France placed in orbit on Saturday a military communication satellite presented as a jewel of technology and a pillar of its sovereignty, witness among others that geopolitical tensions are now exported into space.
The Ariane 5 rocket took off from Kourou, Guyana, carrying the 4A satellite of the Syracuse program, which will allow the French armies deployed to the four corners of the globe to communicate at high speed and in complete safety from ground, air and sea relays. and submarines.
“Syracuse 4A is designed to resist military attacks from the ground and in space as well as interference”Colonel Stéphane Spet, spokesperson for the Air and Space Army, told AFP. It is equipped with means of surveillance of its close surroundings and with a capacity of movement to escape an attack.
A real risk: in July 2020, the US space command accused Moscow of having “Conducted a non-destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon from space”. And in 2017, the Russian “spy satellite” Louch-Olympe had already tried to approach the Franco-Italian military satellite Athena-Fidus.
Ultimate performance, S4 is protected against the electro-magnetic pulses which would result from a nuclear explosion, explains to AFP Marc Finaud, expert in proliferation of weapons at the Political Center of Security of Geneva (GCSP). “This is the scenario of the last warning, in case of failure of deterrence”.
The Syracuse program represents a total investment of some 4 billion euros. The fourth generation will triple the communication speed of S3. The General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) has committed with Thales to the tune of 354 million euros and with Airbus for 117 million for Syracuse 4 alone.
“There is an almost mathematical law of regular increase in the volumes of data”, underlines Colonel Spet, citing the needs generated by the command systems, the representation of tactical situations in the field, the video (for example from Reaper drones deployed in the Sahel).
Or the real-time processing of data coming from several places on the planet. Ultimately, France will have 400 stations capable of communicating with S4 from the ground, an aircraft, a ship or a submarine, according to the DGA.
A credibility tool
However, French nuclear deterrence relies heavily on its submarines, recalls Marc Finaud, an expert in arms proliferation at the Geneva Security Policy Center (GCSP). “If an adversary is capable of modifying, hacking, damaging communications with submarines, it is the end of deterrence”.
The long-planned deployment of the satellite is timely as Paris pushes its project for European sovereignty in defense. France, which has sovereign maritime areas on all the seas of the globe, cannot do without a powerful technological base.
“She needs this segment to show that she has the means to achieve her ambitions”, says Xavier Pasco, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) and specialist in space issues. “This gives credibility to all of its military tools, as well as its industrial capacity”.
A few weeks after the humiliation received by Australia, which gave up a huge contract for French submarines in favor of American submarines, further weakening French power in the Indo-Pacific, the S4 satellite gives pride to the wounded beast. .
“Politically, it is the demonstration that France remains a perhaps middle power, but whose scope of action remains international”insists Xavier Pasco.
With its two billion euros of annual investments in military and civilian space, France remains far from the top three: 50 billion for the United States, 10 for China and 4 for Russia, according to figures from 2020 from the French government.
But S4 allows France to remain in the leading pack and confirms that Paris is participating in the arms race.
Marc Finaud mentions in passing the potential risk coming from the “Nebula of hackers, pirates, criminal or terrorist actors who could embark on a kind of more artisanal star wars”. As for spatial geopolitics, it is stretched a little more each year. “We are talking about space warfare and this risk is accepted by everyone”.
The second satellite put into orbit is called ES-17. It is a telecommunications satellite operated by the Luxembourg group SES. It must provide coverage over the Americas, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. It was designed in particular to revolutionize in-flight connectivity for aircraft users, meet the strong demand for data transmission in the maritime transport sectors and accelerate digital inclusion initiatives.