Elevating Space - the Defence Command Paper
Some tech sectors are advancing fast, and others are moving at rocket speed, all will change how the World works, some will adjust the character of war, and potentially its nature too. Of these Quantum computing, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, and Space are at the leading edge. Whilst Defence is driving all, Space needs more energy if we are to remain with leading allies, match adversaries, protect interests, and help shape how everything connects and works.
The IR Refresh recognised this, but its commitments will not keep the UK in the 1st Division. Committing to not destructively test direct ascent ASAT missiles is thin, we condemned others for doing so; we already play a leading role in supporting the UN open-ended working group on reducing space threats, but missing is the what, how and when we will achieve this; and intensifying work to develop active debris removal and in-orbit servicing, manufacturing and assembly is an excellent National ambition, but what does that mean for Defence? This is not enough; so Defence Space needs development and definition if the UK is to not to be left behind.
This is important because Space is not like the other domains. Defence does not come in to restore the peace, enable commerce and civil business and retire to readiness. Instead, military, civil and commercial activity co-exists, interacts, and co-operates all of the time. Every asset on orbit has coterminous, coincident, and inseparable military, civil and commercial utility; position, navigation & timing enables traffic lights, runs the stock market, and triangulates bomb co-ordinates; Earth observation identifies enemy manoeuvres, spots human migration, and aids farming fertilisation; and Space surveillance identifies asteroids, plots solar flares, and tracks ICBMs.
Military, civil, and commercial Space activity intertwine, they can’t be separated, but HMG’s investments are. Once attributed by vote, Departments spend on Space in their own way, realising less capability than is possible with greater coordination. The military spend of c.£5B/10 is focussed on Defence communications, where DSIT and BEIS are building industrial capacity around the European Space Agency themes; there are plenty of opportunities to converge these interests. Civil attempts to bridge this are around the notion of ‘dual use’ (capabilities that have military and civil/commercial value), but Defence views this approach with a skew-eye suspicious of cash-raiding. This amicable stalemate denies the opportunity and fails to recognise the increasing inter-dependency on orbit and balance sheets.
If UK were to address these challenges, secure the benefits and insulate the growing risks, we need to look again at Space in the round and recognise its criticality to the UK, drive harder towards joint programmes, and expand our engagement overseas. Allies and Partners are banking on this, adversaries fear it and industry is waiting. The mechanisms to achieve this represent a programme for Defence Space, in the national interest, which includes:
· Refreshed National and Defence Space Strategies to focus requirements, coalesce partners, mobilise capital, and deliver dual use;
· Adoption of a national unifying Space purpose, such as to ‘Make Space a safer place’ drawing on all the areas where UK has a leading Global advantage;
· Stimulation of a novel approach to capability planning, investment, and capital to realise more output from a more diverse investors base;
· Reinforcement of the UK’s leading position in the development of space law at the UN, to protect the Earth, its orbits, the Cis-Lunar environment, and regions beyond;
· Secure a Global lead in Space war gaming drawing on our strong synthetics, digital and gaming sector, and Oxford Quantum community;
· Convene industry, agencies, and commerce in Space commerce gaming to identify risks, assure launches and orbits, frame Cis-Lunar activity, and test legal statutes;
· Analysis to explore how we might take full advantage of our national, overseas, and dependent territories’ geography and then develop plans to exploit it;
· Lead CSpO in responsive space launch for short-notice, highly responsive, small satellite replacement, maintenance, repair, or refuelling launch capability;
· Converge MOD-DSIT-BEIS interests in IOSM to establish a Global lead in active debris removal for commerce and military applications; &
· Corral nations into capability alliances to allow more nations to contribute and ensure Defence was not the sole investor in these programmes (a JEF for Space).
Much more detail exists on all these proposals – aims, benefits, risks, enabling actions, costs (people, time, finance, authorities), and plans – we simply need to choose to take this path. Its striking that these choices could be accessed at broadly no additional cost; instead, investment in cognitive evolution, leadership clarity, position papers, policy precision, detailed plans, requirement compromise, acquisition convergence, and a higher broader perspective are required. Space is bigger than Defence, but this isn’t obvious from activity or plans. If we choose this path, some enabling steps are also necessary to glue all this together and establish the necessary momentum; these include:
· Stronger Government space function – a secretariat from the Space bodies;
· Resource Space Command – fill the gapped posts;
· Stronger HMG governance – Boards and bodies with targets, tempo, and teeth;
· Aligned national requirements – HMG, not Department, outcomes;
· Decisive HMG teams – inter-Departmental delivery teams; &
· Accelerated acquisition – sole source, less bidding, and quicker contract awards.
Space needs more energy if we are to remain with leading allies, match adversaries, protect interests, and help shape how everything else connects and works. A programme for Defence Space, in the national interest, is the place to start.