PARIS --- The military space policies of France and Britain are both similar and divergent. A comparison of the French and British military space strategies, not to establish a ranking per se (neither useful nor relevant), is an interesting exercise that reveals the similarities and divergences for these two broadly comparable military powers. Their approaches mark different priorities or degrees of maturity for both players, and highlight the common challenges of achieving the ambitions as set out.
France and Britain published their first military space doctrines within years of each other. The French Armed Forces Minister detailed its own on 25th July, 2019, making France one of the first country to openly describe its military ambitions for the space domain after the US, with the aim to move from a domain supporting operations to a domain in itself.
Recently the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) formally unveiled its own on February 1, 2022, a strategy directly supporting the National Space Strategy (NSS) published last fall, and operationalizing its own space domain.
To summarize, the threat-analysis is quite similar in both documents, with a few exceptions: from Electronic Warfare (EW) to attacks on ground-based systems, from anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) to laser to dazzle satellites… With a slightly more alarmist tone on the French side, which could be explained by a more concrete knowledge of the events, due to a different policy approach and marketing initiative to persuade stakeholders of the level of effort to be made in the domain.
With trends expected to grow related to the increasing of the dependence on space, from New Space (new private players, constellation of hundreds of satellites…) to Next Space (mega constellation for persistent capabilities, use of spatial energy and material sources, new ways to access space…), and other expected next steps.
Thus, for the two space powers, a clear approach must be found as strategic competition between great powers, in particular in space, is back. Especially since space is a domain in which “grey actions” (non-attributable, like in cyber space) by competitors are very possible.
Each space power clearly does not start from the same point. As said by officials from both countries, with relative limited budgets, it was important to take a smart approach.
For the UK, for example, it’s a clear choice to build on specializations in secure and resilient satellite communications, or ISR capabilities, as described below, while gradually developing other capabilities, whereas France, particularly on the defensive side, is already at a higher level of maturity.
France's majestic but lonelier space journey
On 3rd September, 2019, the French Space Command (CdE) was effectively created, under the responsibility of the French Air Force (renamed the Air & Space Force a few months later) and General Michel Friedling, with three main pillars:
-- Support to operations (with new capabilities funded: earth observation, signal intelligence, communication… see below);
-- Space Situational Awareness (SSA) where a lot remains to be done to build a full real-time capability;
-- Active defence in space to perform actions to deter aggression and act against space capabilities and protect them if need be.
As said at the time, and since reconfirmed, France ruled out kinetic anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) due to the debris they cause, and prefers, among other solutions, some sort of “bodyguard” satellites to detect and prevent hostile approaches, and if necessary to protect assets with jamming and blinding capabilities.
In addition to the material aspects, the main efforts are: training, human resources (from 220 in 2019 to around 300 today and 500 in 2025), and cooperation. With the hosting of the NATO centre of expertise on space, or through bilateral partnerships in particular with the United States, or with European partners as Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium, and non-Europeans ones: India, Japan, Canada, and Australia – although that was before the AUKUS agreement.
In terms of capabilities, the French military planning law (LPM) for 2019-2025, written before the Space Command was formed, provided €3.6 billion for space programs, mostly for the new generation of satellites, and an additional €700 million to fund the preparatory work on the SSA 2.0 and active defence was announced a few months later.
The current LPM includes a global program named ARES (i.e. Spatial Action & Resilience) for the renewal of France’s military space infrastructures (in particular a new command in Toulouse, in the south of the country) for C4 capability (Command, Control, Communications & Computers) and common information system, including the CSO electro-optical reconnaissance satellites, CERES signal-intelligence satellite, Syracuse-4 communication satellites, and the future GRAVES ground-based space-surveillance radar.
At the same time, the developments for the YODA space action demonstrator (‘Yeux en Orbite pour un Démonstrateur Agile’, or In English ‘Eyes in Orbit for an Agile Demonstrator’) are continuing, a part of the approach to provide an initial capability to defend French interests in space by 2030.
These future nano-satellites will be launched in geostationary orbit in order to validate satellite approach technologies and size proximity operation payloads, before the launch of real heavier patrol satellites that can detect, hide or dazzle other malicious or unfriendly approaches. Additional funds could also support space situational project, in particular with Germany. The roadmap is defined as ambitious but well balanced, it is up to the actors to implement it.
(to be continued)