Discovery of spy parts leaves French-UAE satellite deal in doubt
January 7, 2014 1 Comment
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The planned acquisition of two French-built spy satellites by the United Arab Emirates appeared to be in doubt last night, after news that technicians discovered “security-compromising components” in the satellites’ software. The agreed purchase, which is to be completed in 2018, concerns two Falcon Eye military observation satellites worth nearly €700 million (US $930 million). The deal, signed last July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, includes the provision of a ground station, as well as the training of up to 20 UAE engineers who will staff it. Two companies, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, were contracted for the project. The French bid was chosen from an original shortlist of 11 bidders, along with a similar one from the United States. Ultimately, the American bid was rejected by Abu Dhabi, due to the operational restrictions placed by the American makers of the proposed satellites. At the time, the French-UAE deal raised eyebrows in defense circles worldwide, as it was the first time that France had agreed to sell military-grade high-resolution satellites to a foreign buyer. But an article in US-based defense industry publication Defense News, said software engineers in the UAE had discovered a number of components in the satellites that seem designed to “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”. Interestingly, the back-door components appeared to have come from US suppliers. The publication quoted “a high-level UAE source” who said the discovery was reported in September to the office of Sheikh Mohammed, who is also the UAE’s Deputy Supreme Commander. Soon afterwards, Abu Dhabi asked the French to remove the back doors from the systems, while at the same time opening up consultations with Russian and Chinese defense contractors. Since that time, said Defense News, “a number of high-level delegations have shuttled between Moscow and Abu Dhabi”. The source told the publication that the UAE is prepared to cancel the entire deal if Paris fails to resolve the contentious issue. Defense News said it contacted the French government’s armaments procurement office and the French embassy in the UAE, but received no comment in response. It also contacted Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, but neither company responded to questions.