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Here are three words I'll bet you'd never expect to see strung together: Space Force France.
And yet, while much of the discussion regarding the "space force" concept lately has centered on President Trump's plan to split off the U.S. Air Force's space activities into a sixth branch of the military, it turns out there are other countries planning to build -- or already building -- space forces of their own.
Echoing calls in the U.S. Congress for the creation of a space force, in late June 2018 French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly recommended that France increase its investments in space surveillance. As Space Daily.com reports, France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), which operates France's military satellites, is currently awaiting a decision by French President Emmanuel Macron on whether to create a French "space force" to accomplish this.
But why is France contemplating building a space force at all, given the ridicule the idea has received in the U.S.? Here's one clue: In September, Parly described recent "suspicious activities of [a] Russian space satellite" approaching the Franco-Italian Athena-Fidus satellite "too closely," for purposes unknown. The incident convinced Parly to back raising the profile of France's Joint Space Command, up to and including the development of a dedicated space force. Without a stronger space capability of its own, France is ill-equipped to defend its satellites against foreign interference, or even to be entirely certain what the Russians are up to.
France's solution: The country plans to increase spending on its space program by some 14% this year. Then from 2019 to 2025 France will spend $4.2 billion upgrading its military satellite fleet, part of a broader effort by the country to boost its defense spending toward the 2% target required of all NATO members. According to SpaceDaily, even if an actual space force is never created, this money will fund French efforts to "update observation and communication satellites, modernize radar monitoring and develop anti-satellite weapons."
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