September 17, 2012
Credit: Credit: CNES
Amy Svitak Paris
With a looming cash shortfall and an aging military satellite communications system that needs to be replaced, France is casting a wide net for development options that include privatization of the constellation and joint development with Italy, the U.K. or both.
France's defense equipment agency, DGA, has ordered a pair of nine-month studies valued at €1.7 million ($2.2 million) each on future capabilities of military communications satellites, the results of which will inform defense program decisions as the administration of Francois Hollande updates the country's defense and security strategy in the coming months.
Led by France's two contractors, Astrium Services and Thales Alenia Space, the studies will be guided by a broad mandate to consider various system architectures, ownership schemes and whether ultimately a successor to France's Syracuse 3 system can be harmonized with future requirements to create a binational or trinational milsatcom constellation.
“The program emphasizes the desire to cooperate for this future solution with other European nations, like the U.K. in support of the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty, and Italy, which is a long-time partner in this domain,” the DGA says. “The reason for these studies is to be aware of all possible options, with nothing seen as taboo.”
In 2007, France, Italy and the U.K. collaborated in a joint bid to provide secure satcom capacity to NATO, which has access to Britain's Skynet 4 and Skynet 5 satellites, France's Syracuse 3 constellation and Italy's Sicral system.
But efforts to align military communications requirements among the partners have failed in the past, due largely to industrial policy and national security concerns. While most European governments recognize the savings that could be reaped through joint-system development and operations, today the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and Germany each have their own national milsatcom systems.
In the meantime, France is planning for its next-generation milsatcom capability, dubbed Comsat-NG, to be operational in 2019. The new system will offer Ka and UHF frequency bands in addition to the X-band capacity now available on the country's two Syracuse 3 spacecraft.