Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 77

Submission from Dr Stuart Eves

  1.  This is an independent, personal submission to the Committee from Dr Stuart Eves, currently with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), but previously employed for 16 years by UK MOD. This submission is the result of a personal invitation to provide the Committee with observations on military space policy. Hence, it will not reiterate points made on behalf of SSTL by Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, but rather will concentrate on some additional policy areas that are considered important from a specifically military perspective.

  2.  Military Space Alliances: For an extended period, UK military space policy has been dominated by our strategic relationship with the US. Whilst this has provided undoubted advantages, it has also created a significant degree of dependence, particularly in areas such as surveillance and navigation. By contrast, civil space policy has specified that the UK should participate in space activities through the European Space Agency, (ESA). This has created a less-than-helpful division in UK space activities, which has only been bridged on rare occasions, (eg the TopSat satellite, a surveillance mission which was jointly funded by MOD and BNSC).

  3.  Although previously a wholly civil agency, ESA is taking an increasingly military stance; (the "Security" element of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme appears almost intentionally ill-defined to allow military applications). It is inevitable that there will be distinct military utility inherent in the data gathered by the GMES surveillance assets. For this reason, MOD needs to remain cognisant of the development of these satellites, and take an active role in directing the "civil" space funding from the UK that will potentially be applied to these programmes through the BNSC.

  4.  Given a desire to participate in both US and European military programmes in the future, the strongest and most cost effective policy for the UK is the funding of national satellite missions; thereby creating capabilities which can be shared with allies on both sides of the Atlantic as appropriate. This approach would simultaneously decrease the current level of dependence on allies and at the same time maximise the political options open to the UK Government. Data from a national surveillance asset, for example, could be shared with both the US and our European allies, gaining double credit for the investment made.

  5.  The Use of Space in Military Operations: The importance of space to military operations is now very significant, and continues to grow. Long-range communications, navigation, and meteorology are heavily dependent on satellite systems, and much of the surveillance data covering "denied" regions of the globe is also collected by satellites. These application areas are addressed separately in the paragraphs below.

  6.  The UK has maintained a national capability in satellite communications through the Skynet satellite system. These satellites provide the secure command and control capability that the UK requires, but the capacity of the satellites has been insufficient to meet the increasing demands for bandwidth that modern warfare generates, (with the result that in recent conflicts a significant proportion of UK military traffic has been carried by unhardened civil communication satellites). In the Skynet 5 era, the capacity demands are expected to increase still faster, and will extend to lower levels of command as Network Enabled Capability is implemented. Hence, future policy needs to ensure that satellite communications capacity increases faster so that these enhanced requirements can be met.

  7.  In order to minimise collateral damage and politically unacceptable casualties, (on both sides of the conflict), increasing reliance is now being placed upon long-range precision-guided munitions. These weapons are reliant on satellite navigation to find their targets, and currently, the US's Global Positioning System (GPS) is a wholly necessary component of UK war-fighting capability. In view of this over-reliance on a US system which has been shown to be vulnerable to radio-frequency jamming, a robust UK position within the European Galileo navigation programme, which could offer an alternative to GPS, seems a prudent course.

  8.  In order to ensure the provision of meteorological data, the UK has made contributions to the METOP programme. Whilst this is a very capable satellite, providing important information on environmental factors such as wind speed and direction, the limited size of the constellation, (three satellites in low Earth orbit are planned), means that the timeliness of the data will struggle to keep pace with the future tempo of military operations. Policy should thus aim at greater timeliness of meteorological data provision.

  9.  This increased tempo of military operations is of even greater import in the realm of surveillance. Existing assets are optimised for strategic applications, with excellent spatial resolution, but very poor area coverage rates. By contrast, tactical and operational surveillance emphasises the need to provide timely information over a commander's area of intelligence interest, and it is only with recent missions such as TopSat that MOD have started to appreciate the potential value of constellations of small satellites.

  10.  Constellations of affordable satellite assets can provide not only optical surveillance, but also active radar sensing and SIGINT information, both of which are available day and night, and in all weather conditions, further enhancing the responsiveness and freshness of the information that they deliver to the warfighter. Future policy should ensure that sufficient investment in this area is made to provide the UK with a robust, independent capability that can contribute to international collaborations.

  11.  Current MOD Space Policy: The recent review of MOD Space Policy, (and other recent MOD documentation, including the Future Air and Space Operational Concept; the Defence Industrial Strategy; and the Defence Technology Strategy), appears to recognise the fact that space has become the new "High Ground" in military affairs. Small satellites are identified as key technologies, and this is an extremely positive development.

  12.  There are, however, some key technologies that the UK needs to address more robustly if it is make full use of the potential that space offers. One is the capability to provide military planners with "Space Situation Awareness" (SSA); essentially a "Recognised Space Picture" that characterises the current order of battle in the space environment. Existing capabilities to perform SSA have been allowed to atrophy, and this situation urgently needs to be reversed. It is essentially impossible to operate effectively in the space environment without SSA, and hence this should become a key policy goal.

  13.  Future policy should also address the issue of access to space. The UK was the third nation worldwide to launch its own satellite, but the Black Arrow programme was cancelled in the early 1970's, and the UK has been reliant on foreign launch capabilities since that time. Some capability could perhaps be provided in the short term by utilising the UK's Trident missiles, (with the addition of a further propulsion stage), but if the UK is to participate effectively in the "Responsive Space" future which the US envisages, an indigenous launch capability would make a huge difference.

November 2006

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