Aviation Week & Space Technology

February 2, 1981

European Satellite Surveillance Urged by France's CNES Head

President of France's space agency has suggested international consideration of a cooperative satellite observation agency to provide verification data on adherence to arms limitation accords.

The suggestion by Hubert Curien, president of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), was made here during a two-day international colloquium sponsored by the French institute for international relations. Participants in the conference urged increased utilization of the world's scientific and aerospace resources in efforts designed to further the cause of disarmament.

Data Verification

Several discussions at the meeting underscored the growing importance of satellite surveillance in verification of international adherence to arms limitations accords. At the same time, participants said, the rapid pace of weapons development is requiring additional methods of verification to complement space-based observations.

Curien said the ability to conduct higher quality space surveillance is no longer held exclusively by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and he raised the question of an international merging of resources for a cooperative space-based observation system. Not only are several countries establishing civilian satellite observation systems, but they also are improving their capabilities for military purposes, he said.

One example is France's SPOT civilian earth observation satellite, which is in production and which will be followed by a military counterpart.

Curien said his presentation at the colloquium here included his own opinions concerning formation of an international agency and was not an official proposal of the French government. He said Valery Giscard d'Estaing's earlier proposal to the United Nations for an international satellite control system was not adopted.

Formation of an international observation agency could be accomplished in several steps, beginning with an image processing phase during which personnel would use images from existing civilian satellites for training purposes.

One activity in this phase could be the establishment of test zones in certain areas of the world where on-site observations could be made for comparison with the satellite images.

A second phase might involve additional access to various satellite systems and the possibility of having limited control of the satellites. The international agency could be granted use of a data channel on certain satellites for its own use.

This could be followed by a third phase in which the agency would have its own dedicated spacecraft and exercise full control over its operation.

"I don't think a satellite system of this type would be of earthshaking significance, but it is one specific field that could provide disarmament by using modern facilities -- at least as modern as those we make available for our arms drive," Curien said.

One side benefit of an international agency would be its ability to use satellite data for earth observation of a non-military nature at no additional cost. Curien observed that formation of such an agency probably would not be without the problems often encountered in an international effort that brings together representatives with often diverse attitudes and opinions.

Herbert Scoville, president of the Arms Control Assn. and former CIA director, said the new arms agreements and new weapons development require verification means beyond space-based observations.

Mobile ICBM

"We are seeing new development coming down the road which are designed to make these verification capabilities much less effective and open to much greater question," Scoville said. "One of these is the mobile land-based ICBM, particularly when you start using concealment techniques. The other is the area of cruise missiles: These are small, they don't require the same amount of logistics and would be much harder to spot once they have been tested and started to be deployed.

"We are moving into a very dangerous area where satellites and other national technical means will not be as satisfactory for verifying arms control agreements. I think we all should consider very carefully before we move into the era because once we do, there is probably no turning back."

Copyright 1981 McGraw-Hill, Inc.