The Integration of Space and Defence Strategies

by CMS Team on 15 May, 2024

Competition breeds innovation, and the Space Race seen during the Cold War was no exception. As the US and USSR vied to dominate space flight technology huge resources, namely funding and research, were poured into space technology which ultimately provided a significant array of defence and commercial uses. Fast forward to the present day and our daily lives are dominated by the thousands of satellites orbiting the earth, which we now rely on for everything from weather forecasting to the internet, and the many services which use global positioning.

With our lives so reliant on this hardware in space, it is unsurprising that the Defence industry makes up a significant proportion of space activity and drives much of the innovation we see today. Much of this motivation comes from the threat of being denied access to space – the potential outcome of which could be the loss of communications, intelligence, and navigation for a nation’s armed forces.

There is a notable overlap between the defence and commercial uses of space and the associated technology. This is clearly seen with the rise in government-administered Space Commands over recent years. These are not to be confused with organisations such as NASA or the UK Space Agency but are standalone organisations which are the defence leads for space operations, the space workforce and space capability. Space is also considered to be a separate military domain, alongside air, land, sea and cyber, and is being afforded greater priority as we see with both the UK’s and US’ Space Command.  Going forward, the defence footprint in space will be dictated by the relationship between governments and private companies and, fundamentally being able to harness the industrial base will greatly improve the chance of a nation increasing their capacity in space.

Using space for military gain or overt demonstrations of weaponising space is nothing new, with conversations recently turning to Russia putting nuclear weapons in orbit. As far back as 2007 we saw China and India using ballistic missiles to destroy satellites that had reached the end of their useful lives, whilst Russia tested an Anti-Satellite Weapon (ASAT) in 2021. For defence, this gives rise to the two big questions – how one protects assets in space? And how does Defence continue to effectively use space to support capability? The range of capabilities on offer was clear to see at this year’s Satellite Conference held in Washington D.C, which CMS Strategic attended to provide client support throughout the week. Examples of products which had both a commercial and defence use were on display across the convention centre, and the unbridled media interest in products and services which could support both a commercial company, and military organisation, clearly showed the interest in, and the potential of the sector.

Where once the funding and drive for innovation came from government-run programmes, we are now seeing the involvement of private organisations filling in the role of the more traditional state-run organisations such as NASA and the European Space Agency. The rise of businesses such as SpaceX and ICEYE has shown that commercial endeavour can produce relatively affordable satellites and space vehicles, regularly sent into orbit in much shorter timeframes. Whether governments want to continue to develop their own technology, or work in partnership with private organisations, is something they will have to balance against sovereign ownership of the product, where it is manufactured, and the amount of research and development required. The options currently being offered by private companies are impressive and cover transportation, SAR capability and almost the entire range of communications.

This all needs to be considered in the context of what some are calling the ‘New Space Race’. Whilst it may be dominated by the US, China and Russia, there are now more than 80 countries with a presence in space suggesting this is a contested and competitive arena. Currently, a set of universally agreed-upon rules to regulate this competition don’t exist. But what is apparent is that space advantage is key. This will not be achieved through government alone, but through a meshing of space commands, allies working interoperably, and harnessing the tech, innovation, and manufacturing capability of private companies.

Written by: Oliver Tillard, Account Director at CMS Strategic

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