Salvaging Galileo

When the public-private partnership that was originally envisioned to pay for the development of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system fell through earlier this year, it became clear that if Galileo was to continue, it would have to do so entirely at the expense of European taxpayers. Now it appears that EU has found a way to make that happen: it “found” over €2.4 billion (US$3.3 billion) needed to finance Galileo from other programs, notably “Preservation and Management of Natural Resources” (aka agricultural programs), which has a sizable surplus. Proponents of Galileo say that this approach allows them to continue the program without seeking additional money directly from national governments or cutting other programs.

The decision has to be ratified by EU member nations, and it appears from media reports that there will be at least some opposition to that approach. Ordinarily any budget surplus would be distributed back to EU member nations, and some farmer groups want the money spent on additional agricultural programs, not Galileo. The International Herald Tribune also noted that, in the eyes of some, Galileo has become “a personal quest” for EU transportation minister Jacques Barrot.

The EU transport ministers are scheduled to meet again in early October to review the proposal, although it may take much longer to win over some governments. In the meantime, one wonders if it was any coincidence that, on the eve of the EU announcement, the White House announced that equipment designed to degrade GPS signals would no longer be included on future GPS spacecraft. “Although the United States stopped the intentional degradation of GPS satellite signals in May 2000,” the White House statement read, “this new action will result in the removal of SA [selective availability] capabilities, thereby eliminating a source of uncertainty in GPS performance that has been of concern to civil GPS users worldwide.” Like, for example, in Europe.

8 comments to Salvaging Galileo

  • Donald F. Robertson

    As the Galileo turns. The Europeans should buy a stake in GPS-III, and we should encourage them to do so. Having the Europeans contribute to GPS-III would produce a greater benefit to us than having them (eventually) produce a competitive system. Better yet, we can invite the British and the other countries uncomfortable about full public finding of Galileo to join GPS and possibly split the fragile European coalition, which would also contribute toward marginalizing the Russian and Indian competition. (Alternatively, of course, we might benefit from competition to GPS through greater global redundancy.)

    Unfortunately, these kinds of subtle military and industrial policy considerations and tradeoffs seem beyond our foreign policy skills in these post-ITAR days.

    — Donald

  • richardb

    I wonder if there is the makings of a WTO case with the Euros’s attempting to claim the US is “dumping” the free GPS? By the time Galileo comes online, say around 2015, I would expect all manufacturers of consumer GPS receivers will be multimode taking GPS, Glossnas, Galileo, Beidou and signals from others. Only Galileo will attempt to charge a user fee, tax, what have you. Why would anyone use Galileo? User fees dry up, Euros howl and here comes the WTO.

    Looks like the world will be awash in GPS signals, no wonder the Pentagon threw in the towel on degraded signals.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    richardb: I wonder if there is the makings of a WTO case with the Euros’s attempting to claim the US is “dumping” the free GPS?

    Well, if we’re going to complain about, say, low interest loans to their commercial airline manufacturers, is it totally unreasonable for them to complain about us offering a service at a price that makes it impossible for them to break even on the same service? I like having GPS as a free service, but now that it is an established commercial product you could certainly make a case for that as an unfair trading practice.

    — Donald

  • richardb

    Right and while I was aiming for some levity, nothing would surprise me when it comes to Europe and the WTO.

    By the way, back when Europe was trying to ensnare Russia and China into Galileo, the US was making it hard on Europe to proceed with it. I wonder if they care about Galileo anymore now that Russia, China and others have their own deployment plans? For sure, any combatant using GPS of any nationality to drop precision bombs on US troops would not expect the US to just take it. We must already have the means to selectively degrade our own as well as others.

  • Donald F. Robertson

    Reading between the lines of this week’s AvWeek, it looks to me like the Europeans have given up making any money on Galileo and are now trying to decide whether it’s worth the price to guarantee their independence from GPS. My guess is that in the end they’ll very reluctantly decide it is, and cough up some truncated Galileo design. This reluctance to spend the money is why I think there might be an opening to rope them into GPS if we’re prepared to give them some limited control over their access to the system (that is, giving them a veto over whether their access is turned off over Europe and regions they may be operating in).

    — Donald

  • richardb

    I can’t imagine the desperation of the Galileo team if they think the way forward is by taking “leftover” agriculture funds. They are picking a fight with the most powerful lobby in the EU. Any takers on the farmers applauding this high minded usage of their funds? This fight is far from over, Galileo I think will be looking for funds this time next year.

  • CentEur

    I can’t imagine the desperation of the Galileo team if they think the way forward is by taking “leftover” agriculture funds

    Now it’s EC idea, not only Galileo team’s.

  • David Murtaugh

    This outcome was predicted by a lot of people many years ago. There were few people who believed that the Europeans would be able to charge money for something that the Americans provided for free. Plus, the delay in getting Galileo operating meant that GPS devices would be all over the place before Europeans even had the option of using Galileo. (I can attest to this: during a recent European trip I saw them in use in a lot of places. Every taxi has one, and many people have them in their mobile phones.)

    What a lot of people who watched this issue claimed was that the whole thing was really a bait-and-switch by big aerospace in Europe. They wanted Galileo approved and underway and figured that once it was in development they would be able to get government funding to finish it when the commercial arrangement collapsed. The biggest backers for Galileo were always European aerospace companies.

    Apparently the American decision concerning SA on GPSIII is a bit of a surprise to people who have been observing this issue. But it appears as if the US is finally getting serious about GPSIII after years of inaction. That inaction in many ways helped Galileo, because the Europeans could claim that Galileo was offering something the Americans would not provide, and they could also play the anti-American card by saying that the Americans were sitting on frequencies (supposedly for GPSIII) that they never intended to use.

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