France to launch 'fearsome' surveillance satellites to bolster space defences

France to launch 'fearsome' surveillance satellites to bolster space defences
By Reuters
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PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to launch mini surveillance satellites to enhance the protection and defence of French satellites from 2023, its defence minister said on Thursday, signalling an intensification in the race to militarise space.

Defence Minister Florence Parly said France was not being sucked into an arms race and that the creation of a new French 'space command' announced by the president was central to a strategy to bolster defence capabilities, rather than offensive.

"If we want to be able to carry out real military operations in space, then we need to develop the ability to act alone," Parly said, speaking at the Lyon-Mont Verdun air base.

The 'space command', Parly said, would fall under the air force's control. With space fast becoming one of the greatest challenges to national security, the government would draw up new legislation to hand oversight of all French activities in space to the defence ministry.

President Emmanuel Macron's desire to create a space command, which Parly announced will go live on Sept. 1, followed U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to usher in a new space force that will form the sixth branch of the U.S. military by 2020.

Parly described the mini-satellites that will patrol space from 2023 as "fearsome little detectors that will be the eyes of our most valuable satellites". Space and aeronautics company Thales had ambitions in the field, she said.

She called on France's European partners to work together on space surveillance. "In particular I count on Germany to be at the heart of space surveillance."

French convictions of the need to strengthen defence capacities in space were strengthened when a Russian satellite last year attempted to intercept transmissions from a Franco-Italian satellite used by both countries armies for secure communications in what it called an "act of espionage".

Oversight of French activities in space currently lies with the French Space Agency (CNES).

(Reporting by Sophie Louet; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Geert De Clercq)

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