The UK and the EU have been in long and intensively on-going discussions about the future of the satellite Galileo Project.
Galileo is the EU’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS) which provides accurate positioning and timing information. When it is in its Final Operating Capability in 2020, it will be one of the most important pieces of strategic information-sharing in the world.
However, the program has not been without its difficulties. The 24 satellites and six spare satellites that constitute the project will be in operation 12 years later than originally planned and at 3 times their initial budget.
Since 2003 the UK has contributed approximately 1.4bn euros (£1.2bn) to Galileo and it was expected to continue to contribute and benefit once the UK left the EU. Britain has played a big part in Galileo so far, carrying out about 15 percent of the work on it. The UK provides some of the most crucial technology including ground control, navigation payloads and encryption. As one senior industry executive has said “we have the expertise.”
However, the European Union has now decided that Britain and British companies should be excluded from the sensitive elements of the infrastructure due to security reasons.
This of course is hardly sensible strategic policy from the EU. The UK is one of very few countries within NATO which consistently spends 2% of its GDP on defence. The UK is a part of the leading group of intelligence allies, know as the five eyes and is consistently recognised as having one of the most powerful militaries in the world. The UK is no strategic foe to the European Union and it has been the wish of the British Government and many in the EU27 for allied countries within the European Union to continue to cooperate on military matters. The need for this has been particularly emphasised over the past few weeks as tensions between Russia and the West have escalated.
But the EU is still not willing to play ball on this matter and as a result the Business Secretary, Greg Clark is now seeking legal advice on whether the British Government can re-claim the money Britain has invested. He said that:
“We have made it clear we do not accept the Commission’s position on Galileo, which could seriously damage mutually beneficial collaboration on security and defence matters.”
Relations between both parties are certainly beginning to sour in time for a meeting of the European Space Agency in Berlin on Wednesday.
In the wake of European obstinacy, the British Government has now decided if you can’t join them, beat them.
It is understood that ministers are now studying the possibility of pooling existing resources to create a lower-cost GPS rival. They are also looking at whether the UK could work with the US to create a complementary and highly secure system akin to Galileo’s Public Regulated Service, the highly-encrypted part that is designed to continue operating even if other navigation systems are jammed.
Industry officials said the government is giving serious consideration to UK-designed alternatives, which could be cheaper than the “Rolls-Royce” approach taken by Galileo.
Airbus, which has led Galileo’s ground control services from Portsmouth in the south of England, has said that it is committed, as part of its bid to continue its role, that all work would be run out of EU member states after Brexit. But at the same time, Airbus has said it would be committed to helping Britain develop its rival capability.
Andrew Stroomer, an executive at Airbus, has said that:
“If the UK opts for its own satellite-navigation system then Airbus’s space operations in the UK has the skills and expertise to lead the development of it.”
Pursuing this action would provide the UK with strong opportunities in its future. Britain’s space sector is growing four times faster than the rest of the UK economy and the country has a 7 percent share of the global space industry. We are not small players in the strategic space and it is important that should the European Union turn its back on its strategic partner, then we will have the ability and the strength to pursue our own opportunities.
Such an endeavour will create jobs, develop skills and boost our competitive and strategic advantage. We should not shy away from such opportunities but embrace them.