February 9, 2011

US And France Strike Space Debris Deal

U.S. and French defense leaders agreed on Tuesday to help track space debris and avoid collisions of vital satellites.

The accord reflects a new U.S. space security policy that calls for forging an alliance of foreign partners to save costs and counter possible threats to satellites that reinforce U.S. military's high-tech weaponry.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, that with a growing number of countries operating in space, there was a mounting risk of accidental collisions as well as international disputes.

"This arrangement will foster safety and reduce the chances of mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust," Gates said before signing the accord.

The U.S. military and its allies rely on satellites for communications, GPS navigation, spying and targeting.

Gates said cooperation in space was crucial given the role of satellites in natural disaster warnings, climate monitoring and precision navigation.

The one-page "Statement of Principles" calls for sharing technical data and examining the potential for "combined space surveillance networks" but does not set out detailed plans.

Juppe said the agreement marked an "ambitious partnership" and reflected the "high level of confidence" between the two countries.

The space agreement is the second of its kind, with the U.S. and Australia signing a similar deal a year ago.

A senior U.S. defense official told AFP that negotiations are under way for an agreement with Canada as well.

"We are developing a small number of these agreements with critical allies with whom we want to cooperate closely in space," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. military radars and sensors track about 22,000 man-made objects in orbit, and experts estimate there are hundreds of thousands of additional pieces of debris that are too small to monitor.

The Pentagon expressed concern over China's pursuit of space weapons that could knock out satellites or jam signals while it presented the new National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) last week.

China shot down one of its own weather satellites in 2007 using a medium-range ground missile, sparking international concern not only about how China was "weaponizing" space, but also about debris from the satellite.

The U.S. has reserved the right to respond in "self-defense" to attacks in space.

Gates said that the two defense chiefs also discussed the crisis in Egypt, the war in Afghanistan, NATO reform and international efforts to "contain" Iran's nuclear ambitions.


Image 2: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, escorts French Defense Minister Alain Juppe through an honor cordon into the Pentagon, Feb. 8, 2011. The two defense leaders held security discussions on a broad range of topics, including the situations in Tunisia and Egypt. DOD photo by R.D. Ward


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