Galileo, the planned European sat-nav system, has been acknowledged as having a military role by the European Commission.
EC Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said yesterday that Galileo will be "civilian controlled...but there will be military users".
Under original plans, Galileo was to be more than half funded by private industry, but the EC's corporate partners have effectively declined to proceed due to fears over revenue. The US defense department's Global Positioning System (GPS) offers a good service for free, and private sector bosses doubted that users would pay for Galileo services even if they were somewhat enhanced.
As a result, the EC has been pushing for an extra €2bn of taxpayers' money in order to build the system itself. Many observers, including El Reg, have suggested that government funding for Galileo only makes sense in the context of European military action and infrastructure security, independent of the US.
This analysis has been lent support. The Financial Times reports that an EC paper for transport ministers says that no Galileo "would mean that the EU would be dependent on military/dual use foreign systems and technologies".
The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, also pointed to the Russian GLONASS constellation and Chinese plans for similar technology. The message seems to be that major-power governments should have their own satnav, just as they should have nuclear weapons.
"Moreover, Galileo is a pillar of the emerging European space policy and signifies Europe's ambitions in space, technology and innovation," said the EC position paper. Significant revenues from military users were reportedly foreseen.
This last prediction by the EC appears questionable, as the USA offers its NATO allies military access to the higher-precision encrypted "p-code" GPS signal. Just as with civilian GPS users, it doesn't seem especially plausible that European armed forces will want to pay for what they can get free.
The UK and Denmark are resisting any extra funds for Galileo, among others. However, Monsieur Barrot was reportedly confident his funding proposal would be passed by transport ministers on 8 June. ®