France plans to develop anti-satellite laser weapons but will only deploy them in self-defence, its defence minister said on Thursday, as she laid out the country’s new military strategy for space.

Major military powers around the world are investing in new technology for space, which is seen as a new military frontier, with the ability to destroy or cripple satellites seen as a key capability.

“If our satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries,” Florence Parly said. “We reserve the right and the means to be able to respond: that could imply the use of powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patrolling nano-satellites.”

Around 2,000 active satellites are currently estimated to be orbiting the Earth, mostly to relay commercial communications, but also to track the weather and for spying.

Experts say that the United States, Russia and China are capable of destroying enemy satellites using missiles fired from Earth, and probably also by engineering deliberate collisions.

An official from the NATO military alliance told AFP last month that there was no known deployment of space-based weapons in orbit, but concerns were growing about “more aggressive behaviour” from China and Russia.

In March this year, India also destroyed a satellite with a missile, which created hundreds of new pieces of space junk which pose a threat to operating satellites and spacecraft.

“We will develop powerful lasers,” Parly said during a speech in the city of Lyon. “It’s an area in which France has fallen behind. But we will catch up.”

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on July 13 his intention of creating a French space force command.

The declaration — made on the eve of France’s July 14 Bastille Day military parade — mirrored an initiative in the US championed by President Donald Trump.