Defence Space Strategy - One Year On

Ministry of Defence written statement – made at on 23 February 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend, the Minister for Defence Procurement (Alex Chalk) has today released the following written misisterial statement.

A year ago the Ministry of Defence (MOD) published the Defence Space Strategy (DSS), which set out a vision for the MOD to be a meaningful actor in the space domain. I now wish to update Parliament on the progress made since its publication.

Since we published this strategy, the war in Ukraine has served to reinforce the space domain’s importance in securing information advantage and enhancing military operations. Access to Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data from space has proved vital in that conflict, both for the conduct of operations and the ability to counter Russian disinformation on the global stage. Satellite communication has also played a critical role and we have observed the importance of Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) solutions for delivering precision effects.

UK Space Command

UK Space Command reached Initial Operating Capability on 1 April 2022. This Joint Command has the role of generating, integrating and operating space capabilities to protect and defend UK interests in support of global operations. The Command is now over 500 strong and will continue to grow its workforce over the coming twelve months.

Following our commitment to invest a further £1.5 billion into UK Defence’s space capabilities over the next decade, Space Command is now delivering the Defence Space Portfolio, which combines existing space programmes and exciting new capabilities in support of our mission. Space Command published its Capability Management Plan on 9 November 2022, which set out capability headmarks against seven capability areas: Satellite Communication, Space Domain Awareness, ISR, Command and Control (C2), Space Control, PNT and Launch.

Delivering Space Based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)

UK Space Command, partnering closely with the Defence Innovation Unit, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), has placed on contract the creation of two Research and Development (R&D) satellites: TITANIA, a space to Earth laser communications system, and TYCHE, an electro-optical earth observation system. Both are expected to be launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in early 2024.

UK Space Command has also started the process of placing on contract further R&D projects. The first of these will develop a synthetic aperture radar satellite capability. This UK Defence R&D programme will play a role in supporting operational capability investment decisions from 2025 onwards.

Delivering Space Domain Awareness (SDA), Command and Control (C2) and Space Control

Noting the strategy’s commitment to identifying ‘dual use’ opportunities, the MOD has worked closely with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to agree the first set of cross-government, civil and defence, SDA requirements. We will now assess the available technologies and opportunities with our allies to identify areas for investment. This will likely combine the use of commercial sensor data, Allies’ data and sovereign sensors over the coming years.

To improve C2, Space Command and UKSA continue to develop long term plans for a joint Civil-Military National Space Operations Centre, which will have improved SDA capabilities at its very heart and draw on new software to improve automation and exploitation.

Space Command continues to develop a range of operational concept demonstrators for Space Control that will help to sustain advantage and freedom of action in space.

Delivering Satellite Communications (SatCom) and Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNT)

UK Strategic Command (UK StratCom) continues to maintain crucial satellite communication services for Defence. Since the transfer of ownership of the Skynet Constellation back to the MOD in August 2021, UK Space Command has now taken on responsibility for the protection and defence of our satellites on orbit. Following conclusion of a successful Private Finance Initiative with Airbus Defence and Space, we are planning to announce the winner of the Service Delivery Wrap (SDW) competition in February 2023 to provide satellite, terminal, and network elements of the next generation SKYNET 6 system until 2029. We will work with allies to ensure an enduring capability in an increasingly contested operating environment.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) lead for Government on national PNT resilience and a cross-Government PNT team was established by BEIS in July last year. MOD is supporting this effort, including through embedded military expertise. This team is taking forward a ‘concept demonstrator’ project to develop a stance on national PNT resilience through a better understanding of national needs, PNT risks, mitigations and opportunities. Its work is due to conclude this spring with options going to ministers on next steps.

Since the strategy’s publication, UK StratCom has continued to pursue options within Defence to enhance resilient and assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities. This includes: the Robust Global Navigation System (RGNS), designed to utilise all unencrypted Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals being broadcast today to generate a more reliable and available PNT solution; and a programme of activity to develop alternative technologies to GNSS PNT capabilities (AltNav), which is due to complete its research phase this year.

Increasing Space Operations

The illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces has resulted in unprecedented levels of activity for UK Space Command operational units and has accelerated activity with our international partners. The UK Space Operations Centre and RAF Fylingdales have contributed to Homeland Defence through Strategic Missile Warning while continuing to provide critical Theatre Missile Warning, GPS accuracy predictions and space weather alerts to deployed UK forces overseas. With embedded UK Space Agency analysts providing re-entry and space debris analysis and warnings, the Space Operations Centre continues to track suspicious activity on orbit and is undergoing significant enhancement to meet the additional demand.

Skills and Training

UK Space Command concluded their Training Needs Analysis in March 2022 and this is informing its activity in pursuit of the DSS goal to ‘upskill’ the Defence workforce. The Command delivered its inaugural Executive Space Operations Course in December 2022 and continues to work towards the establishment of a Space Academy. MOD is working with DSIT to ensure that a coherent approach is taken to address skills gaps across the UK space sector through partnerships across Government, industry and leading academic centres around the country.

International Partnerships

The DSS committed us to broadening and deepening multinational cooperation and we have made good progress on this, with UK Space Command signing agreements with several new international partners to formalise collaboration on issues such as organisational structures, training of personnel and acquiring of new capability. Terms of Reference with the Republic of Korea Air Force and Australian Defence Space Command have been signed (in July 2022 and December 2022 respectively), outlining future cooperation in areas such as information-sharing, collaborative training, and personnel exchanges. UK Space Command also signed the Enhanced Space Cooperation MOU with US Space Command in April 2022. This is the most comprehensive defence space arrangement signed yet between the UK and the US, and the basis for a number of new and developing areas of cooperation.

We have also played a leading role in the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) initiative – comprising Australia, Canada, Germany, France, New Zealand, UK and US – which seeks to align activity relating to operations, capability and policy. Throughout 2022 the UK chaired the CSpO’s Policy and Legal Working Group that has been instrumental in shaping the debate in the UN on responsible space behaviours. Linked to this, MOD supported the Government announcement on 3 October 2022 of a UK commitment not to destructively test direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missiles.

Conclusion

Significant progress has been made since the publication of the DSS. We have the right structures and governance in place and we have established many key relationships at home and abroad. We continue to work at pace to deliver the strategy’s ambition and to integrate space into our business-as-usual activity across Defence – from operational planning to doctrine, capability development, training and education.