Ahead of the UK’s first military satellite launch this summer, a new joint report from CND and Drone Wars UK examines the UK’s emerging military space programme, considers the governance, environmental, and ethical issues involved, and warns of an emerging arms race.
‘For Heaven’s Sake: Examining the UK’s Militarisation of Space’ details how space is becoming a key domain as military operations now rely heavily on space-based assets including for command and control; surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance; missile warning; and in support of forces deployed overseas. Satellites also provide secure communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to fly armed drones.
In September 2021 the UK government published a National Space Strategy aimed at developing the space economy, while in February 2022 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) published its Defence Space Strategy. The strategy announced a portfolio of programmes for developing space assets and infrastructure, including upgrading the UK’s Skynet military satellite network and developing space domain awareness (SDA) capabilities for detecting, tracking, and identifying objects in orbit.
The UK Space Agency is currently supporting the development of three spaceport sites for rocket launches from the UK. Although launches from the spaceports will be undertaken by commercial companies, many of them are expected to be for military or dual use purposes. Space use has evolved into a fuzzy military/commercial collaboration. UK spaceports are currently being developed at Unst in the Shetland Islands, Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands and Newquay in Cornwall.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including calling for further research into the environmental effects of space operations. The authors argue that decisions about the exploitation of space with significant environment and security impact are currently being made by a small elite of wealthy entrepreneurs and government policymakers. CND and Drone Wars UK call on parliamentarians, journalists and non-government organisations to scrutinise space policy in greater detail and help the public look critically at the issue
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:
“This important report highlights the growing danger posed by the militarisation of space and how its civilian and military uses are inextricably linked. In the rush to control space, the government wastes billions of pounds in vital public funds during the worst cost of living crisis in decades. The government needs to get its head out of the clouds and focus on the unfolding environmental and humanitarian disasters on earth – not new conflicts in space.”
Authors of the report, Dave Webb and Peter Burt said:
“The militarisation of space endangers global peace and security, betrays contempt for decades of arms control efforts, and will inevitably contribute significantly to a new arms race.”