This is a guest post written by Dr David Webb, Convenor of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and a former Chair of CND. 

Cawdor Barracks near Brawdy, about 10kms from St. Davids in a most beautiful part of Pembrokeshire, is set to be the site of another US military facility in the UK. It will include 21 receiving antenna dishes towering about 20m above the ground and 15m in diameter; 6 transmitting dishes of the same size; an operations building and perimeter and security fencing.

The RAF used Cawdor as an airfield from 1944 until it closed in 1992. It was reactivated in 1995 by the Army and became home to their electronic warfare unit. If the proposed development takes place, it will now become part of the US ‘Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability’ (DARC) system, an enhancement to US Space Surveillance Network (SSN) which includes the pyramid shaped US ballistic missile early warning radar at Fylingdales in North Yorkshire and is controlled by the 18th Space Defense Squadron, which is a component of Space Force’s Space Delta 2 unit.

The existing data collection network can be affected by bad weather and DARC is being added to provide all-weather, 24/7 coverage of objects in geosynchronous orbit.

DARC, part of the AUKUS defence agreement, will consist of three transmit/receive sites, in Texas, Australia and the UK, to detect, track and identify potential targets up to 36,000km away in geosynchronous orbit, where a lot of military surveillance and communications satellites are stationed.

And it would perform an important role in the US Space Domain Awareness (SDA) programme. SDA data is collected from an extensive collection of space based sensors and ground-based telescopes and radars and combined with intelligence sources, produces a picture of the space environment. The US declares that SDA is needed to keep track of space debris and warn of possible collisions with satellites, but its main function is to detect, track, and identify objects in orbit, including active and inactive satellites. Thus, SDA enables the military to monitor the activities of others in space and can provide data for the targeting of anti-satellite systems.

The space component of SDA is a group of satellites called the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) system, which is maintained by the US Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (the US intelligence agency that builds spy satellites). Coverage of the geosynchronous orbit is also enhanced by the US Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) and a jointly funded spy satellite constellation called ‘Silent Barker’. The latter is a response to Russian and Chinese satellites that can manoeuvre in space and may engage with American space assets.

The war in Ukraine has reinforced how important space resources are to the military and US Space Command stated its aim of dominating and controlling space in its 1997 ‘Vision for 2020’. And domination of a region requires an ability to monitor everything that goes on there and that is why SDA is so important.

An article on DARC in the Global Times in 2021 explained how “[DARC] … is a significant escalation that has the potential to further change the direction of global military competition. The head of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston, has bluntly predicted the next war could be won or lost in space. The primary purpose of the US and its allies in developing DARC is obviously to prepare for winning a war and to deter China and Russia.”

The response to DARC is likely to be more countermeasures from China and Russia, accelerating the space arms race. For almost 40 years the US has either abstained or voted against UN resolutions proposed by Russia and China to prevent an arms race in space sometimes the UK joins them. In May, Brig Gen Jesse Morehouse from US Space Command was reported as saying that the US had “no choice” but to prepare for orbital combat and that the US “is ready to fight tonight in space if we have to.”

If DARC is eventually sited at Bawdy, the UK government will be ensuring that the people of Wales become an integral part of any future war in space and therefore a possible target.

A campaign against the radar – “Parc Against DARC” – has been set up and more details can be found here.