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Reminder of UK MOD Space Policy as NATO Pushes Deeper Into Space By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






That the many positives of UK defence strategy appear to be being ignored through this General election process is a regret but whilst we move through this latest period of ‘purdah’, I thought that it might be useful to remind of UK space strategy.

In the context, background and certain knowledge that our vastly increased reliance on space for communications and national security we all know that satellite and space-based services are a vital commodity not only to continue enabling our modern way of life and operation of our banking, financial, agricultural, utilities, transport and other operations, but also most importantly our defence and national security.

The UK isn’t alone in having systems that rely on satellite communications compromised over the past few years – problem that hit the NHS computer systems a couple of years ago being a perfect example and we have seriously upped our game in respect of improving cyber security protection of our national assets. Examples are many and under the auspices of GCHQ, The UK National Cyber Security Centre was formed in 2016 as part of a five-year National Cyber Security Strategy. UK industry is also playing its part in developing and improving cyber security and intelligence with large companies such as Raytheon, BAE Systems, Thales, Leonardo and others are all heavily engaged.  

So, with satellite and space-based services being vital to our way of life and in recognising that at the other end of the scale, communications, imagery, precision targeting and tracking of friendly and enemy forces are vital aspects of strong defence policy, the Government announced National Security Strategy Review published in May 2018 confirmed that the Royal Air Force has now assumed responsibility for Command and Control aspects of UK military space operation and also that it will lead the development of a cadre of qualified and experienced Space personnel along with engaging in support of all such responsibilities.  

Leads for the management of space-enabled capabilities remain unchanged but part of the work of the Royal Air Force, through Air Command, will be to enhance the overall coherence and co-ordination of activities across the Defence Space enterprise and for Space situational awareness and Space Control capabilities. For the record, Joint Forces Command will still be responsible for Satellite Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance activities.     

It is pleasing if not surprising that the Royal Air Force will now play a lead role in UK Space and Defence Strategy. As the importance of space become even better recognised so too has been the need to recognise that the consequences of failure to have in place a coherent national security plan the potential for disruption to civilian, military and government from the mix of self-made hazards, space debris being one example of this, and more importantly, the ability to face up to intended threats from hostile states, has become a matter of national priority.  

The 2018 National Security Capability Review concluded that we are in a period of increased complexity and risk. The challenges ahead are large and it is imperative that we along with other NATO members ensure that we have capabilities available that safeguard the ability of the UK and our allies against threats in space.           

The top line vision of UK Space Strategy as I see it is based on an intention to secure freedom of action in space and to create a framework that allows us the ability to fully exploit military and civil potential in Space. This is also about broadening and deepening Multinational Cooperation through NATO and in driving innovation in order to exploit technological opportunities and advantage.

Under the heading of ‘Optimise Space Support to the Front Line’ and led by the Royal Air Force, the primary elements of UK space policy involve increasing awareness of the nature and importance of the space domain, developing a skilled and sustainable space workforce, integrating of space policy across all relevant aspects of Defence business and to produce coherent space policies, plans and capabilities.

Importantly, under the heading of ‘Enhancing Space Resilience and Operational Effectiveness, UK Space strategy is also being built around strengthening of governance in order to ensure the ability to be effective in all forms of space operation. This is also about developing Space related capabilities will be able to effectively deliver a variety of operational outcomes, identify and attribute threats to Space assets and systems and also to create the ability for us to be able to respond to hostile activities in a proportionate and coordinated manner.

Finally, under the heading of ‘Supporting Wider Government Activities’ the UK plan envisages supporting the private sector and Government to enhance resilience of space services, supporting the Government’s aspiration for growth of the UK space sector, supporting international and planned NATO efforts to make space a safe and secure environment and finally, to jointly scope, with the UK Space Agency, a civilian/military National Space Operations Capability.         

NATO is upping its game too and only this week the 29 member Brussels based organisation announced an intention to launch new Space related capabilities in order to create a shield against high-performance aggressor missiles that can strike at the heart of Europe within minutes of launch. That is not to suggest that NATO intends to send weapons into space but moreover, to ensure that it has the right enabling capability including for instance, lasers that can shut down enemy missiles and air defences and potentially destroy satellites. The initial worked planned by NATO includes creation of a new space force designed to concentrate on protecting existing and new satellites put into orbit by alliance members and that are considered crucial for modern communications.

More will no doubt emerge from the upcoming NATO summit taking place in the UK on December 3rd/4th and it is believed that the organisation will also outline new policy intentions in regard of defending member states against China’s military ambitions.

CHW (London – 21st November 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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