Whilst the role of satellite services and data has long been acknowledged as central in contributing to national security, the war in Ukraine has put satellites at the centre of the discourse when it comes to space resources in times of peace and armed conflict.
In this scope, in 2019, NATO acknowledged Space as a new operational domain and, in 2022, issued its first Space Policy, whilst NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept affirms NATO’s efforts in “maintaining secure use of and unfettered access to space and cyberspace”, which are “key to effective deterrence and defence”. The Strategy foresees the enhancement of the ability to “operate effectively in space and cyberspace to prevent, detect, counter and respond to the full spectrum of threats, using all available tools”, as well as the enhancement of the “resilience of the space and cyber capabilities upon which we depend for our collective defence and security”.
At the EU level, the approval of an EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence is planned for early 2023, as indicated in the letter of intent published in the wake of the State of the Union address to the European Parliament of 14 September 2022. This goal had already been indicated in other defence documents issued by the EU in 2022. Many of these documents already reflect Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, following which EU leaders adopted, in March 2022, the Versailles declaration on Russian aggression against Ukraine and on bolstering defence capabilities, reducing energy dependencies and building a more robust economic base.
These documents include the defence package and Strategic Compass for security and defence. The EU defence package comprises two Communications: the Communication Roadmap on critical technologies for security and defence (which proposed a way forward for the EU and Member States to boost research, technology development and innovation following the approval of the Action Plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries) and the Communication Commission contribution to European defence (which highlights the need to strengthen the security and defence dimension of space, as well as reduce strategic dependencies on critical technologies such as chips, with a set of initiatives on chips having been put forward). The Strategic Compass also expressly notes that “Our freedom of action depends on safe, secure and autonomous access to the space domain”.
The Communication Defence Investment Gaps Analysis and Way Forward also underlined that the war in Ukraine has further demonstrated the importance of satellite-based security connectivity and space-based Earth observation, as well as the importance of protecting space infrastructure against threats (space situational awareness).
In addition, in May 2022, the EU launched the EU Defence Innovation Scheme (EUDIS), which complemented other support and funding initiatives, notably the European Defence Fund (EDF) (established in 2021 and which allocated, for the period 2021-2027, a budget of close to €8 billion to finance research and development, including in the Space sector). Under the EDF, the Commission opened a series of calls for proposals covering a total of 33 topics, including space and naval combat (where more than €120 million will be dedicated to space and naval combat), and it announced plans to grant a total EU funding of almost €1.2 billion for supporting 61 collaborative defence research and development projects selected following the first calls for proposals under the EDF.
The European Political Community (EPC), an intergovernmental forum for political and strategic discussions about the future of Europe, convened for the first time in October 2022, with leaders having agreed to work to protect “key facilities” such as pipelines, undersea cables, and satellites.
In addition, during the European Space Conference 2022, the defence dimension was highlighted as a top priority, with discussions on the possibility of establishing a European Space Command.
Note also that, additionally, since 2021, the European Defence Agency (EDA) has an Ad-Hoc Working Group on Space, with tasks relating to research and innovation for space defence, whilst ESA, among other initiatives, had already foreseen, in the Matosinhos Manifesto approved at the Ministerial Summit held in 2021, the need to accelerate the use of space in responding to defence and security-related challenges.
Several countries have also been approving defence space strategies. Indeed, according to the Secure World Foundation’s 2022 Global Counterspace Capabilities Report, an increasing number of countries “are looking to use space to enhance their military capabilities and national security”, which entails a higher dependency on space for national security strategies and suggests that more countries are aiming at developing counterspace capabilities which can be used to “deceive, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy space systems”.
States that have approved strategies dedicated to space and defence include France (2019), United Kingdom (2022), Luxembourg (2022) and Australia (2022), among others. Portugal has also issued its National Defence Strategy for Space 2020 | 2030 and, in September 2022, the UK published its brand new Space Power Doctrine, a military policy document focusing on the role of the UK military in protecting space from foreign threats, as well as the intersection of space as a global domain between military, civil and commercial space activities, constituting a “basis for understanding the utility of the space domain in the military context”. In the US, the Department of Defense issued an updated Space Policy, which recognises space “as a priority domain of national military power” and formally adopts rules for safe operations / responsible behaviour in space. In addition, October 2022 saw the release of the National Security Strategy (highlighting the role of space for climate monitoring and surveillance, as well as the role of the US in ensuring sustainability and security of and in space, including when it comes to space governance, STM/SSA, space norms and arms control) and of the National Defence Strategy, which makes reference to the need for resilient satellite networks.
Other initiatives have also brought space and defence closer: for instance, the creation of space commands, such as in France (2019), United Kingdom (2021), Germany (2021), among others, and of the US Space Force, in 2019.The US also set up, in 2022, set up the national Space Intelligence Centre (NSIC). In 2022, the “Combined Space Operations Vision 2031” was published by the US, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, addressing key military topics.