Militarisation of Space

It is not just the US that is seeking 'full spectrum dominance' - military superiority on land, sea, air and in space; EU planners also have their eyes on the prize.

The Militarisation of Space and the European Space Agency

The first successful launch of a rocket, known as the V2, was in 1942 in northern Germany. The Captain of the mission commented that this achievement was the start off “a new era in transportation: that of space travel" and added that “our most urgent task can only be the rapid perfecting of the rocket as a weapon."

V21 Rocket This event marked the first major development step of a technology which has ever since been characterized by its military-civilian dual-use capability. Rocket enthusiasm in Germany and elsewhere in the world was originally fed by the dream to travel to the Moon. Its first use, however, was to bring death, as V2s were launched from the western front on London, south England, Paris and Belgium.

After World War II, the rocketeers changed only their masters. The US Army shipped rocket scientists as well as 100 operable rockets, numerous rocket components, and tons of scientific documents from Germany to the US. Thus, the V2 became the foundation for the American space program. Over several years, the V2 developed both into the tactical nuclear missile Redstone (which was deployed in Germany in 1958) and into the Saturn V that brought the first men to the moon. The Soviets also brought many scientists, rockets, parts, and documents to Russia and likewise used them to develop their own space capabilities.

This started a military race in space which continues to this very day. For decades, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has shaped how nations approach space. Developed by the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union - and now ratified essentially by all the world’s countries - the landmark agreement sets space aside for peaceful purposes.

anti-satellite missile Despite this, space technologies are heavily militarised, with the US relying on its space satellites and GPS systems for operations. However, there is a crucial difference between the status quo - militarised space - and the deployment of space weapons - "weaponised" space. Few states oppose the use of space for the military systems described above. The fact that some weapons pass through space (in the form of inter-continental ballistic missiles) is also accepted. However, space weaponisation is officially opposed by most states, including key states like Russia, Canada, China, Egypt, Brazil and the EU and it has the very real potential to provoke instability and weapons proliferation on Earth and in space.

However, some states, especially the USA, see space weapons as the future of dominance, control and successful war fighting and are researching and developing space weapons. Military control of space is part of the US objective of 'Full Spectrum Dominance', and the National Missile Defence Project (NMD) is a major part of this.

NMD requires the siting of bases in Europe raising serious concerns for those working for peace in Europe.

However, it is not only US interests pushing for further military exploitation of space. The The European Space Agency is also heavily influenced by military concerns.

The European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) was formed from the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) and the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) in 1973.

esa logo It was formed independently from the European Union (EU) and its activities were limited by its founding charter to the pursuit of space programs for peaceful purposes. However, towards the end of 2000 a three member advisory panel, set up by ESA director general to help determine the future of ESA, recommended that ESA evolve into an organisation capable of building military and civilian hardware at the request of the EU.

The report clearly positioned Europe as the counterpart and "equal partner" of the U.S. in terms of the strategic goals of "dominance in space" and "information superiority" by stating:

"By developing its own infrastructure, Europe will ...prevent other competitors (from Asia in particular) from developing their own infrastructure. By doing that Europe will become the alternative to the U.S. for the world, will consolidate its number 2 position in space and will therefore be able to become a privileged partner on global issues and large-scale international developments."

The U.S. is not in favour of an independent European space programme and has tried to discourage its development - it wants the rapid growth of a military space sector in Europe to be controlled by NATO. Europe on the other hand, is wary of the pre-emptive, somewhat "go it alone" strategy of the current Bush administration and feels the need for independence from the U.S.

A 2003 European White Paper, adopted by the European Parliament in January 2004, paves the way for the EU to further develop a military space capability. "Space: a new European frontier for an expanding Union" clearly states that "In addition to supporting a wide range of civil policies, space systems can also provide direct contributions to the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy and its European Security and Defence Policy."

It goes on to describe an action plan to further develop the GALILEO satellite global positioning system (with the participation of China), the implementation of a global monitoring and earth observation system (GMES) and the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles - which are playing an increasingly important role in 'battlespace information dominance').

In a response to the recent U.S. space plans, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin stated: "Europe is now moving towards its own Security Research programme. & the fact is that Europe has long been handicapped in this area due to the fact that security has been a 'no-go' area for us. Space will clearly be a major contributor and benefactor as we move into this important area of research."

ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain is part of the group that is keen to develop a new European Security Research Programme. He was reported in February 2004 as saying: "Now, more than ever, Space is seen as a major security asset, but in fact the distinction between defence-related and civil space systems makes little sense today. The same satellites, the same systems can be used for both. In the U.S., defence is the main driving force behind the development of space systems that offer important civil benefits. In our case, we will undoubtedly be funding systems through our civil institutions that play a major role in European security and defence."

The extent to which European military interests are pushing to extend their influence into the arena of space can be gleaned from this advert for an upcoming conference:

MilSpace 2008
MilSpace 2008 will give you the opportunity to analyse and explore the latest developments and most pressing issues in military use of space. Join us in Paris to network with an unparalleled speaker line-up and learn about current European programmes and national policies.

Assess the future direction for European military space. Also analyse the new threats and solutions for space security. Be updated on national policies on space surveillance, geospatial intelligence, missile defence and space situational awareness. Plus key military players will analyse the potential limits of dual-use projects and systems and give you their operational insights.

"'The main focus of the space effort will be to turn experimental satellite systems into new operational capabilities currently lacking in the European arsenal. The first, Ceres, will create a sigint constellation drawing on experience from Elint, a small satellite cluster to be launched in 2010. Several European partners, notably Germany and Italy, are said to be showing an interest in this system. The second endeavor will be to establish an early warning satellite system to protect against intermediate ballistic missiles, using feedback from Spirale, to be orbited this year. Because of the technical challenge involved, this objective will be realized in two steps, beginning with a precursor that would nominally be ready by 2015 and ending with a fully operational system by 2020. The satellites would operate in conjunction with a long-range land-based radar that will be derived from yet another demonstrator now in development."


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