Can a satellite detect military drones?

The EU now operates its own satellite program for observing »Environment and Security« called »Copernicus«. The images are created using optical and radar-based earth observation satellites. Optical systems are indeed high-resolution, but can only be used during the day and in good weather. Radar satellites, on the other hand, provide images that are independent of the weather and time of day, but these must be made legible with the help of a computer. Four such Sentinel satellites are already in orbit, and two more are to complement the first stage of the program. A new generation of high-resolution satellites is to follow from 2025. The large European arms companies are also involved in Copernicus. For example, Airbus was awarded the contract to build and operate the infrastructure for communicating satellite data.

To ensure that the information from space arrives at the ground stations even faster, Airbus has installed a laser-based “space data highway”. Two communication satellites can establish a line of sight with any place on earth at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers in order to transmit data from other satellites or from drones in almost real time. Although the multi-billion dollar space data highway is funded with large public sums, it is owned by Airbus. The group is allowed to offer the services to its customers. The system is now ready for use, and by 2020 Frontex will be the only customer via the European Copernicus program. The EU border agency uses the information for its "Themis" operation, which has been supporting Italy since February 2018 in controlling and monitoring the borders as well as in search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean area.

Since the end of 2017, the EU has been controlling migration from Libya with large male-class drones (medium altitude, high endurance). They have high-resolution cameras, infrared devices for night flights and receivers for ship position data. The unmanned aerial vehicles come from Israel and are flown by Frontex. The border agency has signed a contract for this with Airbus as the main contractor. The company is responsible for the European marketing of the Male Heron drones from Israel, which have only been used for military purposes. Before 2013, Frontex had invited the manufacturer of the Heron to one of the workshops on "Surveillance of land and sea borders" in Greece on the occasion of the presentation of the drone.

Since 2018, the EU has been in the process of further improving sea-based surveillance systems. The Italian Air Force is providing the EU military mission Eunafvor Med off the Libyan coast with flying lessons from its unarmed Predator drone. The interior and defense ministries of Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain are researching together with Airbus and other armaments companies in the project “Maritime Integrated Surveillance Awareness” (Marisa). The platform to be developed should bring together as many data sources as possible. In addition to geo-based and satellite-based information, the Internet and social networks are also to be scoured in order to be able to detect or even foresee faults as early as possible using algorithms. Again, there are lucrative orders for the armaments and security industry.