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U.S. offers EU deal on Galileo satellite system

The Pentagon would share its satellite know-how if the European Union adopted U.S.-backed technical standards for Galileo, its planned multibillion-dollar satellite navigation tool, U.S. officials said recently. If Europe goes along, the United States also will commit to using the signal structure at issue in the next generation of its own Global Positioning System, turning it into a de-facto international standard and unleashing investments.

European refusal, on the other hand, would harm U.S. and NATO security interests “which would be highly corrosive to the transatlantic relationship,” said Charles Ries, a deputy assistant secretary of state. A spokesman for the EU, Anthony Gooch, made clear the issue may be thorny. The signal structure currently favored by the Europeans for the service in question, he said, would give consumers “far more accuracy” than the one pushed by Washington, and the Europeans were keen on a “state-of-the-art” system.

The Bush administration was setting the stage for fresh, negotiations on Jan. 28 and 29 in Washington on Galileo, a 30-satellite constellation the EU calls vital to Europe’s technological, economic and strategic future. The United States has been pressing the EU to make sure Galileo and GPS — a dual-use system to support both civil and military users — mesh as seamlessly as possible for the benefit of users, manufacturers and service providers. Above all, the Pentagon is concerned by what it calls the M Code Overlay issue. By this, the U.S. military means it considers it unacceptable for any of Galileo’s planned services to overlap the part of the radio frequency spectrum reserved by the GPS system for battlefield purposes.

The “M Code” would let U.S. and NATO commanders jam GPS signals to foes within a radius of 100 to 200 kilometers (62-124 miles). Preserving it is vital to U.S. and allied national security interests, Ries told a briefing at the State Department. Emphasizing this, Richard McKinney, the U.S. Air Force’s deputy director for space acquisition, said the United States conditionally was ready to help Europe “harden” its satellites for survival in space, assist on atomic clock issues at the heart of the system and share tips on ground control, including software updates.

But if the Europeans opt not to go with the U.S.-backed signal structure — known by the unwieldy name of Binary Offset Carrier, or BOC, (1,1) — “then that offer won’t be there,” McKinney told the briefing. The Europeans are weighing another modulation for its mass market-targeted “Open Service” — BOC (1.5,1.5) — that would have about a 50 percent greater impact on U.S. ability to use the M Code, McKinney said.

At talks in November, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, agreed to a signal structure for another of Galileo’s services — the so-called Public Regulated Signal — that resolved Pentagon concerns about its potential harm to U.S. and allied military operations.

Ries, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, hailed the November agreement as a “breakthrough” that suggested U.S. military concerns would be satisfied in the end. “We will stay at the table until we find a deal,” he said. “And we’re not putting a deadline on them.”

Jim Wolf, Reuters