French satellites sold to UAE may contain backdoored components

Pierluigi Paganini January 06, 2014

UAE wants terminate a contract with French companies for the supply of two Falcon Eye spy satellites due the presence of security compromising components.

United Arab Emirates could cancel a contract with Frence for the supply of  two intelligence satellites due the discovery of what was described as “security compromising components.”

The UAE claims it has discovered backdoors in US-supplied components of the birds, the news has been published by the Defence News that revealed the possible termination of a $US930 million contract.

The contract, sealed in July 2013, includes a ground station, the Pleiades-type satellites (aka Falcon Eye) are due for delivery 2018.

The revelation was provided by high-level UAE sources, the companies involved in the business are the prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space, and payload maker Thales Alenia Space.

“If this issue is not resolved, the UAE is willing to scrap the whole deal,” he added.

UAE authorities suspect the presence of vulnerabilities would “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”.


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An unnamed UAE source has confirmed that the presence of backdoors has been reported to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s armed forces.

The contract signed with French companies includes two high-resolution observation satellites and the operational support from France with training for 20 engineers.

UAE representatives are evaluating alternative partners for the supply, Russian industry may be more likely  supplier.

“The UAE has drawn on Russian technology, with the GLONASS space-based navigation system fitted as a redundancy feature on a Western European weapon system, a French defense expert said.”

While some security experts believe that French industry had drawn on the US technology  due complexity of the payload, other specialists found intriguing that France had drawn on US technology for the satellites under the Falcon Eye program.

“France operates the Pleiades spy satellite in what is viewed as a critical piece of the nation’s sovereignty. Given that core competence, it seemed strange that France would use US technology, although there is an agreement between Paris and Washington over transfer of capabilities, ” said a Defence analysts.

The Defence News also speculated on the fact that the claims may be an attempt to condition another contract for Dassault Aviation Rafale fighters, both French companies were available for comment.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Defence, satellites)

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