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Europe GPS Plan Shelved

Exasperated European officials say U.S. pressure appears to have torpedoed a $3 billion project to build a European version of the U.S. global positioning system, which uses signals from orbiting satellites to track geographical position within 36 meters.

The proposed system, dubbed Galileo, was intended to give Europeans more autonomy, both industrially and militarily. That’s no small concern, since the United States can selectively block access to GPS, as it has during the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Also, European plans to develop a rapid-reaction military force will become much more credible with their own GPS in military operations. But U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz sent a letter to all 15 European Union defense ministers last month, urging them to influence their governments not to proceed with Galileo. That deferred any decision on the project, and now looks to have brought its momentum to a halt.

“Galileo is almost dead,” Gilles Gantelet, spokesman for Loyola de Palacio, the European commissioner in charge of the project, said.

“We expect that we could have the decision by March at the latest. If there is no decision in March, then we could consider Galileo … dead.”

Wolfowitz’s rationale, according to Gantelet and published reports, was that the United States Defense Department, which funds and operates GPS, plans to upgrade the system’s capabilities and use more frequencies for signals.

The European system, Wolfowitz reportedly cautioned, could interfere with that. But Gantelet questions that claim. He said the Europeans have communicated to the U.S. government plans to avoid any technical problems with operating two systems.