When discussing deterrence, one must first understand what it is. Deterrence can be described as a strategy aimed at dissuading potential adversaries from taking aggressive actions or pursuing hostile policies by convincing them that the costs, risks, and consequences of such actions outweigh the potential benefits. It seeks to shape the decision-making calculus of potential adversaries, making them think twice before engaging in aggressive behaviour. At NATO’s June 2022 Summit in Madrid, it rewrote the alliance’s assessment of the threat environment due to the war in Ukraine. The summit noted that Russia presents the most significant threat to the allies, and that China’s ambitions and coercive policies are a challenge to NATO’s interests, security, and values. NATO confirmed its three core tasks: cooperative security, crisis prevention/management and deterrence and defence. However, the NATO alliance elevated deterrence as its primary task. During the summit, NATO set a new baseline for its deterrence and defence posture in line with its 360-degree approach across the land, air, maritime, cyber and Space domains, and against all threats and challenges.1 One framework for foreign policy – and the one used in this paper – is the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic (DIME) form analysis. Due to the size and scope of the NATO alliance, the elements within DIME translate to an effective roadmap for deterring aggression in the Space domain.
In summary, the report recommends:
- NATO establishes Space norms and be willing to take action against those who violate them.
- Develop a process for sharing intelligence across the alliance with the NATO Space Centre as the focal point.
- Increase the alliance’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capacity to respond to the ever-increasing Space catalogue.
- Encourage hosted payloads as an avenue for NATO nations with little to no established Space program to gain access to the Space domain.
- Ensure that Space funding is considered as important as other domains.
- Create a mechanism to withdraw Space expenditures from countries that present a potential threat to the alliance.
- Affirm a commitment by all NATO members to invest, cooperate, and develop Space technologies and to build a robust Space industry within the alliance.
- For both established and non-established Space countries, look to commercial Space providers as a gap filler where military capability is lacking or non-existent until a national and or multi-national capability is achieved.
Space Deterrence Utilizing Diplomacy
At the December 2019 London Summit, NATO declared Space as its fifth operational domain. This announcement communicated to the world that NATO determined the information collected by satellites is critical to NATO activities, operations, and missions, to include collective defence. In 2020, the establishment of the NATO Space Centre further emphasized how NATO intended to best implement Space effects into NATO operations. Finally, at the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO recognized that attacks to, from or within Space present a clear challenge to the security of the alliance and could lead to the invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.2 The final step where Article 5 could be invoked is a critical element in how the alliance views where Space is situated relative to the other domains, and sends a clear message to its potential adversaries on what consequences they would face in the event of hostile actions in Space. The potential use of Article 5 is not enough for the diplomatic element; NATO must also be a beacon to the world on using Space responsibly.
NATO and its allies have pledged to use Space in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which serves as the foundation for Space law and also the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The EU Code of Conduct aims to promote responsible behaviour in Space, enhance transparency, and prevent Space debris. It includes provisions for sharing information, collision avoidance, and responsible Space operations. These and many other actions in Space are known as Space norms, where NATO must take the global lead in using Space for peaceful purposes. In the event of an egregious violation of the basics of Space norms – such as Russia’s destructive 2021 Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test which created a cloud of debris in orbit – NATO must be resolute in their condemnation of these actions and be prepared to take action. Response options are limited; however, sanctions, divestment in the Russian Space industry, and finally, non-kinetic options are all possible actions available. Additionally, NATO nations should do everything possible to reduce debris events such as the UN resolution to ban ASAT testing in the future.
Space Deterrence Utilizing Informational Exchanges
In orbit 29,000+ 10mm or greater sized objects that pose a potential hazard to the 8,000+ satellites in orbit. The alliance tracks these objects via Space Situational Awareness (SSA) assets ranging from ground-based radars and Space-based radar to ground-based and Space-based telescopes. The vast majority of the Space catalogue is developed and maintained by the US; however, countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom are expanding their SSA capability to augment the US capability. France provided its GRAVES and SATAM radar systems, and Germany the Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) and German Experimental Space Surveillance and Tracking (GESTRA), to name a few. For a detailed list and more information on the SSA, the JAPCC White Paper Command and Control of a Multinational Space Surveillance and Tracking Network explains in great detail how the alliance is attempting to address the growing threat of a contested, congested, degraded, and operationally limited environment.
An area that NATO is looking to improve upon is its intelligence sharing for Space. The NATO Space Centre was established in 2020 to bring together all of the upcoming Space operations centres and to allow for a framework to share Space Data, Products, and Services (DPS), while acting as a central node for Space intelligence. The combination of SSA and Space intelligence can also be referred to as Space Domain Awareness (SDA). Accomplishing SDA is critical to facilitate informational exchanges when applied to an Article 5 discussion.
To invoke Article 5, NATO members must first gain recognition of an attack. Once an attack is recognized, the members need to determine the nature and scope of the attack. If the alliance does not have a robust SDA capability, then attribution of an attack in the Space domain cannot occur. In a recent Science and Technology Organization (STO) Space deterrence war game, players desired nearly 100% attribution. This provides insight into how NATO Senior Leaders might address Article 5 decisions involving hostilities against a Space asset in a real-world scenario. Due to the vastness of Space and the sheer number of Space assets, the alliance must not only work together to augment its SSA capacity but also share and disseminate Space intelligence. At the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO announced plans to develop a Strategic Space Situational Awareness System (3SAS) at NATO Headquarters. This capability would allow the alliance to better understand the Space environment and Space events, and their effects across all domains. This is a promising first step, but the alliance should consider more.3
Space Deterrence Utilizing Military Cooperation
The NATO Madrid Summit highlighted that resilience underpins all of NATO’s core tasks. When discussing resilience for deterrence, one must first be aware of deterrence through denial. Deterrence through denial is a strategy nations employ to dissuade potential adversaries from taking aggressive actions by making it difficult or costly for them to achieve their objectives. It focuses on denying the adversary the benefits or advantages they seek to gain through military or hostile actions. This approach aims to deter aggression by demonstrating the ability to counter or negate the attacker’s capabilities and objectives.
When applied to Space, one should look at the numbers first. The US military satellites total 231, while the rest of NATO has 43. Expanding the focus to all of the Space capabilities, the rest of NATO has ~1,200 active satellites, and the US has ~3,500. NATO members constitute 60% of all active satellites in Space. This sheer fact contributes to the overall resiliency; however, the alliance must note that the US still possesses the vast majority of on-orbit capacity. In the event the US is unavailable to support, the alliance would be unable to provide Space effects to their warfighters.
A method that the alliance can use to address this disparity of assets is through hosted payloads. Hosted payloads are when two or more nations and or companies collaborate with either multiple payloads or access to a satellite bus to generate a single spacecraft. Hosted payloads offer many advantages to the alliance by providing cost-effectiveness, accelerating deployments, and gaining access to Space for nations that have not yet established a launch or full Space program. The collaboration and sharing of resources across the alliance enables greater access to Space for all members of the alliance. The employment of hosted payloads is not new to the alliance. There are successful examples such as the Athena-Fidus Satellite – a joint satellite mission between the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI)4 – and the SES-14 satellite operated by the Luxembourg-based company SES that hosts the NASA Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument.5 The NATO Communication and Information Agency (NCIA) has established the Allied Reachback Hosted Payload Initiative, aiming to enhance the capabilities of NATO member states by hosting national payloads on commercial satellite platforms. It allows nations to leverage existing commercial satellite infrastructure for a variety of applications such as communications, Earth observation, and scientific experiments.
Lastly, NATO must continue implementing Space into their training, exercises, and war games. By doing this, NATO forces can understand that Space is inherent to supporting all domains. As NATO moves forward with Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), training ‘a day without Space’ brings awareness of the importance of Space operations and, therefore, the importance of deterring aggression in Space through denial.
Space Deterrence Utilizing Economic Investment
In 2014 NATO leaders made a Defence Investment Pledge and agreed that as a guideline, each NATO nation should spend at least two percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence. Since the 2014 pledge, the majority of NATO nations have struggled to achieve that GDP goal; however, the war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call and has reenergized the alliance to make a greater commitment to the pledge. Nonetheless, nations must recognize that even though the attraction to heavily invest in aircraft and tanks is great at the moment, investing in Space cannot be forgotten. As mentioned above, the US controls 82% of NATO’s Space capabilities. As a rule in the NDPP, no ally should provide a contribution representing more than half of a capability, other than in exceptional cases. The last portion of the previous statement might have previously been relevant to the Space domain. However, Space is no longer an exception to warfare and since 2019, has been identified as a separate domain. If Article 5 is invoked, NATO will not be assigned Space capabilities but instead will inherit the effects that nationally owned on-orbit assets provide. With only 18% of the total capacity offered by the rest of NATO, it is impossible to meet the 50% rule.
It is time for the alliance to recognise the importance of Space and invest accordingly. There is, however, a correct and incorrect way to invest in the Space domain. First, one incorrect way to invest is how for years, the European Space Agency (ESA) utilized Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to gain access to Space. After the annexation of Crimea, the ESA ignored the warning signs and continued to utilize and buy into the RD-180 engine program. At the same time, the US understood that continuing to invest in the RD-180 program provided an economic and strategic vulnerability and decided to spur domestic Space engine production by selecting SpaceX and Blue Origin engines after a competitive industry contract bidding process. SpaceX is now the leader for NATO’s launch program and provides a domestic capability, while removing leverage from an adversary.
An example of investment done correctly would be the recent development and launch of Türkiye’s Imece reconnaissance satellite. About 80% of the satellite’s production and design was done by Turkish scientists, but for the remaining portion, Türkiye looked to its NATO allies to provide the expertise to complete the program. On 15 April 2023, Imece was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base on a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and reached orbit ready to perform its missions of target identification, detection of natural disasters, and imaging applications for agricultural use. Investment within the alliance strengthens our industry base and provides a powerful deterrence to any potential adversary who believes that it can impact NATO’s resilience in Space. Lastly, the war in Ukraine has provided profound examples of how the commercial Space industry can impact wartime operations (see most recent JAPCC Journal for more information). To that regard, the NCIA has determined that to allow NATO forces to communicate more securely and quickly, NATO is investing over one billion euros in procuring satellite communications services from 2020–2034. This marks the largest-ever investment by NCIA in satellite communications, making NATO forces more resilient and acting as a massive deterrence.
Each element of DIME mentioned above can encompass a host of deterrence activities, but when combined, they form a complex web of deterrence. At this point, adversaries must carefully evaluate whether engaging in hostilities in the Space domain would yield the anticipated advantages, or if they would instead encounter resilience. A significant challenge to deterring adversaries and in evaluating deterrence activities is determining the effectiveness of the actions taken and deciding whether to continue on the same path or make adjustments. The concept of deterrence is an ongoing strategic game, akin to a constant game of chess between two or more players. As NATO transitions towards a comprehensive 360-degree approach to deterrence, it becomes imperative to establish a capable deterrence in the Space domain. One way to achieve this is by examining the elements of DIME.