France suspects Russian space attack targeted satellite

September 7, 2018 GMT

A Russian spy satellite may have targeted France’s secret communications in space last year, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said.

The Russian aggression is a sign of a new, military space race that requires France and its European allies to beef up their own, independent, infrastructure, Parly said Friday.

Russia’s Louch-Olymp satellite approached a French-Italian orbiter about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the Earth last year in what looked like an “act of espionage,” Parly said, adding that Russia isn’t the only nation developing a more aggressive presence in space, citing the U.S. and China.


“We know for a fact that other great space powers are putting some intriguing objects into orbit, testing potentially offensive capabilities, conducting maneuvers that leave little doubt about their aggressive motives,” Parly said in a speech at the French National Space Agency’s headquarters in Toulouse. “We are in danger,” she added. “The stakes are high. This is an absolute priority.”

New Space Race

France is preparing a new strategy to develop its own space capabilities due to the new military threats brought by China and Russia and tensions with the U.S., the traditional guarantor of European security. Europe is watching with alarm as its main ally revives the Cold-War era space rhetoric, with an explicitly military goal.

In March, U.S. President Donald Trump said he wanted to created an American “Space Force.” He wants Congress to allocate $8 billion over the next five years for space security systems, Vice President Mike Pence said, calling for an “American dominance in space.”

The country will order a series of new satellites to provide surveillance and communications for the army and the intelligence services. The decision will provide orders for key French companies including Thales and Airbus.

The EU plans to earmark 16 billion euros ($19 billion) in its 2021-2027 budget for space, with most going to the the military and civilian satellite navigation system Galileo. The bloc also plans to allocate 500 million euros for security and independent access to space, according to the EU Commission’s June statement. Part of the multibillion Horizon 2020 fund will also go to space innovations. France plans to spend 2 billion euros next year, an official said.

France is also seeking to develop its own “new space” strategy with Germany, to help startups and bigger companies invest in innovative and disruptive space projects in a bid to catch up both financially and technologically with the leading space power China and the U.S.


Russia and China

In February, a U.S. intelligence services warned that both Russia and China could soon possess destructive space weapons.

“Russia and China continue to launch experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities,” the report said, adding that they were threats against “U.S. and allied satellites.”

“Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the non-weaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining that space must be a peaceful domain,” the U.S. office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in the 28-page statement.

With assistance from Thomas Gualtieri .