PARIS – France has decided that by 2025 it will invest another €700 million ($780 million), in addition to the €3.6 billion ($4 billion) already earmarked, to boost its space capabilities, strengthening its means of surveillance and acquiring the means to self-defend in space.
“If our satellites are threatened, we will blind those of our adversaries. We reserve the right to choose the time and means of the riposte: it could imply using powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patroller nano-satellites,” explained Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on July 25.
The announcement comes on the heels of the one made by President Emmanuel Macron on July 13 that a Space Command would be created on Sept. 1 in Toulouse, south-west France. Initially staffed by 220 people, it will be subordinated to the Air Force whose name will change to become the Air and Space Force (Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace).
“Eventually, this command will be responsible for all our space operations, under the orders of the chief of staff of the armed forces,” Parly said at the Air Defense and Air Operations Command (CDAOA) on Airbase 942 in Lyon-Mont Verdun.
She explained that “today our allies and our military adversaries are militarizing space. […] We must act. We must be ready.” To this end she announced a new weapons program called “Mastering Space” with two major components: surveillance and active defense.
France is one of the few countries to have its own space surveillance system thanks to the Graves and Satam radars and the telescopes deployed by the Ariane Group and the CNRS (the state-funded scientific research center). “The successor of Graves must be able to detect satellites 1,500 kilometers away that are no bigger than a shoe-box,” she declared.
Actions would be taken to protect satellites, such as adding surveillance cameras to the Syracuse communications satellites and procuring patroller nano-satellites from 2023, according to the defense minister.
Officials stress that this new strategy falls entirely within international legal framworks, which guarantee freedom of exploration and use of space as well as the principle of self-defense. However, France’s own National Space Law will have to be adapted within an inter-ministerial framework in order to take account of the specifics of military space.
Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.