LONDON — British military officials said they had no firm position on whether the benefits of remaining in Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing system are worth the cost.
The military also has yet to deliver an opinion on whether a domestic British space-launch capability is, on balance, a good idea.
Addressing the Global MilsatCom conference here Nov. 7, Gen. Chris Deverell, commander of the Joint Forces Command at the British Defense Ministry, said Brexit should not scuttle British space-security cooperation with its European neighbors. He specifically said Britain would seek at least some sort of cooperation agreement on Galileo, which is owned by the 28-nation European Union.
“The UK’s departure from the European Union will not prevent us from working on space security with our European neighbors on matters of space security,” Deverell said. “As well as working bilaterally with member states of the EU, the UK will seek the closest possible participation in EU space programs such as Galileo, commensurate with the contribution that UK government and industry has made to date, and where we can continue to add real value.”
In addition to having a large industrial role in the production of Galileo satellites and hosting a Galileo Security Monitoring Center — France also has such a center — Britain has been among the most active nations in endorsing Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS).
Similar to the U.S. GPS M-code, PRS is reserved for government and military users and offers higher resistance to jamming.
The U.S. and Norwegian governments have formally requested access to PRS from the European Union, a process which should be a formality given Norway’s relationship to the EU and the fact that most EU nations are NATO members and, as such, have access to the GPS M-code.
Britain presumably could make a similar application once its departure from the EU is complete. But its industrial role in future Galileo evolutions would be seriously compromised.
Nick Ayling, head of cyber and space policy at the British Defense Ministry, told the conference that the ministry was still weighing Galileo’s post-Brexit risks and rewards. Britain in 2015 agreed to equip its armed forces with navigation terminals with multi-signal receivers to add robustness in the event GPS were taken out of service in a localized region during a conflict.
“The analysis that preceded the 2015 decision of defense to invest in multi-signal receivers for the armed forces remains the case,” Ayling said. “But the government has not made a decision about whether continued participation in Galileo can be achieved on acceptable terms. So that’s a question still to be resolved.”
A UK domestic space launch capability? MoD still weighing the implications
Similarly, Ayling said British military officials are regularly involved in the U.K. Space Agency-led government discussion on a future domestic space launch capability.
Up to now, the British exercise has included no commitment from the government to finance the development or import of a rocket, but only to facilitate the regulatory regime for those companies willing to insure those costs on its own.
Britain is a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which would impose certain restrictions on any rocket imported or developed for operations on British territory.
“In relation to the MoD being part of the conversation about launch: Absolutely we are,” Ayling said. “It’s primarily being led by the UK Space Agency. What we would advise on as quickly as we can is what are the implications, what opportunity it brings, for both UK defense and our international partners.
“The space agency [is] very open to our proposals about how we might support that program. Provided it did not interfere with their core civil program, they are open to our proposals. But we have yet to make any specific proposals.”