Hearing of the French Joint Commander for Space

The French parliament recently had a hearing of the French Joint Commander for Space, and since I found it interesting, I decided to post a quick summary as well as an English translation. The original, in French, is there.

For background, the Joint Space Command (JSC, or CIE in French for Commandement Interarmées de l’Espace) was created in 2010 and, as explained in the hearing, manages military space policy. It is also in charge of the operational use of space and of space situational awareness (SSA).

Here are the main points made by Air Force General Breton during its interview, with some added analysis:

– France will renew most of its military satellites, starting next year: next-generation CSO optical observation satellites will replace the aging HELIOS II, an operational signal intelligence triplet called CERES will replace the demonstrator triplet, and SYRACUSE IV, the new pair of hardened communication satellites, will be launched. This will significantly improve French space capabilities. For more details about previous and future French observation satellites, see History of the French reconnaissance system.

– France is deeply worried about the vulnerability of its space assets. It has noted the recent Chinese and America anti-satellite tests, and has also noticed its satellites were being approached up-close by unknown inspector satellites. So it knows space can become a battleground, and its satellites could be neutralized. To answer this, its policy is to increase its space situational awareness: it will upgrade the GRAVES radar to be able to detect smaller object in low Earth Orbit, down to 0.5 square meters. This is funded by European Union money dedicated to space surveillance. It also has increased its surveillance of the geostationary belt, by using optical telescopes for the French space agency’s TAROT network, and recently purchased services from ArianeGroup’s Geotracker telescope network. Those cover almost all the GEO belt and can detect objects down to 1m, and can also detect maneuvers by the tracked objects.

What the general does not say is that France has a few other space surveillance assets: its Monge missile tracking ship, and its SATAM trajectography radars, can refine the orbital elements of previously detected objects, especially to avoid collisions between French satellites and other objects. It also for some time had a prototype to perform spectrography of objects in geostationary orbit and characterize them, called OSCEGEANE (video in French). Finally, it has an agreement with Germany, to use the German TIRA radar to image objects in low Earth orbit, and gets some data from the US space surveillance system in exchange for GRAVES data.

A lot of the hearing is spent on this space surveillance issue, because it is an essential part of the French strategy to ensure its space assets are resilient: the ability to detect interference with its assets, attribute it to a country and be able to retaliate by other means (the general rules out destruction of foreign satellites, and also rules out making satellites stealthy as technically impossible) should deter Russia, China or the US from going too far.

– The commander thinks the primary mission of the X-37 is in-space satellite servicing, but that it also has other uses.

– He is looking into smallsats and cubesats for military use.

– He is also following closely the launch industry, and what happens with Ariane 6 and SpaceX’s reusable launchers. He is enthusiastic regarding European reusability efforts such as the Prometheus methane engine, but wants cheap, reliable launch first and foremost, no matter the technology.


Here is the translated hearing, with bold to mark when the general is speaking and for emphasis. It’s mostly a touched-up google translation:

Hearing of General Jean-Pascal Breton, Joint Commander for Space

The meeting opened at nine thirty .

President Jean-Jacques Bridey. Dear colleagues, we have the pleasure, for our last hearing of the year, of receiving General Jean-Pascal Breton, Joint Space Commander. This command is strategic, technological and military. Space will be one of the issues and one of the priorities of the future Military Planning Law (LPM).

General Jean-Pascal Breton, Joint Commander for Space. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak for the first time before your committee. On May 17, 2016, you heard my predecessor, General Jean-Daniel Testé.

Space is today a structuring factor of national power, but it is also present in our daily life: it is statistically established that we use, on average, forty-seven satellites a day to browse the internet, to telephone or we use a GPS … Paradoxically, this service is so widely used that it becomes unknown, since no one can measure its true dependence on satellites.

Space is also a symbol of power for a nation: it testifies to its scientific, technical, industrial and financial level. We can only congratulate ourselves that France has created a real power in space. To give an idea of ​​our place, it is enough to remember that, of the dozen large satellites launched each year in the world, two-thirds were built by Airbus or Thales.

Space is also a great tool for cooperation. International cooperation is indeed a necessity to make costs affordable, to increase the resilience of our capabilities and to ensure our industries are capable, in a rapidly changing competitive market due to the arrival of new players. Military space cooperation also aims to support the operational commitments of armies. This cooperation is based on the principle of the exchange of information or capabilities, while preserving the ambitions to maintain national sovereignty. This principle is shared with our partners in Europe and across the Atlantic, with whom cooperation is globally balanced.

Faced with the growing challenges of space issues, we need stronger governance. This is why the Joint Space Command (JSC [CIE in French, for Commandement Interarmées de l’Espace]) was created about seven years ago in the Ministry of Defense, which has since become the Ministry of the Armed Forces. The JSC, of which I am in command, reports to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, is placed under the authority of the Major General of the Armed Forces and under the supervision of the Deputy Chief of Operations. The operations explain the positioning of the JSC.

The JSC is responsible for developing the contribution of armies to the national space policy, in coordination with the Directorate General of International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS) within the Ministry of the Armed Forces. We participate in the coordination of the effort of a number of military operators: the Command of Air Defense and Air Operations (CDAOA), the Joint Directorate of Infrastructure Networks and Defense Information Systems (DIRISI) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). We work with all these bodies to ensure better overall consistency. Within the JSC, we also deal with all European, international and multilateral military cooperation.

All space program officers belong to the JSC, which allows it to federate the expression of operational needs and to participate in the development and implementation of space capability acquisition strategies with the Directorate-General for Armament (DGA) using the French Space Agency: the National Center for Space Studies (CNES).

We are also responsible for coordinating the use of space capabilities available to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, and we develop guidelines for the use of these capabilities.

It is also our responsibility – and this is not the least of our missions, especially at this moment – to orient the space situational awareness efforts, that is, the knowledge of what is happening in the space. This spatial situation is produced by the Air Operations Command (CDAOA). We rely on this information, as well as that provided by the Military Intelligence Directorate, to develop a picture of the full range of capabilities available to other countries in outer space.

Some figures help to understand how important space is.

In 2016, we acquired 45,883 images of all kinds, about 10% more than the previous year. Needs in this area are growing, especially because of our level of commitment. An average of 120 images per day have been taken all over the globe.

We have deployed ninety-three satellite telecommunication stations in all parts of the world where French forces are operating.

Almost all the missions during which we delivered weapons, especially armaments from planes, used GPS. Only certain very specific missions from a certain domain [he is taking about nuclear missions] are freed from the GPS system. This is a fundamental point of our doctrine. All the missions carried out were with GPS, and two thirds of the armaments fired in operations used the GPS.

The French defense has the full spectrum of space capabilities: Earth observation, signal intelligence, telecommunications, positioning systems and space surveillance. This represents a significant investment. Current and future military planning laws devote a significant part to the renewal and improvement of these capabilities.

Without mentioning the next military programming law, I note that starting from 2018, we will renew almost all our space capabilities. The eight state-owned satellites we have will be replaced by eight new state-owned satellites in the coming years. In the field of space observation, the defense has two military satellites HELIOS 2, launched in 2004 and 2009, and two satellites Pléiades launched in 2011 and 2012 – Pléiades is a dual satellite built by Airbus Defense & Space. This collection of satellites enable us to observe during daytime in the visible bands, and at night in the infrared. We also have access to radar imagery through exchanges with our German and Italian partners.

Some initiatives are about the future. The MUSIS program has been replaced by a program called CSO – for “Optical Space Component”. The first satellite of this CSO constellation will be launched at the end of next year.

We have changed the governance scheme of these observation satellites: we were co-owners on HELIOS, but we will be the only owners on CSO, and other countries will have a form of drawing rights. The CSO system currently has two partners, Germany and Sweden. For the record, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Greece and France were co-owners on HELIOS. Discussions are currently underway to expand the number of partners involved in CSO.

The three CSO satellites will bring significant improvements in terms of accuracy, quality, revisit time compared to HELIOS satellites. They will be launched between 2018 and 2021; their theoretical life will be of the order of ten years.

For signal intelligence, we had satellites of an experimental nature and we will soon switch to an operational satellite cycle. We have developed not only the satellite, but also the means of exploitation and the environmental means that go with it. These are signal intelligence satellites that allow us to improve our knowledge of the order of battle in all the theaters on which we operate, but also to protect our own resources since they contribute to the programming of our countermeasures.

The ELISA satellites, currently in operation, will be withdrawn by mid-2020, while CERES – for “space-based electromagnetic intelligence capability” – will be operational by the end of 2020. The satellites will be launched in early 2020, but it takes time to put them into orbit and into operation. CERES obviously brings significant improvements over ELISA, which puts us at an excellent level on the world stage.

Satellite telecommunications is a key capability of the autonomy of decision-making and action of our armed forces in many ways. One element lies in the continued expansion of our theaters of operations: to be able to operate and command from France or other particular points, we need satellite communications. The systems currently available to us are SYRACUSE III satellites, reinforced by satellites placed in orbit in cooperation with the Italians, SICRAL 2. These satellites have been supplemented by a dual-use satellite: ATHENA-FIDUS.

We will put into orbit a series of satellites of the SYRACUSE IV generation that will respond to the explosion of communication needs. This explosion is also linked to the digitization of all the capabilities that we implement, whether for the battlefield, aircraft or exchanges between command centers and those operating in the field with a significant increase volumes of data.

Beyond the extra capacity they bring, these satellites, which are a key system, are extremely hardened against threats.

The provision of these means for the benefit of defense is accompanied by a sharing of capabilities within the European Union, in initiatives that are known as GOVSATCOM, or with NATO, as part of the package CP130 capability.

The positioning, navigation and timing capability – which everyone calls GPS, from the name of the American system – is a key element of our decision-making autonomy. You have to measure the integrity and the precision. These systems are also vital in monetary exchanges: the stock exchanges use them a lot for the synchronization of exchanges.

The French defense has access to civil and military GPS signals, thanks to agreements with the United States. But the European Galileo system is gaining momentum. We launched four satellites on December 12th: twenty-four are in flight out of the thirty planned. In our opinion, the system will be fully operational from 2020.

The increased importance of space for our operations and the increasing dependence that results from them, combined with the increased threats to our capabilities, call for increased security. Beyond security, we must also ensure the resilience of our own resources. We must be sure that this dependency does not turn against us.

Security is primarily based on consolidating our ability to monitor our orbits of interest in order to contribute to collision avoidance maneuvers with debris. We hear in the space community right now that there would be about 300,000 pieces of debris larger than a centimeter in space. For their part, the Americans start to advance the figure of 750 000. I will show you a short film that will allow you to visualize the situation.

We must also be able to detect and attribute any suspicious, unfriendly or hostile action, which is very important for us: there are some evolutions in the space with maneuvers of approach and observation of satellites.

For the next LPM, the focus will be on upgrading low-orbit monitoring capabilities, information systems, and studies of our geostationary orbit monitoring capability.

Thanks to technological development, the access to space that was until now reserved for a few powers and state actors is opening up to many private actors, to new investors, like GAFAM – for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – or start-ups. You’ve also heard of SpaceX and probably Blue Origin.

Access to space tends to become commonplace, leading to a form of deregulation. This point is fundamental. Civilian operators agree that it will certainly be necessary to develop a global regulation system in space, as is already done for air traffic.

As a field of economic, strategic and military competition, the exo-atmospheric space is gradually becoming a full-fledged confrontational field, as highlighted in the 2017 strategic review. Some states may be tempted to perform there, discreetly or openly, from the Earth or space, unfriendly or unlawful acts, or even use force to deny access or degrade, temporarily or permanently, the space capabilities of other stakeholders.

In the past, some countries have already demonstrated their ability to deploy anti-satellite weapons from Earth. For the record, half of the debris encountered in space comes from a Chinese missile fire, in 2007, against one of their satellites; the other half comes from a collision between two satellites. The Americans also showed that they had this ability by firing on one of their satellites in phase of deorbitation, which did not cause debris.

Strategies of contestation or denial of access take on new forms. In addition to the development of directed energy weapons, able to degrade the performances of our assets, the mastery of in-space rendezvous allows to come close to space assets of other countries on all the orbits. Several of our satellites have been approached by inspector-type satellites.

France obviously advocates a peaceful use of space, however, it can not be considered as sanctuary, because it could be a place of confrontation like any other, it is therefore essential to preserve our freedom of access to space, and to be able to counter the threats to our means in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter and the right of self-defense.

In the face of increased risks and threats to our space assets, the protection of all the components of our space capabilities is a new and important issue.

In addition to the ongoing reinforcement of the resilience of new space assets and the systems using them, the ability to detect and attribute suspicious, unfriendly or aggressive acts in space is therefore an essential condition of our protection.

Our national capabilities for monitoring the exo-atmospheric space will therefore be progressively consolidated in order to eventually identify and characterize the objects in France’s orbits of interest.

In addition to the ongoing cooperation within the European Union – there is a European Space Monitoring and Tracking (EUSST) monitoring program which will contribute to financing the upgrade of the GRAVES radar (Large Space Surveillance Array) – opportunities for developing closer cooperation with strategic partners, particularly Germany, will soon be explored. If most space cooperation is undertaken within the circle of our traditional partners, specific themes will be discussed with our American partners – which already open to us access to some data from their space capabilities, especially to the entire catalog of debris – as well as with the so-called Five Eyes alliance.

The aim will be to articulate our national capacities in the most relevant way with those of our partners while preserving our elements of sovereignty, as the Minister of the Armed Forces recalled during her speech at the factory Les Mureaux d’ArianeGroup , last Thursday.

During the next LPM, our surveillance and listening capabilities will be consolidated and modernized with ground-based analysis capabilities.

The development schedule for the orbit monitoring capability will also be consolidated. In its current state, the GRAVES radar system does not detect all satellites, especially small satellites. Its renovation will increase its detection capacity, but it will not allow it to detect nanosatellites by 2025. Currently, our detection level is of the order of one meter; we want to improve this ability to reach fifty centimeters. If we want to go below and detect nanosatellites, we will have to use another technology and totally change our radar system.

On the whole, the current and the next LPM are making a real effort in favor of the space sector, particularly because of the renewal of all our satellites. For the year 2017, the payment appropriations for space military programs included in program 146 are almost the same level as in previous years for a little over 300 million euros. The finance bill for 2018 provides for 325 million. These payment credits will increase with the deployment of satellites. The credits of the next LPM for the period 2019 to 2025 are not yet stabilized, I can not detail them before you at this stage.

To conclude my opening remarks, I invite you to watch an animation produced by the European Space Agency. It shows the constellations of satellites positioned around the earth as we get closer to it. Starting from the geostationary level and going into the low orbit, you will find that there are a very large number of satellites and debris. Nanosatellites and microsatellites are very low in low orbits; and since they hardly ever have propulsion, they do not stay there very long.

Mr. President. Thank you for that intervention, General. With so many colleagues wishing to speak, I invite everyone to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Jean-Philippe Ardouin. General, I wanted to draw your attention to our means of monitoring low-orbiting satellites, especially the GRAVES system, which is established on the space domain, and more particularly the exo-atmospheric space. France is one of the only nations able to monitor space. The GRAVES system is a unique surveillance system in Europe that allows the army to track and catalog satellites in low orbit up to an altitude of 1,000 kilometers. The main mission of GRAVES is the military intelligence via the elaboration of the spatial situation. It is developed with ONERA, which depends on the Ministry of the Armed Forces.

Today, the exo-atmospheric environment is of crucial importance for all of our defense capabilities. It has become a field of growing vulnerabilities for our command and surveillance capabilities. The monitoring of low-orbit objects, especially the geostationary orbit watch provided for under the command and control system for aerospace operations (SCCOA), is essential to ensure the security of our space assets and the conduct of our operations.

In addition, the proliferation of state and private actors is leading to a banalization of access to space, while more and more states have acquired industrial capabilities to make space launch vehicles and satellites.

The GRAVES system came into service in 2005 under the control of the Air Defense Command and Air Operations, it is agreed that it will be replaced in 2025. We know that the only system capable today of going as far as the geostationary orbit is an American system that should enter into service in 2019, called Space Fence. In addition, the Minister of Armies visited the ArianeGroup site in Les Mureaux, which shows the Government’s willingness to prepare for the control of space.

Which agency will be in charge of modernizing the GRAVES system, and what will be the cost and the impact on the military programming law? What are the means implemented by the Government in this new “Star Wars” in the outer space?

Mr. Fabien Gouttefarde. General, can you afford to follow and observe the American Shuttle X-37B? This nine-meter shuttle has a somewhat erratic orbit, and we do not know its mission very well. What is your interpretation ? In space, we have no enemies, but we do not necessarily have a lot of friends …

Mr. Fabien Lainé. General, thank you for taking us to space, it was exciting! The next military programming law will be the moment to position itself on the critical issues in terms of international political stability, and potentially on the subject of French anti-ballistic defense. The satellite program SPIRALE (Infrared Preparatory System for ALErte), developed by Airbus, has enabled France to build a satellite-based early warning demonstrator capable of detecting missile fire, identifying their targets and the launching country.

However, such a system is useful and effective only if it is complete, that is to say capable of detecting, targeting and destroying a missile. Beyond the cost, this program raises the question of the strategic choice of an anti-ballistic system. Is it responsible for deploying an anti-ballistic shield while knowing that the proliferation of these systems may eventually favor nuclear use strategies first? In other words, does not such a system induce the risk of hitting more easily, considering that a replica would potentially be neutralized even before reaching national soil?

Do you think that the next military programming law should focus on financing this new program?

Mrs. Marianne Dubois. The US military has announced in recent days to prepare for possible disruptions and failures of GPS signals following malicious acts on its satellites. Can we imagine the same threats and failures with the Galileo system, and how to find the parry?

On the early warning system, how, with the space means, can one have the signature of a missile attack, or know as soon as possible by whom a missile is launched?

Mr André Chassaigne. This is not a technical issue in the space field of defense per se; you have explained the interest of the satellites and the Galileo program, but we must not forget that before having satellites, we still need a launcher. But everyone knows that today, real questions arise on the future of Ariane 6. The report made by Geneviève Fioraso in July 2016 insisted a lot on the risk of decommissioning of France in the area of ​​satellites, and threats medium-term in the field of launchers.

Are the questions about the future of Ariane 6 likely to raise the question of the independence of France? There is a real risk of US monopoly for access to space within the Western bloc. What is your point of view ?

General Jean-Pascal Breton. On the means of surveillance in space, I would like to make a technical clarification: to observe and monitor the low orbits, the only way is a radar. To monitor the MEO ( Medium Earth Orbit ) orbits – where the GPS and Galileo constellations are located – and the geostationary orbit, the only solution currently is to use telescopes. Space Fence is mostly a radar system, it does not monitor geostationary orbits. All nations combined, we are obliged to use at the same time optical and radar means.

In the case of higher orbits, we currently use CNRS telescopes via CNES: this is the TAROT network (Fast Action Telescopes for Transient Objects). We completed this monitoring on an exploratory basis with the ArianeGroup GEOTracker telescopes . These telescopes are scattered all around the earth and allow monitoring of almost all geostationary orbits. Nevertheless, it is obvious that this system will have to be developed.

Beyond these radar or optical systems, the ability to analyze is fundamental. We are fortunate in France to have CNES, which has a real expertise in analysis in this area. ArianeGroup also has this competence, but the real operator in France is CNES. Without the ability to analyze, no matter how well you observe, you will not be able to monitor effectively.

The renovation of GRAVES is already underway. It is reimbursed by EU credits from the EUSST initiative. It will be effective, in theory, for a delivery around 2021-2022.

I confirm that GRAVES is an essential system, not only in terms of surveillance, but also for the positioning of France on the world stage to the extent that, with the exception of our American allies, we are practically the only ones to have a similar system. The networks of our European partners are not able to feed a surveillance catalog of the same level.

Beyond that, the minister repeated to the Mureaux that she was attentive to the domain of the surveillance of the space for the protection of our means and the sovereignty of our action. It is obvious that we are in a phase of study and consultation with our partners to develop a system in cooperation, particularly with the Germans, in the field of monitoring for low orbits. For geostationary orbits, collaboration is easier because telescope technology is much more accessible.

Regarding the X-37, its real mission is quite delicate to interpret. There is much that can be said beyond the experiments conducted in what is known as in-orbit service, which will repair, replenish or consolidate satellites in space, thus improving their duration of life and their integrity. I will abstain from designating a particular nation; let’s say that the X-37, like others, is certainly able to act beyond the only field of in-orbit servicing… This is my personal interpretation, quite shared. But the first mission is service, at first.

My command is not responsible for the development of the early warning. Studies are planned in the framework of the next military programming law for further work in this area. Which does not mean that the JSC is not interested in it: as the minister repeated in her speech, beyond the threats to our means, it is important to be able to detect, identify and characterize, that is, to attribute, an action against our own means. If an anti-satellite missile was fired, it is obviously important for us to know who fired it: this is the first interest for me of the early warning.

Nevertheless, if responsible nations agree that firing a missile is feasible, it creates as much risk for their own assets, hence potential damage. It is therefore highly unlikely that anti-satellite missiles will be used. However, because of the risk of proliferation and the emergence of a number of non-responsible nations, we must be wary of any hasty conclusion in this area. When a missile is fired by a proliferating nation and travels several thousand kilometers, it necessarily passes through a number of layers of satellites; it is therefore permissible to question the use that can be made of it.

We used to say that with GPS, we know in which street we are, with Galileo, we know on which sidewalk … This is to say the difference in precision between the one and the other systems. The Americans are very much in the press to express their dependence on the GPS, whose use is not only military: I mentioned the stock exchanges, it is also a fundamental notion. Americans are “robustifying” all their means to avoid getting the signal scrambled and counter the actions of jamming; at the same time, they are developing resilient systems, which is why they are interested in cooperating on Galileo. They come to us to access information from Galileo, in the same way that we have access to the GPS network: it is a form of resilience, not of mutual dependence, but of cooperation to consolidate our systems. The most likely threat being the jamming, the counter is rather ti robustify the means of reception.

To answer Mr. Chassaigne’s question on Ariane 6, I will hide behind the press release of three ministers who have reaffirmed their confidence in the future of this sector. It is essential for us to have a consolidated and sovereign launch mode in Europe, for various reasons. Of course, we are sensitive to cost considerations and we are watching carefully on the other side of the Atlantic; but if SpaceX is currently much cheaper than Ariane, I notice that nations who have ordered a launch are still waiting for access to the launch … With Ariane, we are sure to have consolidated and robust access . We must also be wary: the real cost elements are not the ones that are displayed. The development costs and prices paid by the US Air Force to launch its own satellites are incommensurate with the prices proposed in the commercial field.

I am therefore attentive to the cost elements and the sovereign capacity of France to have means of launching into orbit; as much as I am very interested in the efforts made in favor of Ariane 6. I particularly welcome the agreements on launchers and engines that were signed during our visit to Les Mureaux, and I am confident about the future of the Prometheus engine.

Mrs. Séverine Gipson. General, a few days ago, the Minister of the Armies signed a partnership with the Safran group on the transmission of optical observation data through its GEOTracker observation system. This is an important first step that will help reduce the technological gap with the United States and Russia in this area, for historical reasons that we know.

The means developed by these two nations are such that it seems impossible to catch up. Given the scope of the task at hand and the new challenges of defense in the space field, how to organize European cooperation in the field of space?

Ms. Émilie Guerel. Published on October 11, the Strategic Review of Defense and National Security which sets the course for the next six years defines space as an area to be strengthened without further delay. In particular, it indicates that the exo-atmospheric environment has become a field of vulnerability for France precisely with regard to its means of command and surveillance.

Given that many sensitive data are transiting through space, the challenge is to strengthen the fight against spy minisatellites and other space-based threats. The deployment of the GEOTracker network, developed and operated by ArianeGroup, represents a significant step in protecting our satellites and protecting space objects. Does the implementation of the GEOTracker network seem sufficient to fight against space threats? What will be the next developments in this field in the coming years?

Mr. Bastien Lachaud. To ensure the independence of France in the space field, we have developed HELIOS satellites for optical imaging, but we are working with other European partners on other types of satellites. However, in contradiction with this agreement, Germany has decided to develop its own optical satellites. How should we understand this decision, especially since it plans to have them launched by SpaceX and not by Ariane 6? Are our European partners very reliable in the field? We do not have enemies in space, but we do not have any friends either …

Mr. Joaquim Pueyo. The Strategic Review presented to us by Arnaud Danjean also stresses this European cooperation. You mentioned Ariane 6; like you, I am optimistic. Work began in Kourou more than a year and a half ago – I wrote a report with Bernard Deflesselles on this – which was essential if we wanted to be competitive with SpaceX. Ariane 5 is a very big carrier, Ariane 6 will transport satellites at lower cost. I believe a lot in Ariane 6, which must be operational in 2020.

With regard to European cooperation, do you think that we can improve it, particularly as regards security, even if we touch on very specific areas of independence for each country?

Given the importance of space in all areas, think that the outer space treaty, which dates from 1967, should evolve?

Mr Patrice Verchère. My general, some countries are already imagining the fighter plane of the future, which could go into space. Are we starting to think about it? It will require a very advanced technology. We have seen the Americans send a mixture of aircraft and rocket into space; do we imagine the same thing, is there a beginning of reflection in this area?

General Jean-Pascal Breton. The TAROT telescope network, which we used, covers about 270 degrees of arc around the globe. GEOTracker improves this coverage as it raises it to 340 degrees; the telescopes are a little more dispersed but, in terms of detection, they are about the same kind. In fact, the issue is not so much GEOTracker as the European EUSST initiative. As I had the opportunity to say to the President, the area of ​​space is eminently dual-use. Therefore, it is essential that we have the means to allow free access and to protect ourselves from collisions with debris and other types of aggression. The EUSST initiative is therefore fundamental: it is carried out just as much at the civil level as at the military level, even if in the end, the military means will serve dual ends by feeding information to the whole community. I therefore think it is essential to support and put ourselves in a position to meet the expectations of this proposal from the European Commission: not only is the protection of our means, but if we do not make this effort in Europe, we will be totally dependent on the information given by others. However, it is essential, if not totally sovereign in this area – which is the objective – to be at least able to discuss and dialogue at the highest level in order to have the necessary information. EUSST is very important for us because that is where the funding for the renovation of our surveillance systems is.

As far as the German decision to develop its own optical satellites is concerned, I should first point out that the Schwerin agreements, which provide for a sharing of capacity development in the space sector in Europe – optics in France, radar in Germany and in Italy – were worth only for defense … The two satellites in question were requested by the German special services. It is not for me to judge a sovereign decision of the German Chancellery; but discussions are conducted at a high level to understand the impact. This shows in any case a growing interest in access to information and images from space. I also understand that special services need reliable data.

As for their launch by SpaceX, it is again up to the Germans to explain it … Mr. Stéphane Israël, the president of Arianespace, has recently expressed his willingness to accept all the European nations the principle that European state satellites are launched by European launchers. It is up to us to remain vigilant; however, this does not call into question the initial sharing. It responds well to a growing need for access to images.

Securing versus independence is a major topic. We are very dependent on space. But we put ourselves in a position not to depend 100%, especially for very special missions. We must ensure this security, this autonomy and this sovereignty.

In the current situation, given the efforts made by the United States, we are obviously out of step. We rely on information of American origin; but the availability of our GRAVES data allows us to have a relatively balanced dialogue with the Americans. Of course, I can only be satisfied the day we are totally independent; but it involves efforts of several billion … to be measured by the yardstick of commitment and the degree of independence desired.

Should we change the outer space treaty? In fact, the question is not so much about the space treaty – which is not binding for nations – but about how it applies to countries and their legislation. For France, this is the law on space operations of 3 June 2008, whose main purpose was to re-specify the role of CNES and the responsibilities of operators – especially civilian operators. But recent events may lead us to question whether this law is an appropriate response to the threats we must counter.

Regarding the X-37 and the “French X-37 “, we are obviously in fully thinking about it.

Mr Patrice Verchère. A short question, short answer!

Mr. President. We will have time to go deeper into this subject.

Mrs. Aude Bono-Vandorme. General, I would like to have some information on our space capabilities available to our allies, both inside and outside NATO. Will the capacity provided by SYRACUSE to NATO under the NATO SATCOM V program be renewed when the SYRACUSE IV satellites come into service?

Mr. Jean-Pierre Cubertafon. My general, the Hexagon is a leading space power and wants to remain so. This interest in outer space, more and more populated and militarized, is part of a desire to improve the conduct of military operations, as well as intelligence actions. Despite US supremacy, from a scientific and military point of view, foreign competition is growing stronger. We can therefore question how the French armies will deploy in the 21st century in this new, now strategic environment.

Will we focus only on passive extra-atmospheric devices? By that I mean equipment that would allow our armies to improve their capabilities, to have better intelligence, to strengthen our anticipation skills and OPEX conduct. Are you thinking of equipping yourself with systems to neutralize or even destroy other satellites? In this hypothesis, should we privilege ground-space systems or space-space devices?

Finally, how do you integrate the notion of pollution and, concurrently, depollution of space in your equipment and strategic anticipations?

Mr. Laurent Furst. Since the Cold War, Russians and Americans have learned to damage and mutually destroy their satellites. Today, technologies have evolved – I note in this regard that you have not mentioned lasers in your opening remarks. But on our side, are we the “good guys” of space? Are we also spying on satellites from other nations? Do we have the capacity to destroy them?

Mr. Thibault Bazin. It’s a real question …

Mr. President. It remains to be seen if you will have the answer!

Mr Christophe Lejeune. General, we know that the GRAVES system, unique in Europe, allows France to keep an eye on objects whose existence is not necessarily recognized by their users. It is thanks to the GRAVES network that American spy satellites, for example, have been discovered. This surveillance capability allows us to negotiate the non-dissemination of information on French satellites, in exchange for confidentiality on US satellites. But a GRAVES data sharing with European countries does not undermine the ability of France to negotiate with our US partner?

Mr. Louis Aliot. I would like to ask you about your cooperation with CNES. Do you have a say on CNES? Are you represented in his instances? Do you share a number of information and structures?

In addition, do you follow the activities of the Group of studies and information on unidentified aerospace phenomena (GEIPAN)? It happens that a member of this service is from my riding.

General Jean-Pascal Breton. In my introductory remarks, I mentioned the issue of capacity sharing. Thus we make available to NATO – against remuneration – certain means under SYRACUSE III, under the name NSPK20. Under SYRACUSE IV, it will be done under the name CP 130. But the principle will remain the same. When satellites come into service, they are overcapacity, that is to say, they respond beyond need; as the needs increase, the curve naturally reverses. We sell this overcapacity, we make it available. This capacity is essential because it is secure: it is therefore intended to be exchanged at the military level, but not at the civilian level.

You then asked me about militarization and the outer space treaty. I want to make it clear that this treaty – just like the law – only forbids sending weapons of mass destruction into space. So, contrary to what I hear fairly regularly, there is no prohibition of “arsenalisation”. However, the term “militarization” refers to the use of space for military purposes: as soon as I send a satellite of communication in space, I am in a form of militarization …

Mr. Cubertafon spoke about passive and active extra-atmospheric devices and the issue of “pollution-depollution”.

“Pollution-depollution” is a widespread problematic and dual. Many reflections have been initiated to treat and try to recover the debris. In-orbit servicing, which I mentioned earlier, could be a way to deal with these pollution issues.

On the other hand, the member, concerning our passive and active assets, I will refer you to what I said earlier: it is essential to preserve our freedom of access to space and to be able to counter the threats to our means, in strict compliance with the law.

Mr. President. It’s clear and concise.

General Jean-Pascal Breton. Mr. Furst, you wonder if we are the “good guys” of space. For my part, I will express myself differently by saying that France advocates the peaceful use of space, as I have just indicated. However, we are not naive.

The notion of destruction is fundamental. Obviously, we are not going that far, because we are well aware of the risks it entails. Destruction is an armed act, and participates in an escalation that would defeat our objectives.

What is the nature of the GRAVES system? I spoke with you about two fundamental notions of space surveillance: the development of the tracks, which we call in a very abstruse language SST ( Space Surveillance and Tracking ), and the notion of space surveillance at military sense of the term, called SSA ( Space Situational Awareness) and integrating intelligence. What we exchange with the civilian world is tracking ; what we are exchanging with the military world, in the context of intergovernmental level agreements, is intelligence.

Mr. Aliot, CNES is an essential element in our system. It is our space agency, and in the conduct of our programs, it has most often a role of assistance to project management for the benefit of the DGA. The supervision of CNES is exercised by two ministries: the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. In addition, the share of these two departments and the share of its own activities are included in its budget.

It is the DGA who, within the Ministry of the Armed Forces, exercises guardianship over the CNES. But we are in permanent contact: there is also within the Joint Command of space a CNES adviser. And last Friday, we participated in a CNES-Défense steering committee. This is to say how much our relationship is permanent.

Finally, GEIPAN deals with the surveillance and analysis of UFOs, unexplained aeronautical phenomena. We participate in it, but it is not at the heart of our concerns. It is rather the CDAOA which is active in this field, and which has been charged with monitoring within the ad hoc bodies .

Mr. Jacques Marilossian. Visiting the Les Mureaux site on 14 December, the Minister reaffirmed the need for a surveillance system for space and the need to speak with a European voice. We can therefore be proud that ArianeGroup, in the framework of the cooperation of European know-how, has made GEOTracker succeed. This is a first space surveillance contract, signed I was told in the fall, with a certain General Breton.

Since then, European cooperation has established PESCO ( Permanent Structured Cooperation) , an initiative we can only congratulate ourselves on. But when we look at the list of projects, we see that the space is not there. Is it logical or disturbing?

Finally, as part of the future military programming law, I will ask you a question. Faced with the militarization of space, after the culmination of GEOTracker, do we have concrete technological and industrial projects with our European partners, especially Germany?

Mr. Jean-Charles Larsonneur. The United States has experimented with a tactical-level microsatellite system, that is, at the brigade level. What do you think of this new job concept? Does it allow you to break free from conventional intelligence channels? Is there an interest in the future of our forces?

Mr Philippe Michel-Kleisbauer. At what age do you retire your staff? Is it not too early? How many go to work for third powers or for the companies you mentioned?

Mr. Thibault Bazin. Should we invest the field of reusable launchers developed by SpaceX? Should the ONERA pre-projects be implemented?

We rely heavily on satellites in our daily lives. Without falling into the disaster scenarios of American films, can one imagine that terrorists paralyze satellites and spread terror? Are they interested in space?

General Jean-Pascal Breton. With regard to capability packages in the framework of NATO, of PESCO or more generally of the European Union, we are developing various proposals, which have not been retained at this stage. But we can also count on the European EUSST initiative. The question is above all to find the right channel to deal with these topics.

French national defense is obviously interested in microsatellites as well as in nanosatellites and picosatellites and their use. CNES and DGA have established partnerships with universities that develop this type of satellite. Some of our forces are beginning to express needs in this area. What matters to us is the provision of information closer to the end user at a lower cost. While the manufacture of microsatellites is not very expensive, launching them incurs expenditures of a completely different level and their duration of operation is not the same as conventional satellites. We are attentive to their development as well as to other systems, such as high altitude balloons. The challenge for us is to ensure complementarity between the various possible means and to avoid redundancies.

As far as staff are concerned, Mr Michel-Kleisbauer, I can only answer for those who are military. The space industry is a small world in which professionals make their entire career. I have few examples of executives who have gone elsewhere. Within the armed forces, there is no structured space sector; we are putting it in place. We were asked to quickly determine the exact nature of the skills, training and profiles we are looking for. I received mission and mandate to do this.

In terms of launchers, reuse is a debated issue at this time. My need is not to have a reusable launcher, but a launcher that costs as little as possible: the question is what is the technology that meets this criterion. You have probably seen in the press that Stéphane Israël mentioned the possibility of reusing some stages of Ariane 6; work is being done in this direction. We are attentive to this aspect but the ultimate goal remains to lower costs and to ensure robust access to launchers.

I close with the question on terrorism. Until recently, space was reserved for the great powers, who alone had the necessary industrial capacities and means. Now private investors are starting to get interested. Access to space is therefore more and more open; the threats I have mentioned are not accessible to ordinary people. Obviously, it is still possible to act against part of the segment, but overall, the security of the segment is assured. We therefore do not focus on these types of threats, but rather on the actions of sovereign countries capable of doing so, and the risk of proliferation, to prevent proliferating countries from achieving similar levels of capacity. For the rest, we are relatively well protected.

Mr. President. We come to the last four questions.

Mr. Jean-Michel Jacques. General, you mentioned the toughening of threats against our satellites. Is research being conducted on the side of their stealth?

Mr. Guillaume Gouffier-Cha. When the entire Galileo constellation is in place, will we continue to use the GPS system at the same time?

Are our radars sufficient to guarantee our independence of observation?

Finally, what is your view of the Guiana Space Center? Is it secure enough? Is it competitive or should we diversify it?

Mr. Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade. I would like to come back to the lack of a space component in PESCO, following my colleague Jacques Marilossian. Do you have any clarification on this?

Furthermore, what are the French forces present in the European Union Satellite Center, SatCen, based in Madrid?

Mr. M’Jid El Guerrab. I understand, General, that you have been placed on the third star list: allow me to present my sincere congratulations in advance.

On August 16, 2016, China successfully launched the first experimental quantum communications satellite, Quantum Science Satellite . Can this technology mature in the short term? What contribution can we expect from the military?

General Jean-Pascal Breton. To the question on stealth, my answer will be short: no, there is no work done in this area. A satellite, by definition, has a “signature”: it can not be stealthy.

For satellite positioning systems, we work on dual-mode receivers compatible with both GPS and Galileo. We rely on the complementarity of these constellations to strengthen our resilience.

Are our radars in sufficient numbers? Currently, they meet our need to monitor and interact at a good level. To achieve full sovereignty and autonomy, we would have to disperse a large number of them all over the globe. GRAVES surveillance focuses primarily on the space above Europe.

The Guiana Space Center is particularly well located: to launch cheaply and with less effort on the launcher, one must be closer to the equator and benefit from appropriate climatic conditions, two conditions that the CSG fulfills. I believe you attended the launch of the latest Galileo satellite: you could see that the center was particularly well protected.

As far as PESCO is concerned, I must say that the provision of capacity assets and packages was previously the responsibility of each nation. The issue of space surveillance at the European level is just beginning to emerge. It is more fully taken into account by the EU’s civilian initiatives, even if military means are used.

The SatCen is an indispensable tool, commanded by a French general, General Pascal Legai, which is proof of the importance that this center has for us. It is a kind of highly evolved shop that can collect images and products from various countries and redistribute them for a fee. We talked about sharing resources in the area of ​​communication satellites; it is obvious that we must do the same in terms of imaging.

The Chinese Quantum Science Satellite , experimental machine, refers to the issue of securing transmissions. Our systems, thanks to encryption, are particularly well protected against attacks by hackers and others. Nevertheless, developments in “cyber” capabilities may lead us to rest the question, but we are not there yet.

Mr. President. Thank you, General, for all the answers you have given us.

It remains for me, dear colleagues, to wish you happy holidays.

The meeting ended at eleven minutes past five.



9 thoughts on “Hearing of the French Joint Commander for Space”

  1. […] The second speaker was General Jean-Pascal Breton, head of the French Joint Command for Space (JSC, or CIE in French for Commandement Interarmées de l’Espace). CIE manages military space policy, parts of the procurement process and the space situational awareness activities, and also the use of space assets in military operations. For a more detailed view on JSC, a previous article on Gen. Breton’s hearing at the French National Assembly can be found in this article. […]


  2. […] More recently, the 2017 Defense and Security review was the first to define space as a domain of operation unto itself, and not only supporting the other domains. Following a period of one year of reflection, President Macron announced on 13th July, 2019, the creation of a Space Command, under the responsibility of the Air Force, to replace the previous Joint Space Command. […]


  3. […] More recently, the 2017 Defense and Security review was the first to define space as a domain of operation unto itself, and not only supporting the other domains. Following a period of one year of reflection, President Macron announced on 13th July, 2019, the creation of a Space Command, under the responsibility of the Air Force, to replace the previous Joint Space Command. […]


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