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Galileo, the prestigious European satellite navigation system, is under threat by the US military, which wants to degrade its accuracy, according to the German TV news programme Tagesschau

Galileo was to provide highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning services under civilian control.

Talks are underway between the US and the European Union to ensure that the navigation satellite system will operate with - not interfere with - the present U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). In practice this would mean the US can jam frequencies if desired (without consulting the Europeans first), but it also wants control over the accuracy of the system for security purposes, according to Tagesschau. This would be a serious blow to the $3.7 billion project, which is designed to deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the metre range - unprecedented for a publicly-available system.

The US has made its system available free of charge to non-military users since 1983 and to date saw "no compelling need" for a competing European system. It believes the US system will meet the needs of users for the foreseeable future, even when millions of mobile phones will be equipped with GPS receivers. In the past U.S. officials expressed concerns about the European system. The US military has contingency plans for denying access to the GPS signals to adversaries in specific areas of conflict.

The European Space Agency expects to launch the first of 30 satellites (27 active and three spares) in 2006, with the final system completed in 2008. ®

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