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 and importantly, in a world in which geopolitical tensions have increased, what we believe we will need tomorrow and in the longer-term future.
Aside 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.
Space, in respect of civil communications, at any rate, is something that these days we take for granted.
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.
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.
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 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.
Prior to a Defence Space Conference last month, Mr Williamson said:
"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."
However, last week, Defence Minister Guto Bebb MP revealed the UK was looking at developing its own independent satellite-navigation system, after being excluded from the Galileo programme.
The European Commission said the UK could not immediately have access to the system, intended for use by government agencies, armed forces and emergency services, after Brexit because it will become a foreign entity.
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."