A jewel of military technology, but also a pillar of French sovereignty.
On Saturday, the Ariane 5 rocket took off from Kourou, Guyana.
On board, the military communications satellite 4A of the Syracuse program.
It should allow the French armies deployed to the four corners of the globe to communicate at high speed and in complete safety from ground, air, sea and submarine relays.
“Syracuse 4A is designed to withstand military attacks from the ground and in space as well as interference,” explained Colonel Stéphane Spet, spokesperson for the French Air Force and Space.
It is equipped with means of surveillance of its close surroundings and with a capacity of movement to escape an attack.
In July 2020, the US space command accused Moscow of having "conducted a non-destructive test of an anti-satellite weapon from space."
And in 2017, the Russian "spy satellite" Louch-Olympe had already tried to approach the Franco-Italian military satellite Athena-Fidus.
Ultimate performance, S4 is protected against the electromagnetic pulses which would result from a nuclear explosion, explains Marc Finaud, expert in the proliferation of weapons at the Geneva Political Security Center (GCSP).
"This is the last warning scenario, if deterrence fails."
Communication speed tripled
The Syracuse program represents a total investment of some 4 billion euros.
The fourth generation will triple the communication speed of S3.
The General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) has committed with Thales to the tune of 354 million euros and with Airbus for 117 million for Syracuse 4 alone.
"There is an almost mathematical law of regular increase in the volumes of data", underlines Colonel Spet, citing the needs generated by the command systems, the representation of tactical situations in the field, the video (coming for example from Reaper drones deployed in the Sahel).
Or the real-time processing of data coming from several places on the planet.
Ultimately, France will have 400 stations capable of communicating with S4 from the ground, an aircraft, a ship or a submarine, according to the DGA.
Restoring pride after Australian humiliation
However, French nuclear deterrence relies heavily on its submarines, recalls Marc Finaud, an expert in arms proliferation at the Geneva Security Policy Center (GCSP). "If an adversary is capable of modifying, hacking, damaging communications with submarines, it is the end of deterrence." The long-planned deployment of the satellite is timely as Paris pushes its project for European sovereignty in defense. France, which has sovereign maritime areas on all the seas of the globe, cannot do without a powerful technological base.
"It needs this segment to show that it has the means to achieve its ambitions," said Xavier Pasco, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) and specialist in space issues.
"This gives credibility to all of its military tool, as well as its industrial capacity."
A few weeks after the humiliation received by Australia, which gave up a huge contract for French submarines in favor of American submarines, further weakening French power in the Indo-Pacific, the S4 satellite gives pride to the wounded beast. .
"Politically, it is the demonstration that France remains a power perhaps middle, but whose scope of action remains international", insists Xavier Pasco.
Paris in the forefront of the arms race.
With its two billion euros of annual investments in military and civilian space, France remains far from the top three: 50 billion for the United States, 10 for China and 4 for Russia, according to figures from 2020 from the French government.
But S4 allows France to remain in the leading pack and confirms that Paris is participating in the arms race.
Marc Finaud mentions in passing the potential risk coming from the “nebula of hackers, pirates, criminal or terrorist actors who could embark on a kind of more artisanal star wars”.
As for spatial geopolitics, it is stretched a little more each year.
"We are talking about space warfare and this risk is accepted by everyone".
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