US defence chiefs try to squash Galileo

The US government has requested that European ministers of defence put the brakes on the Galileo project - the European effort to...

The US government has requested that European ministers of defence put the brakes on the Galileo project - the European effort to create an alternative satellite global positioning system.

While the US does not explicitly demand that the project be cancelled, if the European Union yields to US pressure, the project is doomed.

The US has lobbied against the Galileo project for several years and the secret letter sent by US deputy secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, to EU defence ministers steps up the campaign.

Wolfowitz identifies two problems. Signals from Galileo satellites might interfere with security-sensitive GPS-M signals. The GPS-M system is only available to US forces. The other problem is that the Galileo system could be used for military purposes.

The US government secretly sent a letter on 1 December 2001 to the ministers of defence in European NATO member countries. The target, though, was EU transport ministers, who handle the Galileo project.

Wolfowitz's statement could be interpreted as discouraging civilians from dealing with something that should be handled by the military.

Wolfowitz urged EU defence ministers to "convey these security concerns" to their transport colleagues. However, if the EU does plan to adapt Galileo for military use, Wolfowitz stated that he wants this to be discussed "in an appropriate forum." By implication, this is likely to mean a military forum.

However, any such discussion must be concluded before March 25 when EU transport ministers meet to determine the fate of Galileo.

According to a report on the Galileo project, published in November 2001 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the Galileo project will yield about €15bn (£9.1bn) in revenue from 2008 to 2020. However, a US government analysis discredits that estimate and the project.

Gilles Gantelet, press spokesman to the EU commissioner of transport, Loyola de Palacio, said: "No technical problem can delay Galileo any more. We can discuss all technical aspects with the USA, but not delay the launching of the development phase any more. March is the very last deadline to launch it. There will be no more delays."

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