PARIS — Europe has technological capabilities it could contribute to NATO’s planned missile shield to protect European territory but a financial commitment is needed, François Auque, the chief executive of EADS’s Astrium space division, said Jan. 19.
The NATO summit in Chicago in May will be of strategic importance to Astrium as decisions are due to be made on contributions intended to extend the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system to a territorial coverage, he said. The system was designed to protect NATO deployed troops.
“In technological terms, Europe has a certain number of competences it can contribute,” Auque told journalists. “It could contribute to the architecture for the system. The knowledge of the missile threat allows one to organize the defense architecture.”
France could contribute by making available its Spirale launch early warning satellite, a demonstrator project, he said. Spirale has a limited life and needs a program launch, he said.
“Europe could also contribute an interceptor vehicle, which would require a certain amount of development,” he said.
“There are technological bricks,” he said. “The only real subject is the financial thing.”
Astrium is prime contractor for the French M51 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which was delivered on time and on budget, Auque said. There is no better qualification to design a defense architecture than the knowledge gained from building a ballistic missile, he said.
The M51 missile entered service in 2010 after an extremely limited test-fire program, due to budgetary constraints, he said. There were five test fires and five successes, Auque said.
“That takes risk-taking to the limit,” he said. “Really.”
Astrium’s experience in building ballistic missiles helped the company win from Kazakhstan a contract for two Earth-observation satellites, when it emerged that the Kazakh minister who agreed to meet Auque for a brief presentation had been a senior rocketry officer in the former Soviet Union, Auque said.
This year, Astrium is expecting the second phase of a feasibility study on future architecture for the ballistic missile early warning system and a formal NATO staff requirement for the architecture for a territorial ballistic missile defense.
The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office recently launched work on maintaining a capability for a future nuclear deterrence, he said.
Astrium had 2011 sales of 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion), which is expected to increase to around 5.5 billion to 5.6 billion euros with the integration of the U.S. military telecommunications satellite company Vizada.