Space & Defence policy speech by the French Minister of the Armed Forces

Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, gave a speech about Space & Defence on September 7th, 2018. It took place at the French space agency’s Toulouse headquarters, and had a heavy focus on how to deal with the new reality of space becoming a contested domain. In fact, frequent readers of this site will find the minister’s assessment of the threats and the means she proposes to counter them echo previous articles on contested space. Notably, she alluded to the idea of France developing her own ASAT weapons. Other main topics of the speech include exploiting the New Space movement, space traffic and debris management, and reorganizing the Ministry’s space structures.

I translated the speech from the original French by touching up’s automated translation. The bold is mine for emphasizing parts I find most interesting.

Mr. Commissioner,
Ladies and gentlemen elected officials,
Mr. Chief of the Air Force Staff,
Mr. Director,
Ladies and gentlemen general officers,
Distinguished Presidents and Chief Executive Officers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

For many, space is a place of wonder and discovery, of mysteries. The reflection of our past, the hope for our future. A place for science certainly, for communications, no doubt. But a place for conflicts, rivalries… war: certainly not.
We left that to fiction.

However, I have a story to tell you.

It is about a satellite. A satellite with an ancient name, Athena-Fidus. A valuable satellite because it allows secure military communications. A satellite that since 2014 has enabled us to exchange information, plan operations and guarantee our security.

But here it is. As Athena-Fidus continued its rotation quietly over the earth, a satellite approached him, closely, a little too close. So close that you would have thought it was really trying to pick up our communications. Trying to listen to your neighbours is not only unfriendly. It’s an act of espionage.

And this little star wars didn’t happen long ago, in a very, very distant galaxy. It took place a year ago, at 36,000 kilometers above our heads. And this satellite with big ears
is called Louch-Olymp, a well-known Russian satellite but a little bit… indiscreet. We had seen it coming, and took the steps that were necessary. We are closely monitoring it, and we have observed that it continued to actively maneuver in the following months to other targets, but tomorrow, who says it won’t come back to one of our satellites?

Luch from Geotracker
The Russian Luch satellite, which tends to move around the geo belt and come close to other satellites, as seen by the Geotracker system

Who says, above all, that i will be the only one when we know very well that other very large space powers deploy intriguing objects in orbit, experiment with potentially offensive abilities, conduct manoeuvres that leave little doubt about their aggressive vocation.

France has been a pioneer in the conquest of space. She managed, through an exemplary cooperation between civilian and military space, to access space independently. She has succeeded in mastering all the key telecommunications and observation applications. France has been the catalyst for a Europe of space, which has led to the emergence of powerful industrial actors and of projects as important as Galileo.

But for some time now, as our neighbours have been changing in part the nature of space, what have we done? Not much of anything. Not enough in any case.

No, we are not protected against these threats. No, espionage and offensive acts don’t just happen to others. Yes, we are in danger, our communications, our military operations as well as our daily lives are in danger if we do not react.

So I come here, to Toulouse, to the heart of our research and our space technologies to say it: space is a major challenge, an absolute priority.

Over the past year, I have therefore given marching orders to our ministry. The Strategic Review examined the issue of space in detail. The Military Programming Law (LPM) provides for the renewal of all our space capabilities. And a dedicated team was launched with a wide mandate and a simple instruction: don’t forbid yourself anything. It will give me back its conclusions in a few weeks and I will then be able to respond to the request of the President of the Republic and submit by the end of the year a defence space strategy.

I can already guess at the remarks of the skeptics. You know, the same people who said that cyberspace would never be attacked or that we could completely give up our military after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Space defence is necessary, it is essential.

It is necessary, because it is from space that we observe our enemies, their movements, that we find their hiding places and that we understand their modes of action. This is essential, because it is through space that we prepare and plan our operations, that we are fighting terrorism, that we are ensuring the security of our forces deployed in all theaters.

These are not empty words. We protect the surroundings of our shores through satellite observations. It is also satellites that are spying on Daech from space, that allow us to spot where its last murderers hide and hit them hard. It is still from heaven that we were able to design Operation Hamilton: thanks to meticulous spatial intelligence, geolocation, our military communication systems. When we spotted and then hit Bashar Al-Assad’s factories and warehouses of death, space supported our forces at all times.

For our Armies, the challenge is very simple: to preserve our freedom of appreciation, access and action in space today and tomorrow. We will have to consider new modes of action. It will be a question not only of operating through space but also in space. We will therefore have to continue to act in support of joint operations, but also to conduct genuine space operations to protect our assets and discourage any aggression.

Tomorrow, we must react. We must react to threats from a few major powers that directly affect us.

At the forefront of these threats are, at the very least unfriendly or even hostile behaviours of a number of major powers. Behaviours that carry the seeds of confrontations of tomorrow. Behaviours that require, if we want to guarantee the peace, to prepare ourselves for all scenarios.

Today, the space environment, much like the cyber environment, offers the comfort of action in the shadows, the almost total guarantee of impunity when it comes to spying or interrupting services. Some States have the means, today, in space or from Earth, by manoeuvres or even by force, to prevent access to space or to degrade the space capabilities of certain countries.

Satellites become prey, targets, even as anti-satellite capabilities of some powers are increasing.

Trajectory of a direct-ascent ASAT, in this case the 2007 Chinese test. The satellite’s trajectory before impact is in yellow. The ASAT’s trajectory is in white. After impact, debris are created, indicated by the spreading red lines.


We had already known for some time that they could be implemented from Earth, but they are developing, becoming more efficient, more ingenious. Directed effect weapons are being perfected. The United States, China and Russia already have some high energy lasers. They are able to reach the mirror of a satellite hundreds of miles away. High power microwave, electromagnetic jammers, those are the many tools capable of degrading the performance of our space monitoring, eavesdropping or communication assets.

Cyber threats, too, can affect our spacecraft or their control centers and ground stations and interrupt their service and functionality. It could even be the preferred mode of action malicious groups, not necessarily state-run ones.

And all opportunities are available. The technical mastery is obviously commendable. But even rapidly developing in-orbit service vehicles can serve as screens for operations and become weapons; under the pretext of coming to perform maintenance or logistics, they approach satellites of other nations, attempt to listen to their emissions or even divert their trajectory.

We are no longer in the early stages of a confrontation. Just like land, sea, air and cyberspace, outer space has become the scene of rivalries between the great powers. It is becoming a field of operations as such. Star wars are much more than just fiction. They will have consequences on our capacities, consequences on our operations, consequences on our daily lives.

Let us also keep in mind that space, today, opens its doors to more newcomers. Newspace, low cost space make space accessible: the democratization of space is under way. We have understood it well. The entire government is committed to new space and I would like to pay particular tribute to the work accomplished by Frédérique Vidal.

Small launchers, miniaturization that allows the development of small satellites and nanosatellites are all open doors to the other side of the atmosphere for new state and private actors. Space X, Google… so many companies with fascinating and exciting projects. But in our legitimate enthusiasm, let us not be not naive. In the shade of these reasoned giants roam groups with evil intentions. And just as the Internet has its pirates, space will have its freebooters.

And in this emerging space, threats will not only come from public and private actors who live in it. They will also come from challenges that we will have to overcome.

The first is traffic management. As I speak, 1,500 active satellites are above us. But tomorrow, how many? Forecasts continue to grow and within 10 years, 3,000 satellites weighing more than 50 kg will have been launched.

This is a huge increase, but it is nothing compared to the one that takes into account the number of smaller satellites. Constellations and mega-constellations of satellites will be put into orbit and, in total, it is estimated that an additional 7,000 satellites will gravitate around the planet within 10 years. Accidents may occur, trajectories may cross, objects may get in each other’s way: we must focus on regulating traffic, controlling launch, and we will have to review the responsibilities of all actors in case of damage. Space Traffic Management is therefore an essential issue.

The second challenge caused by this increase is that of debris.

Space is populated by it. Between 500,000 and 750,000 objects of more than one centimeter gravitate at low orbits and high speeds, up to 7 km per second sometimes. They are liable to collide with our satellites and, at this speed, to cause irreversible damage to them.

How will we look when, through our negligence, a piece of debris no larger than a centimeter, from an old satellite, will disable one of the our satellites even as it provided accurate mapping of the hiding places of terrorist groups?

Let us not let space become a dump. It’s a question of respect for the environment, a question of respect for our space, a question of principles in which we believe. But it is also a a safety issue, as this debris is a major danger to our satellites and for our capabilities.

We know the threats. We know the challenges. We know that space is becoming militarized. We will not stand by and watch idly. France is and will be a space power. This means that we’re going to keep our freedom of access to space. This means that we will empower ourselves to act and monitor. This means that it means that we will build a real strategic spatial autonomy.

Obviously, we will not be leading this construction alone. France will need Europe, it will be a pioneer, a driving force. Cooperation has already been launched, we must continue and intensify it. The resources devoted to the European Union’s space policy will be strengthened: we support this aim. It is up to us to make concrete proposals so that this investment can strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy in the space sector. I want to do so, and I will take this position to Brussels, Berlin, all over Europe. We will be a powerful space state in a strong space Europe.

This does not mean that we will sell out our sovereignty, far from it. This means that projects will be carried out jointly. This means that we will be there to ensure that what cannot be shared will not be shared, that what can be built together will be shared.

I am talking about sovereignty, so I am talking about the Ariane 6 project. I already had the opportunity to say it a few months ago at the ArianeGroup offices, but I repeat it here: this project is essential. It is a guarantee of Europe’s access to space, it benefits both the civilian world and defence, in full synergy with our deterrence industrial base. We will support it with resolve because it is an essential project for France, a key project for our control of space.

Ariane 6
Ariane 62 (left) and 64 (right)

We will also continue to invest in our satellites and their renewal. The Military Programming Law provides for more than €3.6 billion to enable this. I will ensure that these credits arrive, that the programming is respected.

My commitments are acts. At the end of the year, I will travel to Guyana to attend the launch of the first new generation CSO observation satellite. Each year, we will grow in strength and expertise. In 2020, we will launch three CERES electromagnetic listening satellites, providing us with new capacity and enabling us to detect enemy command centers and fleets. And by 2022, the first two Syracuse 4 communications satellites will be in orbit above us, before a third is ordered in 2023, as I requested when the LPM was being developed.

Poster on the importance of CSO, shown during the speech

I am committed to respecting this LPM. In return, I expect that the space programs are on time and within budget.

It is a real increase in the power of our satellite capacities that we will be leading in the coming years. An increase in power that gives us the opportunity to build, launch and operate satellites and to place our name alongside the major military space powers.

As we need to renew, we need to monitor.

Monitor potential ballistic missile departures from space. I am familiar with the issues and challenges of the early warning capacity. I am not closing any doors on this matter.

But the challenge, and the history of Luch-Olymp amply demonstrates it, is above all to monitor space. We already have the means. The GRAVES radar offers a capability that our country is one of the few to possess, and is one of ONERA’s most successful projects. Thanks to it, we can monitor low orbits and detect or reveal the position of satellites at these altitudes. While the United States provides live orbital positions on the Space Track site, we are decisively supplementing their catalogue and are able to provide a contradictory vision. This capacity gives us the means for a more balanced cooperation. This is proof that France is in the restricted circle of respected space powers.

GRAVES is the assurance that we will be respected. We will modernize it, as provided for in the LPM. We complete it with Arianegroup’s GEOTRACKER project and the use of CNRS TAROT telescopes, which gives us a more accurate view of the situation in geostationary orbit.

The emitter of the GRAVES bistatic radar

But despite these successes, today we are not completely autonomous to monitor space. We depend on partly from other nations. How to claim to master our tool of space defense if we are not able to observe the sky alone and accurately? We must be able to assess by autonomy the spatial situation at any time, to understand the manoeuvres that are played out. So I decided to strengthen our national space surveillance and intelligence capabilities.

Pleiades Neo
A Pleiades Neo satellite

How, then, can we go further?

Some projects exist, I am thinking of EU Space Surveillance Tracking. It provides an anti-collision capability but saying that this project has been completed seems very excessive to me. We are still far from achieving our objectives but I remain confident. I remain confident because I know France and Germany, in partnership with other European countries, are determined to build, together, unifying projects.

But above all, by diagnosing our surveillance capabilities, one thing came to mind. A Shadok motto: “why do it simple when you can make it complicated?” Today, while the technologies have changed, we observe space from Earth. That is all.

So tomorrow, we will launch this simple and new idea for our country: we will observe space from space.

And to achieve this, we will place secondary payloads to observe the environment of our satellites, in other words surveillance cameras, for example on the SYRACUSE satellites that we will launch. We will promote the launch of satellites dedicated to the observation of objects in space. We will also be involved in the opportunities offered by commercial satellite constellation projects.

These constellations are the perfect transition to the second priority that I give us to become a leading military power in space: seize all the opportunities of new space.

It’s not a new style of music, it’s a turning point in space conquest. It means seeing industrial groups or new technologies take over an area that was until then the prerogative of States. New technologies, the interest of private actors, the ingenuity of our researchers and creators are as many assets to lower prices, to believe in miniaturization, in reuse.

So far, France has applied an extremely precautionary principle when it came to venturing into space. This corresponds to at another time, a time when the objective was to take man to space and where no risk taking was possible. [note: this is a bit romanticized. In France human spaceflight was never a priority, but building reliable ballistic missiles was]. This era draws to a close, space has become a place for experimentation, communications, personal assistance tools, always faster and always more precise. Soon, these tools will allow us to communicate even faster than today, to find our way with a exceptional accuracy. I mentioned Geotracker earlier for the monitoring of the geostationary orbit. Thales on its side, within the Space Alliance, is investing in new sensors that will enable the cataloguing and identification of space objects. This service will be able to provide a first-class operational capability. Regarding earth observation, Pléiades Néo, developed by Airbus, will provide cutting-edge services soon.

So let us no longer think of all-state funding as the only way to finance and to carry out projects. Let us look at each other’s innovations. Let us take advantage of this new commercial logic, which creates the emulation in the search for ever finer technologies at ever lower costs.

There is nothing dogmatic about this ambition, nothing ideological about it. It is done only to serve our forces, to serve our country.

We will reach out to our industrial partners and everyone must be sure of what this means: win-win. We will continue to need our own satellites, but we will not hesitate to turn to trusted operators on whom we can rely in all circumstances. I am also counting on all manufacturers to make offers for the provision of capacities and services… It is also up to private investors to share some of the risk. And I am counting on the experts in my department to define precisely the eligibility criteria for this status of trusted operator.

I am talking to you about concrete projects, projects that could come to fruition very quickly. More satellites means more images. Constellations of small observation satellites, for example, could allow us to significantly reduce the time between two observations. They provide us with the resilience we need to ensure continuity of our operations in the face of increasing aggression capabilities. These constellations will help the mobility of our future weapon systems such as the air combat system of the future, SCAF or of land combat, renewed thanks to the SCORPION program.

But the mass and flow of information generated by these ecosystems will be useless, particularly for our intelligence services, without the appropriate means: no success without big data and artificial intelligence! These are therefore major areas of our research for the coming years.

Miniaturization, electric propulsion, robotics, on-orbit rendez-vous techniques, allowing the development of on-orbit servicing, are all technologies in which we must invest. In this regard, I want to congratulate the very positive Space Tug project developed by Airbus. These technological advances contribute to the strengthening of our capacities by also providing responses to attacks.

These technological advances will of course bring us innovations in support of our global operations. They will also allow us to discourage or even counter any attack on our satellites, ground stations or space services. I opened the reflection in this domain because the anti-satellite war is already a reality: it will be necessary to count with us!

Our department is ready for this innovation. This is the reason why I created the Defence Innovation Agency and also the Defense Lab, useful and effective tools to advise and support imagination. I know I can count on the DGA and CNES to help us to identify these ruptures, to support them, to develop them. I also know that I can count on the inventiveness of start-ups and the vitality of SMEs. They are as much energy and creation. I am thinking, for example, of Unseen Labs, and its intelligent systems on nanosatellites. This is an opportunity that we cannot miss and that is why we have decided to support it with the DefInvest fund.

While a number of powers are developing more or less discreetly offensive capabilities, how to respond? How to discourage any attempt to damage our space assets? In regulating space activities more? By strengthening the defence and the resilience of our space systems? By exploring the possibility of acquire the capacity to act in this environment? This is one of the challenges key to our ongoing reflection. All the options are on the table and, just as I didn’t hesitate to arm the drones or fight for defence budgets: I will not hesitate to propose strong decisions to the President of the Republic.

And since we are talking about strong decisions, I naturally come to our governance. The stakes are huge, the opportunities are enormous. Not being prepared, not being effective would be criminal.

Our actors are remarkable. Researchers, engineers, students, lawyers and military: they know the mysteries of our procedures, every nook and cranny of our defense architecture. CNES, ONERA, CIE, COSMOS, DGA, DRM, COM CYBER, DGRIS, DIRISI, DAJ : this list speaks for itself. We have almost as many acronyms as we have talents. I want to recognize these talents, to encourage them, to maintain them. I would like to say to all those who work daily for the defence in space how much I know about the quality of their work, the fervour of their passion. I also want to tell them that we must ensure that there are no blind spots, redundancies or silo work. We will therefore revisit our defence architecture and draw on it all the conclusions, without conservatism.

I heard many people laughing at the announcement of the creation of an American Space Force. I’m not one of them. I am not at all. I see it as an extremely powerful signal: the signal of future confrontations, the signal of the weight gained by space, the signal of tomorrow’s challenges.

We must review our governance of space, that is essential.

This does not mean that everything must be changed, it means that we must move forward with realism, pragmatism, efficiency.

This requires confirmation of the ensemble’s expertise capacity of the directorates and services of the Ministry of the Armed Forces. This is done through stronger relations with CNES as well as with industry. Relationships that fully integrate security and defence issues. Relationships that rise up to what awaits us tomorrow.

We will have to reflect, without taboos. At a time when new actors are entering the space field, for example, should we not establish extremely precise criteria for what a trusted partner means?

We must be ready and that means having the best people at our side. ISAE Sup’Aero, X, the Air School, universities are the most important nurseries of the pioneers of tomorrow’s space. Passionate and of immense quality. This movement must be amplified and create an excellent HR network within the ministry that will support expertise and strategic vision.

I have been talking to you about war for a while now. I am talking about this pickup truck full of death weapons that we can observe from space. I am talking about secure calls, encrypted communications.

The reality is there, but it is also elsewhere. Are you lost in the middle of a street? Your smartphone, equipped with a chip, connected to Galileo, geolocates you to within a few meters. You are looking for the best management of agricultural plants, you want to harvest, let’s say, peas and you want to know when to pick them up and what the condition of the plantations is. A satellite informs you. From rural to urban areas, from large companies to small farms, every day, more than 10 satellites accompany us and help us in our daily lives.

Protecting space is all about that. It means protecting our way of life, our willingness to act and to undertake. It means guaranteeing our freedom and ensuring that we will never look away from the sky, where our future is being invented.

Thank you very much!


5 thoughts on “Space & Defence policy speech by the French Minister of the Armed Forces”

  1. […] Overall, SEEING 1.5m gives Safran a good position as a partner or subcontractor in a smallsat constellation. For instance, it would be very competitive should the French Ministry of Defense choose to launch such a constellation for tactical use, to avoid relying a handful of hard-to-defend and costly satellites, and increase its revisit frequency. This was suggested by the Minister herself in a recent speech. […]


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