Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 76

Submission from the Ministry of Defence


  1.  The Ministry of Defence (MOD) as a whole is re-evaluating its approach to space in the light of the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) and the Defence Technology Strategy (DTS). While currently primarily a consumer of commercial services its aspiration is to engage fully with UK industry and academia particularly in the provision of niche capability. The Assistant Chief of the Air Staff has recently been nominated as small satellite champion with the intention of leveraging a UK lead in this important capability.

  2.  Overall, the MOD seeks to have sufficient assured access to space-based capability to maximise and sustain military effectiveness across Defence. Indeed, the MOD believes that the importance of space in the prosecution of the UK's military operations will continue to increase. The MOD makes extensive use of both military and commercial satellite communications. The Department is also fortunate to have a privileged relationship with the US in the exploitation of space capability, particularly in relation to satellite imagery.

  3.  As an Executive Agency of MOD, the Met Office is one of the UK's primary users of high quality satellite data which plays an essential role in operational meteorology and climate research. The Met Office maintains a user-driven, collaborative approach to the provision of data, both within Europe and internationally. In line with the MOD's forecast as a whole, demand for data, in particular for climate monitoring purposes, is growing significantly and continued protection of key radio frequencies is vital. The Met Office continues to participate in international initiatives and research activities designed to maximise the benefit we derive from space data on behalf of the wider UK community.

  4.  The DIS explains where MOD is currently taking forward space-based capability in communications. It also sets out broad principles that will deliver improvements in long-term planning for capability, through greater interaction between MOD, defence industries and academia and by promoting innovation in science and technology that will enable coherence in Defence spend across Research & Development (R&D), procurement and support. The resultant review of the MOD approach to R&D is set out in the DTS. This recognises that space-related capability represents a key area for development of priority technologies in order to maintain a leading edge in Earth Observation for intelligence, meteorological forecasting and climatology purposes.[12] It also reflects the value of continued international collaboration in exchange of space-derived data. The DTS identifies priorities within the development, design and payload integration of small satellites[13] and it recognises the requirement for MOD to support the UK and European satellite manufacture industries, noting that consideration must be given to including aspects of space-related capability in the 2007-08 Defence research programme.

  5.  Working with industry and academia provides the opportunity for the MOD to pool resources in order to achieve its space policy objectives. The leverage provided by this approach enables the MOD to maximise its use of resource in this increasingly vital sphere.


  6.  The important role of access to space and space-enabled systems in the conduct of UK Military Operations is set out in the Future Air and Space Operational Concept (FASOC). The FASOC describes how space-based capabilities increasingly influence and dominate every aspect of life, most notably with regard to communications and data-stream technologies. Recent operations in Iraq have confirmed that a coherent, structured approach to space capability enhances operational effectiveness and increases operational tempo, security and agility. The growth in capacity and use of satellite communications has been rapid. For example, during Operation DESERT STORM, a force of 542,000 exploited 99 megabits per second of bandwidth available; however, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) a reduced force of some 350,000 had 3,200 megabits per second of bandwidth allocated. This allowed unprecedented shared situational awareness, enabled synchronised engagements, and allowed operational and tactical commanders to implement sophisticated campaign plans based on lethality, boldness and speed of manoeuvre. The FASOC is subject to scrutiny in an annual RAF-led war-gaming exercise.

  7.  The MOD, therefore, seeks freedom of action in space to legally exploit space-based capabilities for military purposes. The MOD sees space situational awareness as fundamental to any freedom of action in space. A Recognised Space Picture (RSP) is central to this freedom, and the MOD draws on a range of sources, including RAF Fylingdales, to compile the RSP.

  8.  The UK is fortunate in its privileged relationship with the US in the exploitation of space capability. However, many details of this relationship are classified and can not be discussed in open forum. The MOD remains committed to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is also the NATO standard, to meet all of our military precision navigation and timing needs.


  9.  The MOD makes extensive use of both military and commercial satellite communications. The DIS sets out how space-based capability is currently being taken forward in the critical C4ISTAR area that is central to Network Enabled Capability.[14] The unique SKYNET 5 Private Finance Initiative will provide MOD with highly robust satellite communication services delivered over military satellites built largely in the UK, and it will also allow the UK to offer these services to our allies. SKYNET 5 will provide UK Armed Forces with capacity expected to be about 2.5 times greater than existing system and will use satellite links provided by commercial operators to supplement military satellites. Satcom will in future be delivered to users as a complete service. The Service Provider is able to view the business as an end-to-end service because SKYNET 5 will include the satellites, ground stations, and user terminals. This project provides an example of the type of partnership envisaged in the DIS.

  10.  The MOD will continue to evolve its engagement with Europe, and specifically the European Security and Defence Policy. In an increasingly unstable world, emerging strategic context work suggests a growing demand for the products of space-based capabilities. Much of this capability will be provided by existing space-based assets owned either by the UK, sourced through established partnerships, such as NATO, or hired from commercial sources. However, where the MOD identifies niche capability gaps, and where space-based assets offer the most cost effective solution, we will consider working with other states to achieve the desired effect.


  11.  The Met Office is one of the UK's main users of space data. A major British National Space Centre (BNSC) Partner, and a member of the UK Space Board (UKSB), the Met Office is responsible for approximately 12%[15] of the national civil spend on space. It adopts a user-driven approach to space; satellite capabilities are only developed to fulfil a prioritised set of observational user requirements. Space-based solutions are exploited when they are the most efficient way of satisfying high priority requirements or when there are no viable alternatives.

  12.  Meteorology is reliant on the sustained provision of data from Meteorological Satellites. Over the last few decades operational meteorology has become increasingly dependant on advanced Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models that, in turn, rely on satellite data as a vital input. A major problem for operational meteorology is to determine the initial state of the atmosphere on the global scale. This is exceptionally difficult and costly to do by using only in-situ, ground-based observation aids. Remote sensing from space is the only cost-effective way to obtain a truly global perspective in real-time. Noting the requirement for the UK to operate an independent defence capability and global aviation services, there will be a continued need for a global reach in our forecast predictions which in turn is reliant on the global observational coverage provided by meteorological satellites.

  13.  Evidence of the positive impact from satellite data on the quality of today's weather forecasts is clear. Many studies have been carried out that demonstrate the significant impact that satellite data has on NWP, with the quality of forecasts regressing to that of a decade ago when it is denied. Satellite data is particularly important over the data sparse oceanic regions where there is no real ground-based observing capability. As a result of the growing dominance of the space component within the Global Observing System (GOS),[16] ground-based networks, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, have been modified and reduced in an effort to implement an "optimised" total system and reduce the cost (eg decommissioning of weather ships).

  14.  Localised severe weather events often develop very rapidly (frequently within the timescales between NWP model runs) and can have a devastating affect on the local region. Early identification of such events is vital so that warnings can be issued and appropriate emergency responses triggered. Very short range forecasting, called "Nowcasting", relies on the use of a rapid sequence of high-resolution satellite imagery provided by geostationary meteorological satellites. Examples include:

    (a)  Early warning to aviation of weather related risks such as the identification of embedded convection, mountain waves or dust storms.

    (b)  Prompt identification and tracking of severe storms to facilitate the timely issue of warnings to the public and emergency planning authorities.

  15.  The Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change provides a focus in the UK for the scientific issues associated with climate change. The majority of funding for this activity is provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which benefits from expert advice to inform policy decision-making. As meteorological satellite data records approach 30 years in length, this is becoming increasingly relevant to climate research and forms an important input into research activities carried out by the Hadley Centre, Academic Institutes and Research Councils such as the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Sea surface temperature, sea-ice cover, atmospheric temperature and humidity, vegetation and the planet's radiation balance are key properties that could be delivered by satellite-based observations. These properties form some of the core underpinning measurements for the monitoring and modelling of climate. As such, long-term homogeneity must be ensured without financially compromising the operational requirement for forecasting.


  16.  An international, collaborative approach has been adopted by the UK and other European Governments who have chosen to delegate responsibility for meeting their shared requirements for data from meteorological satellites to ESA and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). Member States retain firm control over the definition of the requirements that these satellites are designed to fulfil and ensure that technical solutions remain affordable.

  17.  EUMETSAT is an intergovernmental body mandated to establish and maintain Europe's system of meteorological satellites providing operational Earth observations for a current total of 20 Member and 10 Co-operating States. Member States fund EUMETSAT on a mandatory basis in proportion to their Gross National Income, the only exception being the Jason-2 Ocean Surface Topography Mission, which is the first Optional Programme of EUMETSAT. The Met Office represents the UK at EUMETSAT and is responsible for providing delegates for meetings, expert advice within working groups and paying for the UK subscription, funded through Met Office Trading Fund agreements (primarily by the MOD).

  18.  EUMETSAT retains a close working relationship with ESA, who are responsible for the development of the first meteorological satellite in each series, from initial definition to pre-launch delivery. ESA are also responsible for the procurement of the remaining satellites in the series on behalf of EUMETSAT. EUMETSAT are fully responsible for the overall system, including the launch services, the ground segment and the operations for the duration of the mission. Industrial return for the space component to the UK is governed, primarily, through ESA development programmes.

  19.  EUMETSAT have developed important collaboration agreements with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These agreements cover operational backup arrangements, data access and collaboration on satellite development activities. EUMETSAT launched their first Low Earth Orbiting satellite, MetOp, in autumn 2006 as part of these agreements, which may evolve to encompass further partners under the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).[17]

  20.  Recognising that weather and climate know no national boundaries, the Met Office regards global coordination as vital to ensuring that the Global Observing System (GOS) fulfils our requirements in the most cost effective manner. The Met Office actively participates within the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to develop both the high level definition and set objectives for the evolution of the GOS and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).[18]

  21.  The importance of exploiting existing satellite capabilities within other international initiatives, particularly Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)[19] and GEO, is strongly recognised by the Met Office. DEFRA are designated as the lead Department for both GMES and GEO, but recognizing the relatively mature nature of international collaboration within the field of meteorology, the Met Office currently provides the UK GEO Principal, who acts as the lead delegate at non-Ministerial level meetings, and the national GEO Co-ordination role.

  22.  The Met Office, through BNSC and EUMETSAT, also encourages effective global coordination within the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS)[20] and, more specifically, the Co-ordination Group for Meteorological Satellites (CGMS)[21] which provide forums for the exchange of information on geostationary and polar orbiting meteorological satellite systems.


  23.  Turning to research, the DIS set out broad principles for improving overall Defence capability acquisition and through life management that have particular resonance with the "space sector". In particular, the DIS recognises that MOD must improve the coherency of its joint long-term capability planning and that, inter alia, this requires it to promote innovation in science and technology by focusing on R&D, procurement and support priorities in order to achieve coherent spending in these fields.[22] The resultant review of the MOD approach to R&D is set out in the DTS. The DTS contains specific references to space-based capabilities and associated technologies, recognising that they represent key areas for future capability. particularly in respect of communications, Earth observation and the development of small satellites.

  24.  In general terms, the MOD invests in space science and technology to ensure that the Department retains an intelligent customer status, understands the opportunities presented and is seen as a credible collaborative partner. Commercial and civil space-based services and sources are exploited, when appropriate, to meet Defence needs. Access to common R&D in the form of dual-use technologies, capable of delivering militarily useful capability, are harnessed by the MOD maintaining its close links and partnership with BNSC. The identification of priority technology areas within the DTS enables the MOD to focus its interest in space-related capability research to meet specific needs over time. This will be achieved by exposing requirements earlier and through engaging UK industry and academia in international collaborations.

  25.  In terms of current space-related research, the MOD is primarily focused on the delivery of future ISTAR and satellite-based communications capability, and the development of Precision Navigation and Timing (PNT) capability through exploitation of programmes such as the Global Positioning System. Within the ISTAR domain the principal exploitation route for space research is in a potential contribution to a Deep and Persistent surveillance capability which is planned for procurement through Project DABINETT. This exploitation route has been the focus of most MOD sponsored space research in recent years, which has covered the following areas:

    (a)  Demonstration of a small satellite (TOPSAT) carrying an electro-optical payload. TOPSAT has been a particularly successful programme. Working collaboratively with BNSC, MOD has gained invaluable insight into the military utility of low cost small satellites and key design issues, identifying the critical design technologies and the component specifications necessary to deliver a robust capability. Again, this progressive partnership foreshadowed the approach envisaged in the DIS and is a prime example of the benefits that can be achieved through collaborative working.

    (b)  Modelling of constellations to provide a space-based ground moving target detection capability.

    (c)  Maritime wide-area surveillance from space.

    (d)  Missile warning.

    (e)  Development of novel space-based surveillance techniques.

    (f)  Exploitation of space-based sources, in which we collaborate extensively with a number of international partners.

  26.  In addition to its research programmes, the MOD maintains wider involvement in international space activities through participation in a number of forums which include the EDA CapTech Experts Group on Space Systems and Technologies, the NATO Space Science and Technology Advisory Group and the US Schriever Wargames.

  27.  The MOD's future plans for space research concentrate on a number of areas:

    (a)  Development of small satellite technologies[23]—principally in small, lightweight, low power consumption payloads and their integration into the satellite.

    (b)  Exploitation of space-based sources, including the key linkage with environmental modelling.[24]

    (c)  Maintenance of a UK understanding of space science, including orbitology and the impact of space weather.[25]

    (d)  The requirement for robust, secure telemetry, tracking, control, dynamic bandwidth allocation and high bandwidth optical links in the area of satellite communications.[26]

  28.  Looking further ahead, MOD would welcome the opportunity to contribute to debates on the need for an indigenous UK space launch capability, issues associated with space control and further development and integration of the RSP.

  29.  Turning to the Met Office, it plays a very active role in the development of facilities to exploit satellite data for both operational forecasting and climate research, primarily through its Meteorological and Ocean Research and Development Programme and its Climate Prediction Programme.

  30.  An example of a leading role adopted by the Met Office is the EUMETSAT Satellite Application Facility for Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP SAF). This EUMETSAT funded activity exists to co-ordinate research and development efforts among the SAF partners to improve the interface between satellite data and NWP for the benefit of EUMETSAT Member States. The NWP SAF is led by the Met Office.

  31.  The Met Office makes efforts to promote the involvement of the wider UK research community, for example calls for proposals for EUMETSAT research fellowships and similar opportunities are brought to the attention of NERC who circulate them more widely to the UK research community.


  32.  A number of studies have been undertaken to assess the benefits derived from meteorological satellites such as those operated by EUMETSAT. The conclusions have been broadly consistent; one such example being the DTI Evaluation of Funding for UK Civil Space Activity, when considering the services provided by the Met Office it concluded that "the economic value of the services which space data enable is (at least) several times the cost of the activities".


  33.  The majority of improvements in forecasting accuracy using satellites have come from using data obtained by instruments that detect very faint natural emissions from atmospheric constituents. These emissions occur at specific, fixed radio frequencies which so far have been absolutely protected from both intentional and unintentional active emissions under international radio regulations. However, there is increasing pressure from other users who wish to actively transmit at these frequencies and for the limits on unintentional emissions to be relaxed. The impact of this interference on the forecasts and the public could be very serious, leading to loss of data and to undetectable corruption of numerical model input data. Considerable effort is being expended by the Met Office in repeatedly defending the parts of the radio spectrum that are essential to the meteorological services. Harmful interference at protected frequencies is already being detected. Continual vigilance is essential as once frequencies are lost because of active use it is very unlikely that they can be regained for remote sensing for weather and climate monitoring.

  34.  Noting the need to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, and recognising the benefit of fully exploiting European facilities, the Met Office will encourage the development of a Framework Agreement between EUMETSAT and the European Commission to facilitate EUMETSAT involvement within important initiatives, such as GMES, provided candidate activities are consistent with the EUMETSAT Convention and have identified funding.

  35.  If we are to meet the increasingly challenging requirements set for the evolution of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), resource implications will require careful consideration. The approach taken to date to meet important GCOS requirements by exploiting opportunities arising from operational meteorological missions, will no longer be adequate. We must seek to identify new sources of funding for climate missions to safeguard the established funding mechanisms for operational meteorology. GMES, for example, might offer one such solution. However, at this stage we identify a lack of focus on climate monitoring within this initiative. The Met Office supports the user-driven approach towards GMES adopted by DEFRA (on behalf of the UK) and supports the concept that climate monitoring requirements should feature strongly.

November 2006

12   See DTS, Section B2, page 56. Back

13   See DTS, Section B2, Table 2, page 69. Back

14   See DIS Executive Summary page 10, paragraph xxxviii, and Section B8, page 107, paragraph B8.19. Back

15   This is an average figure for the years 1997-98 to 2003-04. Source: UK Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond, Annex 1. Back

16   Global Observing System; the global meteorological observing network collectively operated by National Meteorological Services, national or internsational satellite agencies and coordinated by WMO. Back

17   Group on Earth Observations (GEO): an inter-governmental group, of which the UK is a Member, leading a global effort to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) over the next 10 years which will build upon existing systems to provide a comprehensive, coordinated Earth observing network. Back

18   Global Climate Observing System; the global climate observing network collectively operated by National Meteorological Services, national or international satellite agencies and coordinated by WMO. Back

19   Global Monitoring for Environment and Security: a joint initiative of European Commission and European Space Agency. Back

20   The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) is an international coordinating mechanism charged with coordinating international civil space borne missions designed to observe and study planet Earth. Back

21   CGMS concerns itself with the coordination of a wide ranging list of operational aspects of the systems and has helped to ensure that key facilities are standardised across the entire global system. Back

22   DIS Section C1, pages 131-140. Back

23   See DTS, Section C2, page 159, bullet 4. Back

24   See DTS, Section B2, pages 56 and 57. Back

25   For example, to maintain MOD's understanding of the vulnerability of space-based equipment (such as SKYNET) and therefore to ensure continued service provision. Back

26   See DTS, Section B3, page 71 Table 4. Back

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