France joins race for next-generation anti-satellite systems

Max Blenkin

In a further step towards the militarisation of space, France has announced plans to develop anti-satellite laser weapons designed to blind other people’s satellites by destroying their sensors.

France joins race for next-generation anti-satellite systems
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But France said it would only deploy such weapons in self defence. Additionally, France plans to set up its own space force, called the Air and Space Army, which will form part of the French Air Force.

But France’s expressed intention to create laser anti-satellite weapons certainly attracted international attention.

"If our satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries," said French Defence Minister Florence Parly during a speech in the city of Lyon.

"We reserve the right and the means to be able to respond: that could imply the use of powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patrolling nano-satellites.

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"We will develop powerful lasers. It's an area in which France has fallen behind. But we will catch up."

Last year, France accused Russia of space espionage after one of its satellites approached one of their military communications satellites.

"It got close. A bit too close," Minister Parly said at the time.

"So close that one really could believe that it was trying to capture our communications."

On the eve of Bastille Day, 14 July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention of creating a French space force command.

This would be based in Toulouse. As it’s early days, it’s not yet clear if the Air and Space Army would remain part of the French Air Force or become a separate service.

This doesn’t make France that different from the US, China and Russia, which have all announced plans for space forces.

A number of countries, including the US, China, Russia and most recently India possess capability to destroy satellites in low-Earth orbit with missiles fired from the ground.

They and others may also possess capabilities to destroy other people’s satellites by deliberately manoeuvring satellites to create collisions. Satellites could be temporarily disabled by jamming.

However, any kinetic means would like likely produce significant quantities of space debris, which could indiscriminately damage or destroy other satellites.
A NATO official told Agence France-Presse that there was no known deployment of space-based weapons in orbit but concerns were growing about more aggressive behaviour from China and Russia.

Military forces around the world maintain vital capabilities in space, including surveillance, navigation and communications satellites that an adversary would seek to neutralise in event of a conflict on Earth.

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