Dr Richard North
Contrary to EU spin the substantive issues of concern surrounding the Galileo satellite project have not been resolved.
Over the past eight years, there has been a profound revolution in military technology, equivalent in scale to the transition from the musket to the machine gun - although that barely begins to describe its magnitude. That revolution is the American-owned GPS, which became fully operational in 1995.
Over the past eight years, there has been a profound revolution in military technology... That revolution is the American-owned GPS
However, this technology will remain dominant only if it stays under US control, which is now challenged by the development of the European Union's equivalent of GPS - the Galileo system. This is projected to be fully operational by 2008, and has considerable implications for the United States, not least because of increasing EU links with China.
The Galileo system has considerable implications for the United States, not least because of increasing EU links with China.
Before dealing with these issues, it is necessary to understand some of the military applications of GPS, and how the system has revolutionised warfare. In short, there are two main areas, the first in weapons targeting, and the second in what is loosely described as 'command and control'.
In terms of weapons targeting, we have all become familiar with the astounding accuracy of bombs dropped by Allied aircraft, which we first saw in the 1991 Gulf War. Those weapons, then, were laser-guided, which have the limitation of requiring line-of-sight direction, and are thus of little use in cloudy or low-visibility conditions. By 2002, however, many of these weapons were GPS guided, giving them an all-weather capability to combine with their unprecedented accuracy.
Another advantage in a tactical situation is that GPS guidance is 'passive' - it requires no transmissions from either the delivery platform (the aircraft) or from the weapon, and is therefore relatively immune to jamming and other countermeasures.
Of the second issue, 'command and control' is at least as important as accurate weapons targeting, if not more so. Here, most people will be familiar with the term 'fog of war': this term accurately conveys the difficulty in commanding forces during the height of a battle. Once military assets were committed, senior commanders had limited information on their dispositions and overall control was lost, with increasing reliance placed on tactical commanders, who themselves had an imperfect grasp of the whole situation.
With GPS equipment and transponders, issued to individual vehicles, and even to small groups of troops, however, it is now possible for senior commanders, remote from the battlefield, to have 'real time' information of the disposition of friendly forces, to an unprecedented degree, without having to rely on situation reports from local commanders.
In terms of maintaining those advantages, an important facet of GPS is the facility known as 'selective accessibility', whereby the US can deprive the enemy (and its allies) access to the system, ensuring that it (they) cannot use the technology for targeting weapons, or for its (their) own command and control systems.
Enemies [of America] may still be able to rely on Galileo, which the EU may continue to keep operational if it sees advantages in so doing, irrespective of US interests.
This changes with the EU having its own system - Galileo. The US could lose its facility to ensure 'selective accessibility', whereby even if it shuts down its own system, enemies may still be able to rely on Galileo, which the EU may continue to keep operational if it sees advantages in so doing, irrespective of US interests. This become a real possibility when China, last September, announced that it would invest 230m euros ($259m; £160m) in the Galileo system, roughly a fifth of the expected cost of building the 1.1bn euros network of 30 satellites.
China, last September, announced that it would invest 230m euros ($259m; £160m) in the Galileo system
Beijing was already intent on rapidly developing a more potent modernised military, and is focusing on the US as an enemy. In 2001, its Peoples' Liberation Army tested a new air-to-air missile and new aircraft carrier-killer guided missile destroyers. Galileo now gives it the means to improve the accuracy of its ballistic and cruise missiles.
With the EU currently making overtures about lifting the arms embargo imposed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and actively co-operating with satellite technology - having launching a joint China-EU satellite in December - the way seems clear for China to exploit the military potential of Galileo.
This is particularly advantageous for China. While establishing a satellite system and the necessary ground infrastructure is relatively expensive, the total costs being estimated at €6 billion, it gets cut-price access and the benefit of cheap user-end technology. A satellite guidance system for a ground-to-ground missile is estimated to cost as little as $18,000, while giving China the accuracy upgrades it is seeking at prices it can afford.
These are highly worrying developments. Independent access to satellite guidance could prejudice the success of US military intervention, or increase the risks beyond acceptable levels. More likely, it could encourage China to escalate its brinkmanship over a number of issues, which could then get out of control. On the other hand, it could give the nascently anti-American EU, with its aspirations of becoming a major player on the world scene, the ability to apply irresistible leverage, and interfere in US foreign policy decisions.
It could encourage China to escalate its brinkmanship over a number of issues... On the other hand, it could give the nascently anti-American EU the ability to interfere in US foreign policy decisions.