TAMPA, Fla. — Eutelsat and OneWeb’s planned merger requires the “strictest possible scrutiny,” a cross-party group of British government officials said in a report warning the U.K has become a “third-rank” power in space post-Brexit.
Combining U.K.-based OneWeb with France’s Eutelsat poses “serious questions about the handing over of critical technology to foreign powers and the need for sovereignty,” said Tobias Ellwood, chair of the U.K’s Defence Select Committee.
In a report published Oct. 19 for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence, the committee called for a thorough review of the deal under the country’s National Security and Investment Act.
The committee also called for creating a high-level government post to provide clear centralized “direction and accountability” for the U.K.’s civil and defense ambitions in space.
Their report took aim at an “unacceptable” amount of progress in developing an independent satellite navigation system almost four years after the country left Europe’s Galileo program.
One option under consideration is to add position, navigation and timing (PNT) capabilities to OneWeb’s second-generation constellation, which the operator expects to enter service in 2028.
However, despite spending tens of millions of dollars on exploring options over the last several years, Ellwood said the U.K. is no closer to developing a replacement PNT network.
The lack of progress means the country risks “falling further behind both our peers and our adversaries,” Ellwood said in a statement.
He added: “Over this inquiry we heard that the UK is, at best, a third-rank space power, lagging behind Italy.
“And while Government has recognised there is work to do, the Whitehall machine is not moving fast enough.”
The committee’s report did not mention U.S.-based Viasat’s plan to acquire British satellite operator Inmarsat, which received national security clearance from the U.K. in September.
Viasat’s deal still requires other regulatory approvals, including from the U.K.’s competition watchdog which launched a lengthy investigation process Oct. 14.
The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence plans to spend £1.4 billion ($1.6 billion) on developing new space capabilities over the next decade.
On Oct. 17, the UK Space Agency announced a new 15 million pound fund to support British businesses developing satellite communications technology.
The fund is being distributed via a competitive process that runs until spring. The government anticipates it will catalyze further investments into the U.K.’s space sector, which employs about 47,000 people.