NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Allied Command Transformation Advances NATO’s Understanding of Newest Domain – Space

July 31, 2023

Allied Command Transformation, in close cooperation with Allied Command Operations, is advancing NATO’s understanding and supporting efforts to deepen and broaden the Alliance’s use of Space as an Operational Domain in line with aspirations outlined at the Vilnius Summit.

At the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Allies highlighted the critical role that space occupies in ensuring effective deterrence and defence, as well as its role in safeguarding the Alliance’s security and prosperity. They also noted the increasingly contested nature of the Domain, with potential adversaries and strategic competitors engaging in activities that pose a threat to NATO.

In response to these developments, the Alliance agreed to “[accelerate] the integration of space into planning, exercising and executing joint and multi-domain operations in peacetime, crisis, and conflict in order to ensure space effects are coordinated across all domains.” Allies also agreed to “[enhance] the sharing of our space data, products and services within NATO in support of the Alliance’s requirements and defence plans.”

Allied Command Transformation is currently engaging in multiple space-related initiatives in support of the broader Warfare Development Agenda, emphasising the importance of space capabilities to Multi-Domain Operations and Digital Transformation efforts. In addition to its efforts to develop Space Domain Awareness, coordinate space policy, and encourage interoperability, the Command is conducting a robust exercise program to further advance NATO’s space-related tactics, techniques, and procedures, and raise the Alliance’s understanding of space.

Currently, the Command’s Space Branch is working to incorporate space into high-level exercises that will increase the ‘Space IQ’ of NATO’s senior leadership and operational communities by providing them an opportunity to explore space-related threats in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment. This Bi-Strategic Command effort is being conducted in close cooperation with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe’s, or SHAPE’s, Space Branch, and aims to build on existing wargaming initiatives to develop a space focused wargame by 2026. Another aspect of these efforts was its recent participation in the 2023 Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise, better known as CWIX, which took place in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Over the course of this three-week exercise, the Branch tested experimental, developmental, and fielded capabilities in a coalition scenario, improving the interoperability of space systems as well as engaging with Allied decision makers and space fairing nations.

The Space Branch successfully tested three software-based tools at CWIX 2023 designed to address gaps in current operational requirements and support the Space Domain Awareness operational function, with the goal of improving the value of these tools for commanders. The first of these tools, known as Orion and React, are NATO proprietary capabilities. The testing of Orion, a centralised storage and sharing tool for space data within NATO, focused on ensuring interoperability between different applications and tools that are being considered for procurement, notably in the area of Space Domain Awareness. As for React, a modelling and simulation tool that generates predictions of Global Navigation Satellite System jamming effects within an operational area, testing concentrated on ways to improve the software’s interoperability. The Systems Tool Kit, in contrast to Orion and React, is a fielded, commercial-off-the-shelf capability, used to visualize complex space data and enable commanders to see how interactions in space may affect operational effectiveness. At CWIX 2023, testing focused on its ability to deliver a NATO Space Recognized Picture and its interoperability with National and Alliance systems. In addition to these capabilities, CWIX also provided the opportunity for Canada, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United States to exhibit National capabilities under development and test their interoperability with Allied and Partner systems. The Branch will continue to develop capabilities to address gaps at CWIX 2024, modelling more complex space systems and testing new visualization tools that will, for example, show the fields of view of adversary satellites within the battlespace.

Allied Command Transformation’s collective training responsibility for the Space Domain is shared with SHAPE, and is supported by the Joint Warfare Centre and the Joint Force Training Centre. With the maturation of the Space Domain, Allied Command Transformation has transferred the lead for all operational exercises to SHAPE, while retaining responsibility for exercises linked to innovation and experimentation. Since 2022, the Command has expanded its education and training portfolio to include robust, high-level exercises and (forthcoming) wargames underlining the importance of space-based actions and the laws and norms constraining their use. It is also undertaking a comprehensive experimentation programme to improve NATO’s current doctrine, processes, and fielded systems. The support of Allies in the conduct of the Space Branch’s wargaming and experimentation activities remains essential, with the Branch leveraging nationally fielded capabilities to enable testing efforts.

NATO’s approach to space is guided by its overarching Space Policy, that was publicly released in 2022. The Space Domain remains essential to the Alliance’s deterrence and defence, with space-based capabilities providing critical civilian and military functions such as: Space Situational Awareness, Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, Shared Early Warning, Environmental Monitoring, secure Satellite Communications, Space Security, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. NATO is integrating the benefits of space into its core tasks of deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and, where appropriate, cooperative security, in a manner consistent with international law. The Alliance is also supporting the development of international law and norms in cooperation with partners such as the European Union and United Nations.