The UK’s threat to establish an alternative to the Galileo satellite system is a clever Brexit bargaining position – but should be no more than than that.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Tom Jones. Tom is the former Deputy Editor of Raddington Report and has written defence articles for a range of media outlets and can be found tweeting at @Jones219T

Britain’s place in the cosmos, it seems, is under threat. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has consistently reiterated his plans to restrict access to the Public Regulated Service (PRS) aspect of the €10 bn Galileo programme (the highly encrypted element which would be largely used by militaries and government). PRS is currently only available to EU Member states – post-Brexit, the UK will be classed as a ‘third party’, thus excluding British companies from bidding on contracts to build or maintain the Galileo project and requiring the UK Government to negotiate a new deal with the EU in order to provide access to the PRS.

As a response to Barnier’s threats, Business Secretary Greg Clarke has launched a task force to investigate the UK setting up an alternate and independent version of Galileo. Whilst the UK aerospace and space sector is doubtless more than capable of producing such a system, the fact remains that this ambition is largely a bargaining position – and should remain so.

Galileo, which will become active in 2020, is actually duplicating the work of the pre-eminent satellite navigation, the American Global Positioning System (GPS) – it was, in fact, originally set up in order to reduce European dependence on the American system. There is undoubted benefit to having two systems operating concurrently; dual systems increase accuracy, and also provide far greater reliability. The development of a system exclusive to the UK would also provide a huge boon to the UK’s space sector. The withdrawal from Galileo has the potential to see British businesses millions to European rivals and see thousands of hi-tech jobs lost, but the development of a system utilising the full extent of Britain’s aerospace and space sector talent would see the sector boosted, rather than simply protected from any potential losses.

However, Airbus’ UK managing director Colin Paynter stated the cost of development of an exclusive UK system would be between £3 & 5 billion over 4 to 5 years and estimated that the annual cost of the system would be somewhere around £800 million. This would be a huge amount of money to find for the government, especially allowing for the usual cost and time overruns so typical of large government-backed technology projects.

There are non-budgetary problems, too. The UK currently has no launch systems, requiring an outside partner with the capacity – such as the EU, China, India, Russia or the US – to launch and maintain the system. The work that British companies have already done on Galileo cannot seasily be duplicated, either, since some of it may be protected by non-UK patents. There is also the issue of the limited available radio frequency on which to send the signals back – this has already been the subject of a severe disagreement between the US and the EU when Galileo was being developed in 2003, as the US argued Galileo’s signal was too close to that used by GPS.

A more apt solution would be, simply, to renegotiate back into the PRS fold. British companies have valuable skills which the project would do well not to lose; Airbus currently manages the project’s ground control centres, Surrey Satellite Technologies produces the payloads for the satellites and CGI UK have developed much of the security around PRS. Whilst Michel Barnier will no doubt sting Britain at the negotiating table, it is likely that the resulting agreement will likely still be more cost-effective than developing, establishing and maintaining a wholly new system – particularly given that Britain intends to keep a close security relationship with Europe.

It is easy to dismiss nay-saying around a Galileo alternative as unambitious, grey-sky thinking. However, to ‘strike a match, go start anew’ at such great cost would in fact go against the traditions of British space policy, which has always been founded on strong and clever collaborations with partners such as the EU and US providing a huge capability for remarkably modest public expenditure.

To spend the cost of a relatively sizeable naval surface fleet simply to spite our former partners in Europe seems to be rather counter to the British way of space.

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So this guy thinks we should leave ourselves to the mercy of our European “allies” who want to “sting” us just to save a few quid. This is exactly the short sighted, submissive, sado-masochistic attitude we need to get away from. Spend the money, invest in our (already existing) talent and become a stronger presence in the world. Why allow the EU reduce us to second class citizens. steal our most talented people while making us live on bread and water that they gift us ? Hell no !!!


I couldn’t have our it better myself. There are far to many people in this country who do all they can to put this country down. They say we can’t do this that and the other whilst countries with economies half the size of ours do it all and more.

Invest in our nation and build up it’s capabilities and stop kowtowing to Eurocrats who want to turn us into an EU puppet state.


I have to agree for the best part of 40 years I gave supported our EU membership but in recent years I have become disillusioned at best there has been no great rejuvenation of British industry indeed we have increasingly be one reliant on our neighbours in a servile acceptance that we can’t compete while practically all cooperation has been skewed in their favour while France and Germany effectively cut up the European cake for their own benefit with the rest of us increasingly vassal states. And there certainly has not and to a degree due to this, any upsurge… Read more »


In the last 40 years the financial services industry has grown to one of the best in the world, London has overtaken everybody and is now the worlds leading financial center. IT/technology industry has grown, renewable energy industry has grown, construction, aerospace and the car industry has grown massively since the 80’s, it was Japan’s investment in the 80’s and sales to EU countries that revived the British car industry. I do actually think we could be better off outside the EU in the long run if we make the right decisions and the right trade deals, but I just… Read more »

Stephen G.

We don’t care about the financial sector. That is irrelevant to 99.99% of the British people. Renewable energy has grown? We haven’t even got a British wind turbine maker. Other European countries have, why haven’t we? We should set up a British wind turbine maker. That is an energy of the future, are we just going to go cap in hand to foreign companies from now until forever every time Britain wants wind turbines? If it was only this field we had no manufacturing then we could turn a blind eye but it isn’t, it is the same in practically… Read more »

Tom Jones

I voted Leave


I am not sure it is to spite our former partners in Europe. It seems to me that it is they who are spiting us! Also I am pretty sure we have a number of cards on the table. Namely the ability to ban the transfer of technology essential for the system to work, preventing British territories from being used as base stations and ultimately I am pretty sure we can prevent the upgrade of Galileo (which is needed to make it useful) as we are a voting member of ESA. I think we are making noises towards the development… Read more »


I think the idea that we are able to ”negotiate ourselves back into the PRS fold” is rather naive and missing the basic principle that the EU is applying – that a third country may not be in the PRS fold. We do really need to start understanding that the EU members, and much of their populations in fact do not give a toss about the UK and are more than happy to suffer economically as a result of us really leaving without a ”deal”. Rather the same way most Brits are – in fact at least 52% of the… Read more »


Stephen, i belong to the 52% and voted for BREXIT precisely because i DO gives toss about the country. I believe we will become a wealthier, more dynamic country outside of the EU, able to sign free trade agreements with the rest of the world, unfettered by the protectionist instincts of the continentals.

Daniele Mandelli

Well said Steven.

Joe B

Its not that that don’t give a toss about us, its that they actively want us out of the EU

Take a red pill from the wokest MEP to have ever lived


The issue is that there seems to be no path for the UK to Negotiate back into the program as you suggest, that’s why it’s considering it’s own program. Also it’s nonsense to talk about need for a launch partner nation, the Russians launched a number of Galileo satellites. Today we have space x which is one of the reasons a solo program is more viable, we just buy launches of space X, it’s that simple.


And that is much much cheaper than buying launches off Ariane

Steve M

The Ariane last carried 4 of the Galileo satellites in one launch, we could I guess get even more on a Falcon Heavy from Space X, potentially being much cheaper per unit. Bit of an eggs in one basket scenario though.

I honestly don’t think the R&D costs would be as high as we fear, we already have a lot of it done already.


Ariane is hugely expensive. It is an outdated money sponge. They can’t hope to compete with Space X. Even their new rocket which is still in development is outdated! They refuse to accept that re-use is a winner. Ariane only exists to keep French workers in Jobs.

We would cut a lot of costs launching with Space X.

Steve M

Or Blue Origin, who have a nice shiny new blue vehicle assembly building ready just off campus of Kennedy Space Center that I saw a couple of weeks ago. Unsure how pricey they would be as they seem to be a ways behind Space X.


Galileo uses what is now actually low tech given how long it’s taken to build. The U.K. could probably develop quite cheaply smaller cheaper satellites utilising a low earth orbit. An single Space X Falcon 9 could probably launch a dozen at a time.
As for partners, it’s an obvious tie-in for our Five Eyes Allies. Being a low orbit platform compared to GPS it would also give the US a backup platform to use.

Tom Jones

There absolutely is a path back in, that’s been made clear. And relying on the Russians to maintain a system that has defence uses is a bloody terrible idea.

[…] post Is a British satellite navigation system a good idea? appeared first on UK Defence […]


We should collaborate with other commonwealth countries like Australia, NZ and Canada, we could split the cost and work together, call it like the Cook Navigation System or something good, its time we start using other allies that the US and EU again, remember when we didn’t have to rely on them to get stuff done.
But of course the best option would be to stay in Galileo, and that is of course what is going to happen, both sides are just using it as a negotiating tool, the EU will give in, or we will.


Call it “Newton”.


I was saying cook because of NZ and Australias involvement, but none of this should and would happen!

Tom Jones

That’s the solution I support, Keith! But sadly I think Britain’s defence budget is currently strained enough without this adding this as a new huge spending priority.


Tom Jones sings: To spend the cost of a relatively sizeable naval surface fleet simply to spite our former partners in Europe seems to be rather counter to the British way of space. The ball is in the EUs court, if they wish to kick it amongst themselves and not allow the UK to play, then that illuminates their infantile behaviour and not ours. Lets at least be honest here, regards this constant disparaging of the Uk by people and pressure groups who feel the world is going to end when the UK finally leaves the EU. Gee however did… Read more »

Steve M

I read Tom Jones sings and had to read the rest. Agree with it all, we could do a lot with a relatively modest space program. World leaders in satellite technology after all.


Pakistan does not have a space program so you are wrong maybe be Indians can do it there space program is very advanced or maybe space x.


Ryan wrote:
“Pakistan does not have a space program so you are wrong “
Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission

Which explains why they have two launch sites:
Tilla Satellite Launch Centre
Sonmiani (space facility)


Pakistan has SUPARCO true, but they are pretty much useless they have launched only four satellites till date. mostly small and not at all military grade. they are just an organisation for name sake purpose only. they themselves are using china’s help to launch satellites

how do you expect them to help Britain to launch satellites.this is just naive thinking.


Ryan ,
Good morning, you wrote:
“how do you expect them to help Britain to launch satellites.this is just naive thinking.”

I was taking the urine over the foreign aid budget.

Stephen G.

Ryan, why does India have this capability and we don’t? We shouldn’t be giving them our money (“foreign aid”), we should be spending our own hard earned money of getting this capability for ourselves.


Exactly. we are so generous that will spend billions in foreign aid but will not even dream of increasing the pay of our soldiers or maybe buy a few more p-8 ASW aircraft. India on the other hand is getting bullet trains from Japan their own semi-high speed trains, s-400 from Russia. their space program is so good now that Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA. we ourselves take their help sometimes from them. they are also building a reusable rocket… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli


You have just brilliantly described the PC madness of self hate belittling our great country.

How I wish so many wingers, moaners and doubters of our nation would get behind their country.

Well done you! I’d buy you a pint right now.

Tom Jones

I voted Leave

Stephen G.

With our inventors, scientists and engineers Britain could still make amazing things, things that would make the rest of the World sit up and take notice, IF WE WERE ONLY GIVEN THE CHANCE.

Sceptical Richard

Trying to remain a key member of Galileo for me is a no brainier. Best for U.K., best for our tax payers, best for U.K. industry. We have to recognise, no matter how we voted, that life after Brexit will get more expensive in many areas, whether it’s because we want to continue being part of agencies such as EASA at slightly less favourable terms, or because we don’t and we have to recreate such an agency in U.K. But that’s what the majority voted for so it’s no point getting all worked up about it now! Having said that,… Read more »


I assume you mean ESA? If you do then that has nothing at all to do with the EU. We will still be members of ESA after we leave the EU.

Sceptical Richard

No I meant agencies such as EASA, EMA, Euratom, Europol, etc…


Its a massive waste of resources. It’s not just the cost of building and launching the system. There’s also on orbit spares, plus future replacements, ground stations etc. To consider. We could recover some by licensing civilian use but we’d be competing with GPS, Galileo and Glonass. So it would have a limited civilian use. On top of that we have no military systems that really use Galileo, let alone a theoretical UK system, so it would have no military use without additional costs for converting weapon systems. The money would be far far better spent on ungrading T45 with… Read more »


It is just a game. You need to make it clear you could do such a thing to turn the tables on the EUs stupid position. We are simply telling the EU that the ones that will be worse off would be them if they kick us off.


Partner with the U.S. on GPS iterations until satellite based navigation is obsolescent (I’d give it no more than 20 years to full military nav replacement). UK companies could bid on development of new satellite components, software, encryption etc while spending the money saved on much more pressing defense issues.


Sceptical Richard

Sorry Helions. The latest imposition of tarif barriers agains the EU, Canada, etc., suggests the USA is now no longer a reliable partner and ally. Wouldn’t trust Trump to walk my dog…


The problem is Galileo is version 1 of a European GPS. US GPS has evolved I believe its now on is 4th iteration and will evolve further. If the UK stay in the Galileo project it will only be until its completed, the knowledge would have then been transferred and when Galileo v2.0 starts it will have no British participation. The EU will ensure that whatever is negotiated will allow them to exclude the UK from future projects and our politicians are too short sighted and are too desperate to ‘claim’ a victory thet they will sign up to a… Read more »


The budget for v2.0 has yet to be voted on at ESA. We could block the budget with our vote as I believe all members have to agree. ESA supply some of the budget so blocking the budget would mean the EU needing to fund the shortfall and potentially forgoing some of ESAs expertise. Also I imagine that the UK would have a case to reclaim £1billion of invested money.

I very much doubt anyone would agree to a contract that only allowed us to stay in until completion.


Hurry up and get skylon sorted then we can
Launch our own satellites whenever we like.

David E Flandry

Yes, what’s the deal on Skylon? Is it a going concern or not?


Nations like China are working on ways to block these signals in a war anyhow. If Europe really wishes to play hard ball, then I’m sure America would be happy for us to help contribute and maintain their system.

Should we find ourselves in a war then perhaps we can have a clause like Trident where agreement is in place for the platform to work independent of any political interference.


Nations like China are working on ways to block these signals in a war anyhow.

Not just working, not only has North Korea been found blocking GPS signals, you can for $16 buy a mini blocker off of Ebay (No doubt built in China)

A. Smith

The British satellite version should be called “Newton” and should be built as soon as possible as the EU are clearly out to create problems as opposed to working constructively in a rational manner. The EU have proved they cannot be relied upon.


Better for us to be out of Galileo rather than spend large sums of money and political capital to stay in – then have the EU cut us out of PRS when we actually need it.



Next question.

barry white

I shall say it as it is
Tom Jones you are a w*****r


I would love to see your article on this matter?

Your only comment on the whole thread is to call the writer a w****r, impressive debating skills pal where did you learn those

Come one let’s hear it, what’s your informed take on events


“Tom Jones you are a w*****r

From what I’ve heard about Tom, he is anything but a wanker.

Tom Jones


barry white

I do apologise about that comment and wish i could retract it but alas its there and i will have to take the flack But it really annoys me that as we a going to leave the EU anyway we could be leaving with a dam good deal that will work for both sides but because people will not accept that they lost and are fighting tooth and nail to try and keep us from leaving those in the EU negotiating team can see the divisions and get what they can out of us to the UKs detriment I can… Read more »

Tom Jones

I did vote Leave though


I find it really astonishing how hostile comments on here are against the other European nations while this is entirely self inflicted.
The UK government has signalled its intent on every forum in the past two years to become a third party country to the other EU member states. This is one of the consequences.

In reality though, the kind of exit from the European framework that some here imagine is entirely impossible for the UK. I am very curious of the reactions when the penny drops.


The hostile comments about Europe on this forum are quite pathetic, it’s like the mail online some days. It’s like its a competition to see who can be the most staunch British bulldog, and anyone who says we can’t or shouldn’t do anything that fits the “f**k Europe” narrative is a traitor £20b black hole in the defence budget, armed forces stretched beyond belief, can barely field a division, £1.84 trillion in debt and rising by the day, NHS in crisis, and according to some the best solution to this is to spend billions of pounds on sending satellites into… Read more »


“The hostile comments about Europe on this forum are quite pathetic, it’s like the mail online some days. Enough already the Guardian and bBC are riddled with far worse readers and instead of berating them, they are actually applauded for their message-board statements such as: Little Englanders Ding dong the witch is dead. Can’t wait till all the old people who voted for Brexit are dead. Currently the left of the political centre are calling a American comedian a racist for tweeting something stupid. Yet last year when Kathy Griffin decided to do a photo shoot with a decapitated Donald… Read more »


I cant speak for the BBC but I read the Guardian daily. Clearly you don’t otherwise you would know there is a massive difference between the guardian writers and the guardian commentators, a big difference, Infact the guardian journalists are hated by the guardian readership, they consistently close comments and opinion pieces when the overwhelming response is negative, and in some cases, like that horrible women Afua hursch article to go with her preposterous channel 4 program “the battle for Britain’s heroes” they don’t even open the comments. Google her article in the guardian the other month about tearing down… Read more »

Stephen G.

None of the media has true balance or different points of view, just varying degrees of pushing the same message. It is all brainwashing propaganda.

e.g. would it say in your Guardian that Britain is now over 20% non White British should we still be letting more in? China, Korea, Pakistan, Japan, etc. are certainly not doing this, should we really never stop adding more? This would be a different point of view. Of course they wouldn’t. The media doesn’t want different points of view, they just want to brainwash you with the same basic message, but to varying degrees.


Stephen, non white British? So what shall we do then to cut this down, tell all black British people to stop having children you absolute cretin. I can understand the need to cut immigration to levels that our services can take but you always bring colour into it, and by doing that you include millions of people that were born here, even parents were born here. You’re a racist p***k, I’m calling you out for it because you’ve said non white british about 10 times on here over the months and no one has agreed with you. So what’s your… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

Couldn’t agree more SS!


Sorry to burst a few peoples bubble but.. The Brexit department released a 6 page pdf last week stating the governments position on this, first and foremost staying part of this project is our number 1 priority. My only gripe with this article is that the Brexit departments paper on this issue just released is not even mentioned, other than that thought well done to the writer for this piece, I found it informative and well balanced, a heck of a lot more informative and well balanced than some of the comments on here. Does anybody read the news? There… Read more »


The only thing this comments section is missing and I’m suprised it’s not here yet is the customary contribution from Mr Bell about Europe advising us to pay for these satellites by not giving the EU a penny in the divorce bill.

Must be on holiday.

criss Whicker

Tom ends with,

To spend the cost of a relatively sizeable naval surface fleet simply to spite our former partners in Europe

yet apparently its ok for our so called EU partners to spite and intimidate us.
when we are in, we are the greatest and the best , yet when its time to leave, apparently are no good , to expensive , cant do nothing, without their help etc etc,
seems to be just pro EU and against Britain ability to do our best

just my interested opinion.


Do we really need this… No!!!! Its just another euro vanity project… Reinventing the wheel @ 10 billion Euros a pop and counting. Do we need our own GPS… No! We can use the US GPS as we always have to date. Future needs… We could use solid state inertial tracking that’s being developed. Its now as accurate as GPS but does not require a vulnerable constellation of satellite or transmission of any signals for intrinsicly stealthy performance. Cost for the ever shrinking number of platforms and weapons systems we now own circa $200 million (allowing us to pay for… Read more »

Steve M

The problem with all of this for me is it’s far too political and showy for the media. Yes, disagree and bluff, it’s part of a negotiation, just don’t do all of it in front of a camera lens. I echo Teresa May here but we are just as bad for it in my humble opinion. Both sides have a point and I believe they echo the Brexit process as a whole not just this issue in isolation, the UK IS going to become a third country however, it contributed to all of these institutions in both treasure and good… Read more »


I’m not in the “It’s all fake news” or “never trust the mainstream media” camp but in some cases one does need to be careful drawing too many conclusions from news reports. It’s just not possible to know what partial out-of-context information or malicious unattributed briefing/leak some journalist might have used to spin a story. Maybe all this news of us getting kicked out has come out of a very early stage of the discussions where the EU and UK negotiators got to this item and the first action any logical person would take I hope would be to see… Read more »