Europe considers U-turn on military use for 'Galileo'

Europe's satellite navigation system might be opened up for military use, the European Commission has suggested, in a policy shift that sets it on a collision course with Britain and the United States.

Billed as a civilian project, a rocket blasted the first of a constellation of 30 navigation satellites into space last December from a launch pad in Kazakhstan.

Now the European commissioner for transport, Jacques Barrot, has crossed a new threshold, suggesting that the Galileo project, which aims to rival America's Global Positioning System (GPS), might have defence applications. The idea could help recoup some of the financial outlay on the project, the development costs of which have grown by €500m (£340m) in the past few months.

It would also help to boost the EU's ambition to develop a larger military capability to back up its foreign policy, and would be welcomed by France.

Speaking in Luxembourg, M. Barrot said that "Galileo was supposed to be a civilian system only but I wonder whether we shouldn't question that."He added: "I myself believe that the idea of only using Galileo for civilian purposes will not persist into the future because I think that our military cannot do without some sort of [navigation] system."

The transport commissioner's comments have revived differences about a project which took shape against the background of deep misgivings in Washington. The US was originally opposed to the European scheme on the very basis that it might have military applications. Britain initially stalled over Galileo, demanding a report by management consultants before it subsequently threw its weight behind it.

A €230m investment from China increased US worries that Beijing was trying to gain access to cutting-edge technology.

Britain gave M. Barrot's comments a dusty response. A spokesman for the British Government's Department for Transport said: "The UK position is well known: Galileo is a civil programme under civil control. This view was agreed by the EU Transport Council in the Council conclusions of December 2004." There was no reaction from US diplomats contacted yesterday.

The European Commission insisted that there was no question of Galileo becoming a predominantly military project and that control would remain in civilian hands. A spokesman said that, though it was described as a civilian project in council conclusions, decisions on its applications still have to be made.

Nevertheless M. Barrot's comments underline a significant shift. The project's organisers have, up to now, suggested a host of applications for the system in maritime, rail and road transport.

Galileo's 30 satellites will circle the globe in three orbits at an altitude of around 23,000km and its designers say the project will deliver real-time positioning down to within metres with unrivalled accuracy. The system will make road-pricing schemes easier to run and driverless cars a possibility. Other uses include the monitoring of crop yields and tracking livestock.

Galileo is also designed to be inter-operable with the two other global navigation systems, America's GPS and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass).

According to the financial plans the deployment of the satellite system will cost €3.4bn and the launch phase, which will require €2.2bn, should be complete by 2010. One third of that will be funded by the tax-payer, the rest from private sources. The project has been managed by the Galileo Joint Undertaking which was set up in 2002 by the EU and the European Space Agency.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?