said. That followed earlier discussions in August.
“Space is an area of interest to both countries in the regards to national defense,” Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, told TMN on Friday.
“During his recent bilateral meeting with the French defense minister, Secretary Esper noted France is doing more with space, which is true for the Department of Defense as well,” she said.
France already has plans to equip its next generation of military communication satellites with cameras to provide visual images attacks, one part of determining who is threatening a satellite, French military officials, speaking on background, told TMN.
The next generation of French satellites, known as Syracuse, would include weapons that would permit — at a minimum — self defense, these officials said. Such weapons would include lasers to blind enemy satellites or machine guns to destroy the solar panels of a hostile satellite, they said.
Pentagon officials routinely declare the U.S. interests in space are benign and that weaponization of space is against everyone’s interests. However, they have repeatedly expressed concerns publicly and privately about China’s apparent steps to weaponize space and decried the lack defense measures now afford to the Pentagon for that battle space.
By supporting the French development of space defenses and weapons — and then being able to share those developments — the Pentagon could deftly avoid being accused of moving aggressively in space
Last week Gen. John Raymond, head of the U.S. Space Force, told the Air Force Association that the Pentagon will work with allies to find ways to better protect its satellites as well as offset aggressors what he called the “wild, wild west” of space.
“We’re working really hard with our Five Eyes partners and with France, Germany and Japan,” Raymond said, in order to share data and services. The Five Eyes intelligence alliance is Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.
“You have to have a satellite that is defendable,” Raymond told the Air Force Association this week. “U.S. Space Command will put a sharp focus on that.”
Treaties such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and a 2016 U.N. treaty ban the weaponization of outer space.
“The Outer Space Treaty says you can’t have nuclear weapons,” Raymond said. “That’s about what it says. The rest is the wild, wild west.”