Drone Wars and the UK’s military expansion into space

Space is rapidly becoming a key domain for military operations as modern wars rely heavily on space-based assets. Space-based systems are used for command and control; surveillance; intelligence and reconnaissance; missile warning; and in support of forces deployed overseas. Satellites also provide secure communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to remotely fly armed drones.

Although the UK’s military space programme dates back to 1952, until relatively recently it was small and extremely limited. However, as the commercial space sector has expanded and the cost of launches has decreased, the UK  has begun to treat space as an area of serious national interest. The MoD and its close allies have openly declared that they see space as “a war fighting domain”.

Over the past two years we have seen the setting up of UK Space Command, the publication of a Defence Space Strategy outlining how the MoD will “protect the UK’s national interests in space” and the announcement of a portfolio of new military programmes to develop space assets and infrastructure.  In addition, the UK is currently planning the first space launch from the UK soil at Newquay Spaceport and ground has been broken on a new spaceport in the Shetland Isles.

We are now seeing an era of military space expansion by the UK which will inevitably lead to environmental harm and risk of instability and conflict.

Our position:

  • Rather than this military expansion into space the UK should be upholding and extoling the virtue of the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, which recognises that space is a ‘global commons’ to be used for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all countries and humankind. The treaty was aimed at preventing national and commercial exploitation of space and the damage that would cause.  Instead of upholding that common good, the UK and other states in conjunction with a gang of billionaires – are now doing the exact opposite.
  • The cost to international security and the environment of a new space arms race should be at the front of our thinking – not an almost forgotten afterthought. Billions of pounds are going to spent launching military systems into space with an untold amount of harm being done to the environment as a result. There urgently needs to be proper and detailed research undertaken into the environmental impact of a UK space programme.
  • It is simply not good enough to say that if we don’t do this then others will. The UK should be upholding the principles behind the Outer Space Treaty and working with its allies to update it to make it relevant to the current context and to technological developments.
  • Outer space is a region of wonder and inspiration. It continues to challenge and inspire many people who wish to explore and discover. However, a growing number of space activities are now focussing on commercial exploitation and warfighting.
  • We’re calling for more public discussion and debate about this new push to exploit space for military and commercial purposes. Currently, decisions with huge implications are being made by a small elite of policymakers and wealthy entrepreneurs for their own purposes and not for the benefit of humanity.  This must change.