The ‘Non-Identical’ Twins of European Military Space: Part 2 of the comparison of the French and British military space strategies
(Source: special to Defense-Aerospace.com; posted April 22, 2022)

By Comité Rochefort
The military space policies of France and Britain are both similar and divergent. A comparison of the French and British military space strategies is an interesting exercise to reveal the similarities and divergences for these two comparable military powers. Their approaches mark different priorities or degrees of maturity for both players, and highlight the common challenges of achieving the ambitions as set out.

The late but pragmatic British space journey

For its part, the British MoD also recently announced a Space Command (it marked its first anniversary a few days ago), to lead the approach to space operations, Force Generation and capability programmes, supporting the government (in particular the MoD Space Directorate in charge of engaging cross-government, allies and partners) and Joint Commanders.

The strategy outlines priorities as enhancing the understanding of the threats and hazards, deliver high-quality information and intelligence from space to the military, develop capabilities to track targets on Earth (including ballistic missiles, a task amplified by the invasion of Ukraine), and develop technologies to protect and defend UK interests in the domain.

It announced a £1.4bn budget over the next 10 years, in addition to unspecified existing commitments, to boost the country’s space capabilities. Such a budget is especially significant following the UK’s post-Brexit withdrawal from the Galileo system.

Seven priorities have been described, in particular:

-- Additional funds for Skynet-6, a program for secure satellite communications capability (£5bn already expected, with a first launch in 2025, + $60mn recently announced for the Titania program on future optical laser communications);

-- SSA with a boost on new capabilities, in particular with commercial data sources, and an new system called AURORA developed jointly by the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the UK Space Agency (UKSA);

-- Space-based Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with small satellites;

-- Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation named ISTARI Program, in particular through a suite of on-orbit sensors, such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellations;

-- a novel and secure ground architecture for Space Command & Control, with a boost of £135mn over the next 10 years;

-- Position, Navigation & Timing (PNT) in partnership (not autonomously), or Launch capacity.

One of the country’s goals is no longer to only be a consumer of U.S. geo-spatial imagery, but also a producer in the medium term – this is a core element of the strategy. And for the last point, the U.K. MoD assessed the necessity to support the civilian UKSA in the advancement of domestic space launch activities, with a first launch of a satellite from UK soil expected this year, both vertical and horizontal.

Officials have decided to not develop independent launch systems. The UK Space Command under the command of Harvey Smith recently reached Initial Operating Capability (IOC), to lead space operations, space workforce and space capability. In future, it will command and control all of the MoD space capabilities, including SKYNET satellite communications, the National Air & Space Operations Centre (NASOC), and the ISTARI program.

Towards a Franco-British space journey?

A particular point of divergence between the French and British documents (in addition to the lack of an active defence capability in the UK one) seems to be the stronger integration on the British side of the industrial aspect, and notably on the dual-use civilian-military aspects or on the public-private approach, in line with the recent Defence & Security Industrial Strategy published in March 2021.

As mentioned by the document, “The UK government will exploit the current and future opportunities offered by space technologies and UK industrial strength, as well as identifying opportunities for military/civil dual use to share Defence space capabilities with other government departments”.

A special effort is made to provide a framework to define what capabilities to own on a sovereign basis, those for which the UK can collaborate (with the added benefits of generating mass and burden sharing), and those the UK MoD can access via the commercial market.

It also mentioned that the UK will explore use of the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF), the government’s corporate venturing arm for dual-use advanced technologies, as a vehicle to shape commercial space development for defence needs and generate additional return on the investment.

For its part, French space defence apparatus could benefit of the recent effort announced through “France 2030”, with €1.5bn expected to catch up in certain key market segments, such as reusable (mini or micro) launchers or constellations, and investing in new uses of space data.

Moreover, although France is not in the same league – with a clear and so French ‘strategic autonomy’ dimension expected and developed also in this domain – the UK benefits from its status as a special ally of the US, but also as a founding member of the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) Initiative, to deepen international collaboration and cooperation on space policy, capability development, intelligence and operations.

This position that could be further strengthened with the selective AUKUS alliance (which, in addition to submarines, communications, cryptography and hypersonic armaments, could cover a new major field for the future warfare, with the space domain).

France, along with Germany, was invited as an observer in 2016, and joined as a full member in 2020. Germany joined in 2019. For France the main partners are the US, which freely provide SSA data (which still has to be independently verified) and GPS signal. Beyond this multilateral framework (and the Five Eyes partners role in particular for PNT capabilities) and bilateral one, neither France nor the UK is mentioned as a first-class partnership in the other’s document.

The EU is not mentioned in the strategy, placing it in line with the UK’s “Global Britain Integrated Review” published in 2021 and reiterating that the US will remain UK’s most important strategic ally and partner, a common point between the two powers.

So, the space domain could possibly become one of the axes of a future Lancaster House Treaty 2.0, if collaboration between France and the UK is redeveloped in the years to come.

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