Britain and Galileo
by Taylor Dinerman
|The European Union is going ahead with Galileo in the face of a British Parliamentary committee’s findings that the whole project has been sold on totally spurious grounds.|
In the case of Galileo, the British objected to the use of the satellite navigation system for military purposes. They actually believed that, according to the rules of EU procedure, they had a veto. It seems as if the other states of the EU, probably under French pressure, ignored any rights the British had or thought they had, and have decided to go ahead and use the encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS) in whatever way they want, but prevent non-EU states from using the PRS for military purposes, at least for the time being.
Not only that, but the European Union is going ahead with the project in the face of a British Parliamentary committee’s findings that the whole project has been sold on totally spurious grounds. The 2001 Arthur Andersen study that purported to show that Europe would reap a cornucopia of economic benefits from this project now seems to be looking less and less prescient. The UK will get a few jobs, but the overall benefit to the British economy is likely to be nil, or even negative.
The system is supposed to be financed, in part, by people being willing to pay a premium for the Commercial and Safety of Life Signals. These are supposed to be absolutely secure and reliable. The major nations backing Galileo have shown by the way they treat their British partner that reliability, and sticking to previously agreed on rules, are not priorities. Potential customers will have to draw their own conclusions.
The idea that Galileo will be more accurate than GPS is no longer plausible, since the US system is consistently giving its users the kind of one-meter accuracy that Galileo promises. The US is not only updating the technology of its navigation satellites, but now has 28 of them in orbit and operational, thus matching the planned operational numbers of the European constellation. It is also true that both systems benefit when various augmentation signals are used. Super accuracy seems to depend more on these elements than on the number of satellites.
Tony Blair’s transport minister announced, according to the November 15, 2004 issue of Space News, that he would veto any authorization for the military use of Galileo. The December 20th Space News includes a story that says that Europe’s governments will go ahead and use the system for their own military purposes, whether Britain agrees to it or not. So Britain, while still expected to pay for part of the project, is being humiliated by its EU partners when it comes to deciding how the system is to be used.
|From the beginning, Galileo was never intended to be civilian. This idea is as silly as that of a civilian aircraft carrier or a civilian armored personnel carrier.|
This is turning into a textbook case of the prime ministerial nightmare. By joining the European project, Britain gave up any possibility of having influence or input into America’s GPS and to the future GPS 3 constellation. Now, the rights they thought they had bought by their contribution to Galileo are those of a minority and very junior shareholder. As one French official is quoted in Space News, “We did not ask for their opinion, nor will we be bound by it.” So much for the rules of the EU.
From the beginning, Galileo was never intended to be civilian. This idea is as silly as that of a civilian aircraft carrier or a civilian armored personnel carrier. Such things may have some non-military uses, but they are hardly instruments of peace. Galileo is a strategic military asset, meant to be one of the cornerstones of the EU’s military power. For Britain to have its clear political will disregarded in this way indicates that Galileo’s backers believe that there are very high stakes involved.
The current plan for the European satellite navigation system may or may not make any business or economic sense, but it has taken on considerable symbolic importance. From the US point of view, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The first small experimental satellites are supposed to be launched this year. After that, the effort to develop unique applications will get underway. Will they really be able to come up with something other than what can already be done with GPS? Stay tuned.