France conducts its first military space exercise

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France is conducting its first space military exercise this week to assess its capabilities for protecting its satellites and monitoring in an increasingly militarized space, which has become the scene of confrontations between powers.

The AsterX exercise – “a nod to the first French satellite” Asterix launched in 1965 – organized from March 8 to 12, is a “first for the French armies and even the first in Europe”, confided General Michel Friedling, boss of the Space Command (CDE), during a conference call.

It constitutes in particular a “stress test of our systems” in order to assess future needs and to support the rise of this new command installed in Toulouse and which will include 500 personnel in 2025, he specified.

The scenario of the exercise – fully simulated – starts from a crisis between a State endowed with space capacities and another which has a military assistance agreement with France.

“A series of events creates situations of crisis or threats against our space assets, but not only”, he explained, adding that “fictitious media and social networks” would play a role in the scenario.

These “events” are for example the “risky re-entry” into the atmosphere of a space object that will have to be monitored to warn the populations if necessary, or “the approach on one of our strategic satellites”.

Hypotheses far from being fictitious: in 2017, the Russian “spy satellite” Louch-Olympe attempted to approach the Franco-Italian military satellite Athena-Fidus; Washington last year accused Russia of “conducting a non-destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon from space.”

The US Space Force and the German Space Situation Center are also participating in this exercise.

To “beef up” its space posture, Paris established a defense space strategy in 2019 and plans to devote nearly 5 billion euros to it over the duration of the military programming law (2019-2025), including 3.6 billion euros. billion for the renewal of its satellite capacities -CSO of optical surveillance, Ceres of electromagnetic intelligence, Syracuse of military communications- and space surveillance.

For this, France has a database of more than 10,000 space objects in orbit, which it continuously monitors.

And by the end of the decade, it intends to acquire patrol satellites equipped with cameras and powerful lasers to keep too curious spacecraft at a distance from its satellites.