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July 26, 2019

French Defence Minister announces anti-satellite laser weapons

France has announced plans to develop a weapons system to defend French satellites in an effort to close the gap on developments by other countries.

By Harry Lye

France has announced plans to develop a weapons system to defend French satellites in an effort to close the gap on developments by other countries.

In light of growing advancement into space, French defence minister Florence Parly announced ambitions to develop an area in which France has fallen behind.

She said: “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.”

The US, Russia and China invest heavily in developing new arms and surveillance technology for space, and there are currently over 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth.

While most satellites are used to transmit commercial and military communications or to track the weather, the ability to detect and disable enemy spy satellites is crucial for a country’s security.

Parly, speaking at the Lyon-Mont-Verdun airbase, detailed further potential weapons capabilities, including machine guns capable of shooting the solar panels of enemy satellites to disable them, and swarms of nano-satellites that would patrol around French satellites.

The announcement follows the French President’s announcement of the creation of a French space force command, earlier this month.

Macron’s initiative mirrors recent US developments, highlighting the French desire to keep up with international competition. During her speech, Parly said: “Our allies and adversaries are militarising space… we need to act.”

One of the biggest challenges facing France will be developing these weapons with a considerably lower budget than her rivals. China invests €10bn and Russia €4bn each year which, even discounting the US, dwarfs French annual investment.

Annual investment has previously levelled at €2bn, but the French military space programme has been given €3.6bn for 2019 to 2025, with an extra €3.6m announced on Thursday.

Despite competition with the US, China and Russia, Parly insisted that France was not joining a new space arms race: “I want to be precise: active defence has got nothing to do with an offensive strategy.”

France is one of only five declared nuclear powers and will have the largest armed forces in the European Union following Britain’s exit from the union.

By Rachel Cordery

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