A shot across the bows

The way China destroyed a satellite with a missile on January 11 has put the cat among the chickens. “I imagine”, writes Alex Neill from the Royal United Services Institute,

there are some deep ruminations going on at the Pentagon. The crux of US defence capability is its command-and-control networks, which are reliant on satellite capabilities. This is a clear statement that China does not want to see [US] hegemony of what they call “the space arena”.

There were allegations late last summer that an American optical surveillance satellite had been illuminated by a Chinese laser system. This can be regarded as a symbolic gesture but, if true, it means they can track a satellite and potentially blind it as it passes over China. The Chinese have now demonstrated that they can track, target and destroy in space…

In my uninformed way, I’d been brooding about this for a while. One of the most obvious technological trends in the last three decades has been the increasing reliance — first in military applications and now in the civil arena too — on GPS and Satnav technology. What, I wondered, if this were vulnerable to attack? Is it the weakest link (to coin a phrase)? Looks like it might be.

Also, the decision by the EU to press ahead with its own GPS infrastructure doesn’t look so daft now. Wonder what happened to that project? (Googles busily.) Ah, here we are. It’s called the Galileo Project — and it’s behind schedule:

The European Commissioner in charge of transport, Jacques Barrot, has admitted that the Galileo satellite navigation project is behind schedule because negotiations with the eight private partners who will manage the system once completed have still not been completed.

Barrot said the year-end deadline to conclude the negotiations would again be missed. Original plans called for a deal to be concluded by late 2005.

The Commissioner also revealed that the start-up budget of Euros 1.5 billion is still about Euros 200 million short and that talks with national governments are continuing to finalize this budget…

Better get a move on guys. And keep in with the Chinese.

Sigh. So much for human rights.