In March, the UK government published their ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’, titled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’ it describes the government vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade.
There has been a lot of discussions on various parts of the review – especially the increases in the UK nuclear arsenal and military spending – but not so much about the parts that deal with the UK military space policy. This is also an important part of the Review that needs closer examination.
Boris Johnson makes an interesting comment in the Forward:
“…we will continue to defend the integrity of our nation against state threats, whether in the form of illicit finance or coercive economic measures, disinformation, cyber-attacks, electoral interference or even … the use of chemical or other weapons of mass destruction.”
The emphasis in the above has been added to highlight parts relating to what has become known as ‘hybrid warfare’, operations carried out in a ‘grey zone’ between war and peace, which uses political warfare, conventional warfare, cyberwarfare and other subversive influencing methods. This form of covert warfare is now a common component of security strategies.
An Integrated Strategy Serving Military and Commercial Interests
The Review stresses the perceived need to develop “a dynamic space programme” to be underwritten by “the credibility of our deterrent and our ability to project power.” This is to be partially achieved by the development of “an integrated space strategy which brings together military and civil space policy.”
UKSpace, the trade association of the British space industry, and the RAF have established a Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) at the MoD’s Space Operations Centre (SpOC) in High Wycombe to work on programmes that jointly serve commercial and military interests.
This civil/military collaboration has already begun – in 2008 the government awarded Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) over £4 million to develop Carbonite 2, a small, low-orbit satellite launched in 2018 to provide high-resolution reconnaissance for intelligence gathering for the MoD. This evolved into Artemis, a project led by the RAF with Airbus, its subsidiary SSTL, Raytheon, the US government and Virgin Orbit as partners. In addition, in 2019 the MoD announced a £30 million military space programme for the development of small satellites and US aerospace giant Lockheed-Martin received £23.5 million to help develop spaceports in the UK. Other defence contractors, such as Raytheon and BAE Systems, are also wanting to become more involved.
UK Space Strategy
The government has also said it will be publishing the UK’s first national space strategy this summer (via the National Space Council) and has established a new Space Command to serve the armed forces. At least £6.6 billion of defence funding will also go to “deliver an enduring military edge in areas including space, directed energy weapons, and advanced high-speed missiles.”
However, there is some recognition that these projects will raise “important questions about the interaction between economic opportunity, security and ethics, and the balance between the role of the state, businesses and individuals.” They also come with “considerable risks to strategic stability if … not managed and regulated effectively.”
The continued use of space systems for surveillance and the establishment of a citizen database, also bring “challenges to privacy and liberty” and that there is a “need to be active in ensuring effective accountability and oversight that protects democratic values, while opposing the overreach of state control.”
Unfortunately, the current government seems to spend more time and money on cover ups than on being accountable or protecting citizen’s rights or privacy.
One reason why the government might be interested in ‘making the UK a meaningful player in space’ is because, as the Review points out:
“since 2010, space has proved to be one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, trebling in size. It now employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 billion each year, with particular strengths in small satellite technology, satellite and deep-space telecommunications, robotics and Earth observation.”
Forecasts suggest that space could be worth over $1 trillion by 2040 and the UK has said that it wants to capture 10% of the market by 2030. So, it seems that the government views space as a potential path to recovery from the economic havoc caused by Covid-19.
Another reason may be that the UK’s growing fleet of armed drones depends heavily on satellites for communication and control. Currently this service is supplied by US or commercial satellites but it will soon be moving to the UK’s Skynet satellite system, which the government is looking to expand for military and commercial use.
Launch sites and spacehubs
Currently, the UK relies on others for launching its satellites, so the government aims to develop a commercial launch capability from the UK and to launch British satellites from Scotland by 2022. To help with this, a consortium of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be used to bring together local authorities, academic institutions, research groups and businesses are establishing several regional space hubs around the UK to ensure that space is a priority for regional economic growth. Among them is ‘AstroAgency’ which operates across Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council.
Following the government decision to employ Lockheed-Martin to look into possible space-port locations in the UK, Lockheed has chosen Unst – one of the Shetland islands – to develop its own Shetland Space Centre (SSC) for vertical (rocket) launch operations. At 60.75 degrees north latitude (as far north as you can get in the British Isles), Unst is well placed for launching satellites into polar orbits – often used for reconnaissance, weather, or communications satellites and all have military applications.
There are plans for other spaceports in Scotland – on the A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland County in the Highlands and on an island in the Outer Hebrides. Two others from which to conduct plane-based horizontal launches – at Prestwick and Argyll.
All of these spaceports have joined together under the Scottish Space Leadership Council to form the Spaceports Alliance and others planned for Cornwall and Wales look likely to become members in the near future.
Interestingly, Danish billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen, who own the ‘Bestseller’ retail clothing empire said to be worth £4.5bn, have bought up around 220,000 acres of Scottish countryside across 12 estates. They own land near the proposed Space Hub Sutherland & have expressed concerns about its impact on vulnerable protected areas.
Their company ‘Wildland Ltd’ is seeking a judicial review of Highland Council’s planning approval, but they also have almost £1.5m invested in the Shetland Space Centre on Unst.
However, on 29 March 2021, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), a statutory body, refused consent for the development on Unst on the grounds it would destroy a scheduled monument of national significance and it is a criminal offence to carry out works to a scheduled monument without their authorization – no doubt this will not be the end of the story.
The UK has been part of the notorious ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence gathering collaboration with the US, Canada New Zealand and Australia since it was established during the Second World War. This collaboration has now grown to 41 eyes and it involves the sharing of intelligence partly obtained through intercepting satellite communications collected via a global network of ground-based collection stations. However, a wider international collaboration will be needed if the UK is to become a major contender in space activities. The government is therefore committed to the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) group of 7 nations (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, UK and US) which enables the sharing of space-related information and resources and provides enhanced awareness of the space environment.
UK Space Command is also participating in the US-led Space Coalition under Operation Olympic Defender (OOD) which was established to build international partnerships to ‘deter adversaries and hostile acts in space’. OOD is coordinated by the US Space Force at the Combined Space Operations Centre in Vandenburg Air Force Base, California.
The UK was the first to join OOD in 2019 and the first to obtain access to the US Standardized Astrodynamic Algorithm Library (SAAL) which contains information to help predict the locations and trajectories of satellites and objects in orbit. Access to SAAL allows for better collaboration in space and the streamlining of multinational military operations across the globe.
There will also be a deepening cooperation with NATO in military and intelligence efforts. Over half of the existing 3,000 active satellites belong to NATO members or companies based in NATO countries. In 2019 NATO recognised space as a new operational domain and adopted a Space Policy to ensure the right support for its operations and missions through space assets developed by its members and used for in areas such as communications, navigation and intelligence gathering.
The UK will also continue to participate in the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme. Copernicus is a dual use system in that it provides the EU with satellite and aerial imagery for commercial and military use. Some of the data is used to support the EU’s ‘Common Security and Defence Policy’. It is worth noting that that, originally, Copernicus was named the ‘Global Monitoring for Environmental Security’ (GMES) but in 1999 the name was changed to the ‘Global Monitoring for Environment and Security’.
Finally, the UK is to continue to contribute to missile defence (including the participation of the bases at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill in Yorkshire) and to CBRN resilience.
The Integrated Strategic Review clearly illustrates that the UK government sees new developments in science and technology, and especially space technology, as being of fundamental importance to its military ambitions of global power projection. It is also hopeful that being part of the ‘space boom’ will help build a financial recovery while emerging from the disastrous pandemic experience. Their intention is to encourage the development of a number of space hubs to develop space R&D activities and space ports to launch mini satellites into orbit and to maintain and further develop collaborative projects with existing allies – especially the US. They also see it necessary to continue citing Russia and China as major threats and using them as a major reason why many of these actions are necessary.
There are no new strategies or ideas in the Review that might stop the approach of midnight on the Doomsday Clock. Instead, the Review is pushing the minute hand forward by continuing with destructive Cold War approaches to state security. Increases in military spending and more nuclear warheads only make situations less secure. There is no recognition of human security issues such as poverty relief, healthcare provision, tackling climate change and ending homelessness. Instead of offering ways in which we might all work together to tackle these problems, it is adopting an even more confrontational attitude to international affairs.
Unfortunately, the UK is not the only country to think that a dominant position in space is a possible way forward. Space forces and space hubs are being established in several countries. Currently, space developments (and thereby policies) are being created by billionaires, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bozos, and the aerospace corporations rather than governments and it is really important for the peace movement to become more familiar with what is happening and understand the importance of keeping space for peace.
- Dave Webb is Chair of CND, convener of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and a member of the Steering Committee of Drone Wars UK.