The world Space force race – towards a real “star wars” ?

The space sector is currently undergoing massive changes, from the arrival of new actors to disruptive technologies and novel business approaches.


As arms sales are increasing around the world to face rising threats, space may soon become a land of wars, as the world space force race seems to speed up since the beginning of the year.


Despite an international treaty signed in 1967 that prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space or the moon, there’s no comprehensive treaty on the use of space weapons, nor any international agreement on what, exactly, a space weapon would be.

The rise of globalization and ever-increasing global inter-connectivity has led to a dependence on space-based technology like the Global Positioning System (GPS) for everything from simple navigation to the coordination of military operations. Such a reliance has made the destruction of satellites a priority for military planners in the event of a conflict.


US : « Space is one of our vital national interests » 

For the past 70 years, the U.S. military has leaned heavily on space as a force multiplier, integrating it as a critical component of its joint war-fighting capabilities thanks to technological advances in sensors and satellites.

Creation of the US Space force

In August, US President Donald Trump announced an ambitious plan to usher in the space force as the sixth branch of the military by 2020. This force will cost a total of $13 billion over the next five years, including an initial $3 billion cost to stand up the service, the Air Force estimates. This new sister service branch would stand alongside the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, with a force of about 13,000 people. The Space Force would be responsible for a range of crucial space-based U.S. military capabilities, which include everything from satellites enabling the Global Positioning System (GPS) to sensors that help track missile launches.

Vice President Mike Pence outlined how potential adversaries, particularly Russia and China but also Iran and North Korea, have recently invested heavily in new weapons that could threaten U.S. satellites, which are crucial to maintaining navigation and communications capabilities around the world. 

Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already. And the United States will not shrink from this challenge,” Vice President Mike Pence


Space is one of our vital national interests,” US secretary of defence Jim Mattis confirmed.

Trump’ future space force aim is to “ensure American dominance in space”, which could soon lead to an escalation of the space force race, according to experts.

Power imbalances

In the absence of international standards regulating conduct in space, the risks will grow that the United States, China and Russia will accelerate their own efforts to militarize the theater. Indeed, the militarization of space would inevitably increase the chances of war, and also threaten the industries that rely on space to carry out their daily operationsaccording to international experts.


EU : the Space Challenger

In 2016, the European Commission presented a new ‘Space Strategy for Europe’ designed to further strengthen the European Union’s space industry and to allow the EU to fully seize the benefits of this strategic asset which is key in supporting Europe’s autonomy of action, including in defence.

Spy in the sky

Russia attempted to intercept transmissions from a Franco-Italian satellite used by both nations’ armies for secure communications last year, the French Defence Minister Florence Parly said in september. In a speech outlining France’s space policy for the coming years, she explained that the Russian satellite Louch-Olymp had approached the Athena-Fidus satellite in 2017.

« We are in danger. Our communications, our military exercises, our daily lives are in danger if we do not react, » Parly said, emphasizing that Paris would complete a strategic space defense plan by the end of the year.

The country plans to spend 2 billion euros next year, and the French government will soon order a series of new satellites to provide surveillance and communications for the army and the intelligence services and also to beef up the technological prowess of its manufacturers including Thales and Airbus.  France is also seeking to work with Germany to help companies invest in innovative and disruptive space projects in a bid to catch up both financially and technologically with China and the U.S.

Galileo, the EU space success 

In order to face the US in this space race, the European Commission’s proposed a new €16 billion EU Space programme post-2020. New security components will be developed, such as secured satellites communication and a space surveillance and tracking system.

President of European commission Jean-Claude Juncker highlights the space policy, in particular Galileo as a success in his last State of the Union 2018’ speech.

“Our Galileo programme that is today keeping Europe in the space race. Galileo is a success – in great part, if not entirely, thanks to Europe, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of EU Commission

But “No Europe, no Galileo” he added, pointing out the UK leaving the EU next year.

“No Europe, no Galileo”

Following Brexit, the UK, Europe’s biggest spender on defence, will no longer be able to fully participate in the EU’s Galileo satellite programme. In recognition of this, the British defence secretary Gavin Williamson suggested that the UK might pursue an alternative satellite programme to compensate for reduced access to Galileo. The British Government is to invest £92 million ($117 million) for a feasibility study of a national alternative to the €10bn Galileo programme.
It is the clearest sign yet of the government’s determination to go it alone in a bid to protect Britain’s nascent space industry and ensure the British military has an independent alternative to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

But according to expert Jean-Jacques Tortora, Director of ESPI (European Space Policy Institute), the UK leaving the EU could have consequences for its space industry: “Even though ESA (European Space Agency) will not be affected by Brexit, the question is to assess whether this will be sufficient to keep the critical mass for the UK industry”.

Photo credit : ©ESA/Pierre Carril

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