India and EU fail to ink Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System agreement

India and EU fail to ink Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System agreement

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New Delhi, India, 16 October 2006: India’s participation in the Galileo project, a satellite navigation system being developed by EU and European Space Agency, expected to rival the United States’ GPS, has run into the hard ground realities of security concerns. India fears that sharing of sensitive data may not be adequately firewalled from individuals and other nations participating in the enterprise.

India had signed up to the 30-satellite landmark space navigation project in September last year. The details of the Indian participation were to be completed during the just-concluded summit meeting of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with EU leaders in Helsinki.

But the expected progress could not be made in Helsinki, sources said, adding that the Indian concerns related to the access that the satellite system would have to all manner of geographical and tactical locations in the country.

These issues, said sources, had not been resolved at Helsinki and despite the official statement before the PM’s visit, that details of Indian participation in the Galileo project were close to completion, there was a lack of progress when Indian and EU officials discussed the issues in Finland.

A major contributor to the project is China, which has agreed to sign seven contracts with EU to participate in Galileo and has committed itself to a $ 241 million investment in the project. Already, in respect to Chinese investment in projects in India relating to areas like ports and telecom, objections have been raised on security grounds.

On Saturday, the European Commission had suggested, in a policy shift that sets it on a collision course with UK and the US that Galileo might be opened up for military use.

Speaking in Luxembourg, M. Barrot said, “Galileo was supposed to be a civilian system only but I wonder whether we shouldn’t question that.” He added: “I myself believe that the idea of only using Galileo for civilian purposes will not persist into the future because I think that our military cannot do without some sort of [navigation] system.”

The transport commissioner’s comments have revived differences about a project that took shape against the background of deep misgivings in Washington. The US was originally opposed to the European scheme on the very basis that it might have military applications. Britain initially stalled over Galileo, demanding a report by management consultants before it subsequently threw its weight behind it.

While Indian military and civilian facilities are open to satellite surveillance from US and other military-use satellites, the problem with Galileo project is uncertainty over users of the data.