On March 8th, France launched its first military exercise in space to evaluate its ability to defend its satellites and other defense equipment from an attack.
The exercise involves 18 simulated events from 8 to 12 March, conducted in France’s Space Command operations room in Toulouse.
It is “first for the French armies and even the first in Europe,” according to General Michel Friedling, commander of French Space Command. The newly-created US Space Force and the German Space Situational Awareness Centre are also participating in this exercise.
The exercises are a “stress-test of our systems,” said Michel Friedling.
The exercise, codenamed “AsterX” in memory of the first French satellite from 1965, will be based on 18 simulated events in an operations room.
🛰️ Ce premier exercice militaire spatial vise à éprouver les processus opérationnels et les systèmes mis en œuvre par les opérateurs, et d’en tirer les enseignements afin d'objectiver le besoin opérationnel dans le secteur spatial.— Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (@Armee_de_lair) March 4, 2021
The development of advanced spy satellites and secretive telecoms infrastructure has added strategic importance to space in recent years.
Space Command formed in 2019 in response to the growing trend of global powers deploying military equipment into Earth’s orbit.
“Our allies and adversaries are militarizing space… We need to act,” Defense Minister Florence Parly said at the time.
“If our satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries. We reserve the right and the means to be able to respond: that could imply the use of powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patrolling nano-satellites.”
“A series of events appear and create crisis situations or threats against our space infrastructure, but not only this,” Friedling told reporters from the Space Command headquarters in Toulouse in southwest France.
France also planned to develop anti-satellite laser weapons and to strengthen surveillance capabilities in an area that it believes could become a major theater of confrontation between powers on Earth.
This is all allegedly caused by Russia and China’s reported efforts to militarize space. So far, neither Russia nor China have held space military exercises, while those accusing them of doing so have.
In 2020, Washington accused Russia of having “conducted a non-destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon from space.”
Paris’ military drill is part of the French government’s strategy to make the country the world’s third-largest space power.
The French Space Command was created on July 13, 2019, to deal with two emerging threats. On the one hand, military and civil operations increasingly depend on space capabilities, while threats to their integrity also develop in parallel. On the other hand, France’s spatial industry and technological edge are being questioned by the recent development of the private sector ‒ the NewSpace.
The French Space Forces Command, Commandement de l’Espace (CdE) was created in 2019 and is set to have 500 personnel by 2025.
France chose to dedicate nearly €5 billion by 2025 to the development of its spatial capacities. A new operational center is being built in Toulouse, bringing together its military satellite observation center (CMOS), and the center of military surveillance of space objects (COSMOS), unique in Europe, which constantly monitors over 10,000 space objects in orbit.