US general fuels rift over Galileo satellite

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One of America's most senior generals yesterday fuelled a transatlantic rift over Europe's plans for a satellite navigation system, arguing that they could pose a security risk to US and Nato allies in time of conflict.

The intervention followed a letter from the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to his European counterparts, apparently seeking to block the 3.4bn euros (£2.1bn) Galileo project which would compete with America's Global Positioning System. That provoked anger in Brussels, and coincided with a warning from the French president, Jacques Chirac, that Europeans risk "vassal status" if they abandon Galileo and other space projects.

Yesterday the chairman of the US military joint chiefs of staff argued, during a visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels, that the US had no political or strategic objections, just security ones.

General Richard Myers said that the "only issue that we have with Galileo – not the issue of the constellation, that's a European decision – it's that some of the frequencies chosen overlay the frequencies that we use, not only for US military but for Nato as well and other allies." He added: "You could almost make the assumption that you were going to be interrupting or perhaps interfering with signals the military really counts on, and that would not be a wise idea."

The Galileo project has proved contentious within the EU, with Britain, Germany and the Netherlands stalling over finance and raising questions about its financial viability.

They say a recent consultants' report suggests that the project can never break even. However, Galileo's enthusiasts suggest that it could produce vast economic spin-offs.