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Europe and Military Space Projects

European military interest in space applications has been rather small in the past because there was little involvement of European military forces in overseas operations and therefore low demand. For many years, France and the UK were the only two countries with domestic military satellite systems, while others accessed third party capacities. In the late 1990s, several European countries identified space assets as a key gap in their military equipment and considered that securing autonomous access to satellite capacities was a top priority. However all programs have been pursued under national initiatives, resulting in duplicated investment and redundant capabilities at a time of scarce funding.

European military space budgets declined in the late 1990s before increasing again. The annual European institutional civil budget is steadily increasing and was over €5 bn by 2007, most of which is directed through the European Space Agency (ESA). The annual European institutional military budget was much lower at less than €1 bn1. Although Europe was the second largest global player in space, its annual institutional budgets were dwarfed by those of around €13 bn and €15 bn for the US civil and military budgets respectively.

The gap between the US and Europe in terms of military space capability and maturity is a major point of concern in Europe. The cumulative budget of European countries in military space activities of $916 million in 2004 was a factor of 20 below that of the US. The US had also maintained a space program and much higher investment over a much longer period of time compared to Europe. The general defense budget in the US was, however, only 2 to 3 times greater than that in Europe, suggesting that the differences in the military space markets were largely due to different views on the effectiveness and potential use of space assets for military purposes.

Funding in Europe is nationally based, resulting in a duplication of research and development in addition to being less efficient than a collective effort. Funding was also highly correlated to individual projects and therefore highly cyclical, focussed on only a few programs at any single point in time. In contrast, the US invested widely in a larger range of application fields simultaneously, while Europe focuses only on telecommunications and surveillance technology. This was also related to funding, as it is the scale of US spending that allows for such investment compared to Europe.

The absence of a collective funding and management body for production, research and development of space technologies in the military sector, similar to the ESA, prevents efficient and effective development of the industry. The European Defence Agency (EDA) is moving in this direction, but is only in its infancy, having commenced activities in 2004, and is restricted by a very limited budget. Part of the progress made recently includes the establishment of a Space Assets Group within the European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP) aimed at identifying and filling gaps in military software and hardware programs.

There are two control regimes of interest - EU exports and ITAR. Although the EU export of items with the potential for military use is subject to EC Regulation 1334/2000, there is a widespread view that the regulatory regime needs to be improved. To address such concerns, the Commission published (in December 2006) a “Communication on the Review of the EC Regime of Controls of Exports of Dual-use Items and Technology”. The purpose of this Communication is to improve clarity, coordination and security over the potential export of dual-use items from the EU.

The corresponding US system is ITAR (International Trade in Armaments Regulations) which is applied rigorously by the US to restrict the export of sensitive technology (and ideas) from the US. While ITAR can create difficulties for European industry in, for example, obtaining critical components from the US, it can also provide opportunities. In particular, European companies can offer ITAR-free systems (for some applications) for export, thus gaining market share over the US. As such, on balance, ITAR is not seen as major problem for the European industry.

Growing tensions between the EU/US and China or Russia could lead to a new type of space race and the gradual ‘weaponisation’ of space. EU countries strengthen their common security and defence policy. Military space plays a central role and a core group of like-minded countries agree to coordinate their military space programs so as to minimise duplication. This could lead to the rationalisation and development of Europe’s military space infrastructure. Europe could establish an independent space capability, but also requires interoperability with US military space-based assets. The military space industry of the US and the EU could become increasingly integrated. The demand for communication and EO satellites would increase.

The level of defence funding increases under this scenario, resulting in a major European defence space program. Space defence and security budgets could be increased to €2 billion, and maintained at this level thereafter. For the purposes of the scenario analysis, this can be assumed to be an average of around 10% increase in institutional (space) defence budgets per year, in order to deliver a European military space program. Domestic dedicated military satellite systems for communications and Earth observation are replaced and expanded and new military specific applications (e.g. Elint/Sigint, data relay) are developed domestically and through European integration.

In an increasingly hostile poly-centric world, military space budgets would increase worldwide and there is a high level of military action. Military space assets for communication, Earth observation and navigation are developed and strengthened and European military budgets grow at a rate of 5% per year. Although larger space-faring countries increase the resources devoted to their defence capability, cooperation remains limited and does not lead to meaningful integration of defence capabilities. At the European level, national interests are followed with little or no integrated European military effort.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2019 19:04:48 ZULU