The UK Ministry of Defence has just announced establishment of its fledgling Space Command, with the intent to commence launching its own rockets from the UK in 2022. To this ends has appointed UK Space Command Senior Military Official Commander, Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey OBE, MA, FRAeS
BY CHRIS LAVERS
The UK Space Command is a Joint Command staffed from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and the Civil Service. It officially formed on 1st April 2021. It is no surprise the UK Government should set up its own Space Command in 2021, given the recent US lead, and reflects both the UK military’s growing confidence, and cross-service dependence in the space domain.
Why is Space important
Space, and our actively assured access to it, is fundamental to military and civilian operations. Loss of, or disruption to, the space domain, will impact our ability to undertake the majority of our Defence Tasks, and has the potential for significant effect on civilian, commercial and economic activity. The threat from adversaries of the UK in this rapidly transforming operational domain is real and it is here to stay. We must understand how to operate in space, integrate space with all our operational domains and integrate these with Allies’ and Partners’ space capabilities, to prevent loss of our competitive edge. Securing this higher frontier is essential to maintain access to space-based assets in contested space as much as in contested air-space. The UK will look to take full advantage of the current focus on cross and multiple domains, with integrated operations. It is vital to develop a coherent joined up approach notably in: land, sea and cyber. The UK Ministry of Defence, and the wider UK Government will formulate the National Space strategy, for publication in the second quarter of 2021. There have been 3 major developments in the space-domain in the last decade, namely: the benefits the space domain provides to military operations, secondly the digital revolution, and finally, the surge in private investment in space, which is still revolutionising the whole space sector.
The advantage of space to providing military advantage has been obvious since the US-Soviet Cold War with the development of sophisticated high resolution satellite based spy-surveillance systems, by both the US, and the Russian Keyhole/ Cosmos satellite series, but the costs to operate these technologies on a wide persistent scale are very expensive indeed, and limited practically, in terms by factors such as film recovery. The digital revolution of the 1970s and 1980s overcame many of these issues. The US military particularly has focused on how to take Commercial available Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products and modify them for bespoke purposes. During this time the size, weight, power requirements, and the cost of the completed system of technological components fell by several orders of magnitude.
UK Space Command formation and structure
UK Space Command is a Joint Command, staffed from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, as well as the Civil Service and key members of the commercial sector. It brings together 3 functions under a single 2-Star military commander: space operations; space workforce training and growth; and space capability (developing and delivering space equipment programmes). The UK Space Command will works alongside the Ministry of Defence, the Space Directorate, which is responsible for Defence Space policy, strategy and cross-government and international coordination. Direction from the National Space Council will flow through the Space Directorate to UK Space Command and other relevant elements of Defence. The UK Space Command is also intended to interact with the UK Space Agency, as and when necessary, to deliver joint national space capability.
According to various 2020 sources and reports, over 80 countries now have at least some military footprint capabilities in space, and nearly half of these have been deployed operationally in the last ten years, indicating the accelerating pace of change; this is also assisted by the explosion in commercial civilian nanosatellite launches, e.g. the recent ISRO Cartosat 2 launch which placed of 104 nanosatellites in orbit for a wide range of countries at the same time. Military space-based assets now orbit amongst many civilian assets, such as the rapidly growing number of privately owned satellite constellations, e.g. Elon Musk’s Starlink project, which is intended to provide revolutionising connections, broadband, and the internet of things, globally, and critically at an affordable cost. The US defence space strategy, published last year, was very clear that they are rapidly transforming their approach to space from a purely supportive function to a warfighting domain in its own right, and this transformation has been seen and adopted by the other countries that recognise this, hence the UK response to the formation of its own Space Command. As stated in other recent DCSS articles, Space today is not only critical to supporting military capability, but is an embedded part of the critical national infrastructure, of every country on the globe, sitting alongside dependence on power systems, transportation, etc., and is importantly becoming a conflict domain itself.
Collaboration with international partners is essential in space, no one nation can do it alone. UK Space Command will continue the UK’s commitment to the Combined Space Operations initiative, which comprises of 7 nations (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, UK and US), and seeks to improve cooperation, coordination, and interoperability opportunities in space; its main effort is to ‘ensure a safe, secure and stable space domain’. UK Space Command will also take command of the UK’s participation in the US-led Space Coalition under Operation OLYMPIC DEFENDER and support the growth of the NATO space enterprise. Previous UK programmes have been running for over a decade, such as Network-Enabled Capability (NEC), and Network-Centric Operations in the US, which looked at how equipment in one domain can communicate with equipment in another domain to provide military capability. The current focus however, is on how Space contributes to overall military capability and how to add resilience capability. As well as spanning domains, space defence also has an international element, which the UK Ministry of Defence is keen to expand with its partners, namely amongst the Five Eyes nations.