PPresident Emmanuel Macron commanded a laser attack in space on Friday – on the computer. The attack was part of a large-scale training maneuver by the new French space command in Toulouse. Under the code name “Aster X”, crisis situations have been simulated since Monday, such as the threat to a satellite from an enemy force or the surveillance of a dangerous space object. It is the first time France has held a space maneuver. The American Space Force and the German space agencies took part in the exercise. The name Aster X alludes to the first French satellite Asterix from 1965. The role of satellites in everyday life as well as in military reconnaissance has grown steadily since then. They are needed for banking and logistics as well as for cell phones or weather forecasts.
So far there has been a lack of protective measures for the satellites. That is why Macron decided in 2019 to found the space command based on the model of the American “United States Space Command”. The President attributes France to a pioneering role in the EU to raise awareness of the new threats in space. Attack and disruption scenarios in space are not just pure fiction.
“An act of espionage”
As the French Ministry of Defense has confirmed, in October 2017 a Russian spy satellite (Luch-Olymp) came conspicuously close to a Franco-Italian satellite for military communications (Athena-Fidus). Defense Minister Florence Parly commented on the incident with the words: “It was not only unfriendly, it was an act of espionage.” Overall, provocations such as the hacking and jamming of satellites have increased in recent years. China, Russia and, more recently, India have already tested ways to destroy satellites.
During his visit to Toulouse, Macron followed an exercise in which the Republic of Siva was attacked by the Piros Confederation. The battle took place in space, and around 60 space fighters had to analyze the situation in front of their computers and develop solutions. Macron had previously had a model of the Nasa rover Perseverance explained to him. He was given the first recordings of the Supercam from Mars as a present. General Michel Friedling, who heads the French Commandement de l’Espace (CDE), explained the exercises to the President.
“There are a number of events that create crisis situations or threats to our space infrastructure,” said Friedling. The aim is to show that France’s space strategy does not consist only of declarations of intent, but that the establishment of the command is proceeding swiftly. All civil and military units are to be relocated to the new CDE center in Toulouse by 2025. These include the military observation center for space objects near Lyon and the satellite monitoring center in Creil. The civil research centers Office national d’études et de recherches aérospatiales and the Center national d’études spatiales are also involved.
Macron chaired a secret meeting in Toulouse to discuss future space strategy. Last year, a 70-page policy paper (“Stratégie spatiale de défense”) was published, which is to be completed by a confidential section. France is pursuing a defensive strategy in space, it emphasizes. It is not about militarizing space, but about protecting our own and the satellites of friendly states. France will therefore equip satellites with laser weapons in the future in order to be able to defend itself against enemy attacks in space. In addition, so-called nanosatellites, satellites with a weight of up to ten kilograms, are to be sent into space from 2023, which can detect “unfriendly movements or dangerous debris”.
The anti-satellite laser weapons should be used “only for self-defense”. Macron has approved additional funding of 700 million euros for the space program through 2025. The military budget for 2019 to 2025 has already earmarked 3.6 billion euros for this. Compared to the American budget for the military space program of more than 50 billion dollars a year, this seems modest.