General André Lanata, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, visited the United States Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 5. While at the Command, Gen. Lanata met with General James Dickinson, Commander of the United States Space Command, General Glen VanHerck, Commander of the United States Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command and Lieutenant-General Alain Pelletier, Deputy Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The visit signalled NATO’s continued investment in Space as its newest operational domain, officially declared by NATO in December 2019. NATO is establishing a new NATO Space Centre at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. The Centre will help coordinate Allied space activities, support NATO missions and operations from space, including with communications and satellite imagery, and protect Allied space systems by sharing information about potential threats. NATO’s aim is to increase awareness of challenges in space and the ability to deal with them.
Based on the political guidance, NATO’s Military Committee tasked the Strategic Commands – Allied Command Transformation in lead, supported by Allied Command Operations – to provide a phased and detailed initial implementation plan for Space as an operational domain in NATO. The plan, developed with the support of the NATO [Bi-SC if agreeable, I’d remove this Bi-SC from the article] Space Working Group envisions unhindered access, freedom of manoeuver and unfettered utilization of Space. NATO, through the nations, will gain and maintain operational advantage in the Space Domain in order to enable operations, missions, and activities.
NATO’s dependence on Space is not new: NATO has been relying on Space for decades to position and track forces, to communicate beyond line of sight, to detect missile launches and to ensure effective command and control. From the 70’s until 2008, NATO even operated its own constellation of SATCOM satellites, SKYNET, before switching to less costly solutions by contracting SATCOM services from some of NATO’s Space capable Nations and from commercial assets.
In the early 1990s, with the First Gulf War, Space systems moved from being primarily strategic systems to tactical ones providing near real-time support to tactical forces. By that time, the satellites of the US Department of Defense and of the Intelligence Community operated and reported almost instantly. The NATO Intel community has indirectly benefited from those military services.
However, NATO recognized the increasing importance of Space activities from 2009-2010, when the NATO International Assistance Security Force in Afghanistan showed the necessity to include Space into the operational planning and execution processes, as well as to transform lessons identified into actual processes.
A major step forward was achieved in June 2019, with the approval of the NATO Overarching Space Policy by the North Atlantic Council. NATO recognized the need to increase awareness and understanding of Space in order to, inter alia, face the threats potentially targeting Space-based systems. Indeed, the evolution in the use of Space and rapid advances in associated technologies have created new opportunities, but also vulnerabilities, threats and risks for the Alliance and Allies. It was clear that the Alliance had to be prepared to operate within a disrupted, degraded and denied Space Domain, hence the need to “operationalize” Space: many sensors, ammunition, guiding systems, navigation, and weapons systems have a critical dependence to Space-based capabilities, in particular in areas such as Positioning Navigation and Tracking, SATCOM and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
By recognizing Space as an Operational Domain in 2019, the Alliance political decision-makers, and the strategic and operational commanders, recognise the need, and require the ability, to engage more actively in a coordinated approach to operations involving support from the Space domain. The significant paradigm shift resulting from Space being an Operational Domain is that NATO will extend the joint planning and execution functions to the Space domain. In particular, the “physical domains” Headquarters (Air, Land and Maritime) will reflect upon their reliance on Space from the planning phase and not as an afterthought.
The visit helped provide an understanding of the US Space Command’s role as a unified combatant command and demonstrated the strategic importance of cooperative efforts in space domain awareness, command and control and joint training.
Since 1949, NATO’s mission has been to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. Today, the Alliance faces range of challenges. The advent of cyber warfare, hybrid warfare, and the militarisation of space and the use of artificial intelligence are examples that necessitate that we transform policies, strategies, concepts, doctrine, procedures as well as capabilities and human capital to meet current and future challenges. This adaptation to the changing security environment is what we call Warfare Development.
Allied Command Transformation, as NATO’s Warfare Development Command, leads the military adaptation of the Alliance, contributing to the orientation of nations’ efforts, ensuring coherence, assuring interoperability and delivering the connecting tissue that makes the Alliance’s capability greater than the sum of its individual parts.