UK Space Command Howard Wheeldon Commentary

DefenceSynergia is grateful to Howard Wheeldon for these thoughts on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Defence Space Conference being held on 21st May.

It is especially relevant as the conference has triggered the Secretary of State for Defence, The Right Honourable Gavin Williamson MP, to announce that Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Command has been given responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interest in space.

Here is what Howard has to say on the subject:

I will today be attending the first ever MOD Defence Space conference, an event which has been organised by The Air Power Association.

Space is a truly global domain and as we move forward we recognise that collaboration is essential to ensure delivery of what we need today now and importantly, in a world in which geo-political tensions have increased, what we believe we will need tomorrow and in the longer term future. The Defence Space Conference will bring together real specialist knowledge and it will be a place over the next two days where we observers and those engaged directly in this important segment of defence and security can all learn, can challenge and hopefully, can better understand what it is that we need to do to ensure that UK plays a significant role in space related defence that it clearly needs to.

Space, in respect of civil communications at any rate, is something that these days we take for granted. And from a defence aspect, it is also true to say that the UK’s involvement in space is hardly new – we have after all been very well served by Skynet for many years now in respect of strategic communications requirements.

But as we grow our demands particularly in civil space we must increasingly recognise that because we have placed so much reliance on satellite technology we can no longer afford to ignore potential threats. As it does on land, sea and in the air, defence must in the years ahead play an ever increasing role in Space and today we will learn from ministers and senior members of the military of future intent.

The Defence Space Conference will be addressed by senior members of the UK government, senior military officers from both the UK and US, industry, academics and specialists in this hugely important area. Delegates will receive perspectives not only from senior government officers and members of the Royal Air Force and USAF, but importantly, also from the MOD Director for Strategic Planning, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Space Agency and specialist companies in the ‘Space’ domain such as CGI, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Inmarsat and others.

Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson has already announced the launch of the UK’s first Defence Space Strategy and pledged an uplift in expertise to ensure we remain at the forefront of the space domain. And with an increasing amount of the UK’s military systems now dependent on space technology, it is pleasing to know that RAF Air Command has assumed responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interests in space.

Gavin Williamson has also confirmed an intention to boost the 500 personnel currently working in the UK defence space sector by one-fifth over the next five years, taking the total number of those involved in this crucial area to over 600.

Satellites and space-based services provide communications, imagery, precision targeting and friendly force tracking for the Armed Forces. As the reliance on satellites continues to grow, any disruption could lead to severe consequences, whether by natural or man-made hazards, or intentional threats from hostile states. The Defence Space Strategy will examine how we can work with our allies across NATO and the five-eyes partnership to protect and defend our mutual space interests.

The press statement put out ahead of the two day Defence Space Conference tells us that the new Strategy, expected in the summer, will set out plans to protect UK operations against emerging space-based threats such as jamming of civilian satellites used for broadcasters and satellite navigation to support military capabilities. It will also explore defence requirements for a UK GPS system and assess the current contribution to the EU Galileo programme. In the statement Mr Williamson goes on to say:

We must make sure we are primed and ready to deter and counter the intensifying threats to our everyday life that are emerging in space. That’s why today I’m announcing the RAF is taking the lead in this area and why we plan to increase the number of personnel covering space.

Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our Armed Forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet or television. It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm.

Britain is a world leader in the space industry and our defence scientists and military personnel have played a central role in the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme alongside British companies, so it is important we also review our contribution and how we plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.”

The press statement goes on to say that as part of the EU’s Galileo programme, UK companies have led the way in developing innovative satellite technology. The UK has contributed €1.4bn (£1.2bn)* in funding to the programme and provided vital ground infrastructure in the Falklands and the Ascension Islands. As part of the new Strategy, the MOD will work with the UK Space Agency to explore opportunities for UK companies to benefit from an alternative to Galileo. Guto Bebb, Minister for Defence Procurement will tell conference delegates that:

Space is a vital part our economy, with an industry worth £14 billion a year. With the launch of this Strategy, we are setting our aspirations much higher, to ensure that our industry continues to benefit from this growth in satellite technology. We are investing millions into Britain’s most innovative companies to help us launch forward in the space domain.”

In respect of the announcement that RAF Air Command has been given responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interest in space the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller will provide a wider perspective and confirm that “I am determined to ensure that the RAF’s leadership of military space operations transforms our ability to address the growing threats and hazards. In doing this, it is essential that we work jointly across Defence and with partners cross Government and internationally.”

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

(London – 21st May 2018)