NATO Space Operations Assessment
By Major Thomas Single, USA AF
Space is a part of our daily lives and today’s modern society has become dependent upon the services provided by Space systems. They provide global situational awareness and are a critical enabler of civil and military operations. Space has become ‘ordinary,’ with 15 Nations now operating satellites. Historically, many space-based capabilities have been considered ‘too sensitive’ to discuss outside of National boundaries. The recent development of Space capabilities by many Nations and increasing security and defence challenges require a more proactive approach. Space has not been adequately addressed and there is an urgent need to take action on the challenges identified in this Assessment.
In performing its core missions, NATO’s operations are entirely dependent on Space: possibly even non-functional without Space support. Services provided by Space systems are virtually transparent to end-users and are often taken for granted. Typically, personnel (civilian and military) have very little, if any, training and education on Space. Consequently, the full potential and advantages that Space capabilities have to offer has not yet been realised. Furthermore, in recent years, Space capabilities have become available to just about anyone. There are not adequate contingency plans for adversary use of Space or denial of our own Space capabilities. ‘With the requirement to meet threats from wherever they may come, the Alliance will operate in a wider Strategic environment,’ and this Assessment shows there are pressing matters to address.
The fundamental question to be answered is ‘what is the way ahead for Space in NATO?’ This Assessment confirms the importance of Space to current operations and to transformational ambitions. The methodology consisted of document research, key stakeholder engagement and critical analysis of programmes, processes and policies. Valuable input was incorporated from 33 stakeholder organisations that participated in a Space Workshop hosted by the JAPCC in April 2008. This Assessment captures the large Space community of interest. Nineteen gaps were identified and 23 recommendations are provided on governance, force development, planning and integration, concept development and experimentation, and standards and interoperability.
A holistic approach to Space is needed. The current approach to Space is piecemeal, a bottom-up effort lacking overarching structure or direction. While this may have been adequate in the past, the complexities of modern security challenges demand a more deliberate approach to Space. Space systems have been recognized as a key enabler to act independently, prevent and resolve conflicts and crises, and are critical to supporting NATO. Nations are developing their own Space capabilities for defence and security with little input from NATO. If we do not determine what the Alliance’s requirements for Space capabilities are, then the Nations will continue to duplicate efforts, field systems that are not interoperable, and retain stove-piped intelligence networks. It is the assertion of the JAPCC that Space Power is absolutely as essential to operations as Land, Maritime and Air Power and that Transformation requires the effective exploitation of and assured access to the Space Domain.
The top priority is to establish a Space Office. Much needed governance must be established, to include a Space Policy and Military Space Strategy. Without these, our security and operations are at risk. We have not thought through all of our requirements for Space, fully integrated National capabilities, developed holistic plans, considered the consequences of no action, or prepared sufficient risk mitigation strategies. It is essential to assure access to the Space capabilities that our economies, decision makers and military forces have come to depend upon.
Space Situational Awareness (SpSA), the ability to detect, monitor and assess activities in Space, is a prerequisite for being able to assure access to the Space Domain. Deliberate planning, increased cooperation and focus are needed to provide much needed SpSA. Unfortunately, there are not sufficient tools or personnel in the current force structure to adequately address SpSA or other Space activities. There are only 5 Space operational planners established in the NATO Command Structure. A broader awareness of Space capabilities must be developed. This includes education and training on Space at both National and NATO courses and schools. Space activities must also be incorporated into exercises and wargames with high priority.
These issues are highlighted by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations. Due to the limited exposure prior to deployment, Space is not as fully integrated or utilized as it could be. Unlike Air assets, most personnel are not aware of Space capabilities and therefore don’t realise that Space capabilities exist that may be able to provide support. Space capabilities must be as fully integrated and used as Air capabilities. There is a tremendous amount of existing Space capability, but we must better connect them with our customers in the field. To assist in this effort, a NATO Space Operations Coordination Centre (NSpOCC) should be established to better support our forces and to effectively conduct Combined Space Operations (CSO).
In summary, NATO is challenged to provide the governance, force structure and expertise to better make use of all available Space capabilities. History shows that humans have fought for dominance over every medium which contributes to commerce. Space may well prove to be no different. As such, it is increasingly important to protect and assure access to Space capabilities. We cannot afford to make critical mistakes and fail to deliver the required capabilities and effects to our Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen.