GLOUCESTER, U.K. – Space is a contested domain for defence, where it seems everyone is racing for a piece of the sky.
NATO experts have come together to explore the implications for space as a war-fighting domain during a special ‘summit’ held at Gloucester in South West England.
The space-minded professionals came together at NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) to develop future space capabilities to fight and win in an ‘all-domain environment’.
“The ARRC is very much a pathfinder looking towards how we are going to incorporate space in to the corps warfighting role,” said British Royal Air Force Group Captain Martin Cunningham, chief of the Air Operations Coordination Centre (AOCC) at the Gloucester base.
Cunningham and the AOCC team organised Space Day to help educate leaders and staff of the multinational headquarters on space implications in a multidomain environment.
“The beauty of NATO is that it brings together a multitude of nations that sit within NATO, and everyone brings different capabilities to the table.” said Cunningham.
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Outer space is a congested space with satellites, debrief and everyone vying for priorities to get satellites in that orbit to exploit the possibilities from an outside view. While much of NATO is relying on U.S. capabilities, the conditions at the ARRC allow for relations to thrive.
“The United States military and U.S. Air Force, specifically, has been operating and dominating in air, space, and cyberspace, in its own right, for many years,” said U.S. Air Force Major Luke Reardon, an operations officer serving in the AOCC.
“Not every nation has the same capabilities; not everyone has the same goals, but now in the multinational environment if we aim to achieve superiority in the virtual sphere, as in our conventional domains, it is imperative we keep an eye to space.
As a pilot, Reardon said he’s familiar with the importance of air and space capabilities, but seeing how it impacts the units on the ground has been eye-opening for him. Reardon also said the ARRC has been forward leaning during his short time in the southwest of England, and highlighted how the space experts at Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, have praised the ARRC’s lead to integrate in to the space domain.
“It was energising because we know that somebody has to take charge and there’s great initiative going on,” Reardon added.
Space is key part of thinking about multidomain operations and a headquarters that doesn’t think about a multidomain environment is frankly prehistoric said British Royal Air Force Air Marshal (Retired) Philip Osborn, a former U.K. Chief of Defence Intelligence.
“I’m not surprised that the ARRC is focused on ensuring it is contemporary in its understanding of all of the domains of warfare and is focused on really, really thinking through how best to utilising those domains to further the aims of the Alliance,” said Osborn, who spoke at the summit. “It’s really important for the headquarters to be at the forefront of that thinking, as one of the premiere headquarters in NATO, and it has to be at the forefront and today’s Space Day underlines that.”
The largely-virtual summit included educational discussions from experts, which some joined by video chat on the backdrop of COVID-19, and offered expertise for subordinate land units who will be challenged to successfully operate across the spectrum of 21st century conflicts.
“I think we have opened the ‘Pandora’s space box’, which is great,” added Cunningham. “Now we just need to make sure we manage how we bring space in to the land component, as we think about the future of operations.”
Just a week after the Space Day summit, the ARRC staff also joined the RAF’s Chief of Staff Air and Space Power Conference 2020, held online, as an opportunity to learn and engage with senior leaders across the RAF and the U.S. Space Force.
“It's essential for AOCC members to focus on deliberate development in our specialities,” said Reardon. “This ensures our small team is best equipped to assist the ARRC in achieving mission objectives, and in the near-term, succeeding in its upcoming combat readiness evaluation.
“Now more than ever, teaming with industry and establishing networking plugs and sockets will prove vital to the Alliance's future success,” he concluded.