Their names are Syracuse and Ceres. They are located more than hundreds or thousands of kilometers above our heads, and they have recently allowed France to take a new step in the defense of its citizens.
The first one is a pillar of our sovereignty: This satellite allows the French military to process and exchange millions of gigabytes of data in real time. At a time of connected warfare and the digitization of the battlefield, such a capability is essential. Without Syracuse, the French armed forces would not have been able to conduct with the same success the Hamilton operation to destroy chemical weapons in Syria in 2018. At that time, there were two satellites; the third joined the stars in October 2021.
As for Ceres, in November 2021 it offered France its first electromagnetic observation capability from space — a first in Europe. In concrete terms, it will be possible to observe any part of Earth, whatever the weather, to detect — even through the clouds — any object that emits electromagnetic waves, whether an air defense radar, an armored vehicle communicating with other vehicles or soldiers communicating with radios. The objective: to lift the fog of war and thus reduce the enemy’s ability to conceal himself or his movements. In the fight against terrorism, this will be a valuable capability.
These new satellites have a particularity: They are designed to resist military attacks from the ground and in space as well as jamming. We have seen in the past indiscreet foreign satellites whose actions have more than flirted with espionage. We are not alone; eight other countries, including Europeans, have observed the same phenomenon.
If space was the “new frontier” of the 1960s, there is no doubt that today it is a “new front” on the battlefield.
Space is today a keystone of our defense. Anticipating and planning maneuvers, spotting the enemy, guiding our forces on the ground, and communicating: Not a single one of our operations can happen without our space capabilities. Operating in and through space is our goal. That is why President Emmanuel Macron has decided to provide France with a true defense space strategy.
Europe must take up this issue, and we will be there to support it and share our vision and experience. It is necessary that the states be able to control the risks. It is necessary that we continue to defend free access to space and that we preserve our autonomy to access it. For it is our independence that is at stake. Our freedom of appreciation, access and action in space are at stake.
As France is preparing for the presidency of the European Union Council during the first semester of 2022, access to the strategic commons, especially outer space, will be on the agenda. This is also an issue we want to bring to NATO, which recognized space as a fifth operational environment in 2019. The future NATO space center of excellence will be located in Toulouse.
The stakes go far beyond the battlefield: Our entire daily life depends on our space defense. A smartphone connects to dozens of satellites every day, depending on the applications it is used for. Jamming or disabling satellites means endangering the freedom and security of citizens. Recently, a reckless anti-satellite weapon test carried out by Russia not only demonstrated the threat against satellites is not science fiction, but also created new risks by disseminating debris all over. Such irresponsible behaviors create a major risk to the security of space operations, including manned orbital flights, and can jeopardize our access to space. Therefore, France actively promotes the development under the auspices of the United Nations of a set of norms of responsible behavior in space.
In fact, space is not the only strategic common we must protect. Our daily life also depends a lot on the seabed, in particular on the cables that allow us to have access to the internet and to communicate from one continent to another. That is why France will present a seabed warfare strategy in 2022.
One thing is certain: We know space much better than we know the seabed. We now know about space, cyber and artificial intelligence; every frontier of our technological knowledge has been pushed back. But there is still one left: the seabed. This is the last frontier.
Florence Parly is France’s armed forces minister.