The UK is considering launching a ‘five-eyes’ alternative to the EU’s Galileo satellite project as it announces its first space defence strategy ahead of its departure from the European Union.
Five-eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada. Two Whitehall officials told the Financial Times that Australia, which last week announced plans for a National Space Agency, had indicated a potential interest in a UK satellite project.
As part of its Defence Space Strategy, the UK government has said it’s examining how it can work with historical allies in the five-eyes partnership to protect and defend its space interests.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“We must make sure we are primed and ready to deter and counter the intensifying threats to our everyday life that are emerging in space. That’s why today I’m announcing the RAF is taking the lead in this area and why we plan to increase the number of personnel covering space.
Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our Armed Forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet, or television. It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm.”.
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Due to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, officials from Brussels have threatened to ban it from access to the Galileo satellite project over alleged security concerns.
The UK is one of the largest single contributors to Galileo in funding and expertise and has argued that continued cooperation is of mutual interest. It is said to be looking at the legal case for recouping some of its £1.2bn investment if it’s banned from the system.
“Britain is a world leader in the space industry and our defence scientists and military personnel have played a central role in the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme alongside British companies,” continued Williamson. “So it is important we also review our contribution and how we plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.”
A feasibility study commissioned last autumn was positive and found a UK system could be developed for around £3.7 billion and create approximately 5,000 jobs. Partnering with one or more five-eyes allies could further reduce the cost.
Post-Brexit, many have called for increased ties between the UK and the historically close nations of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as part of an initiative called CANZUK which calls for the free movement of people and goods between the countries. A Galileo alternative could offer a good start.
James Skinner, Founder and Chief Executive of CANZUK, explains:
“Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are more than likely to succeed under mutual economic and social policies due to their similar socio-economic circumstances.
The CANZUK nations share the same majority language, the same sovereign, the same Westminster-style parliamentary system, the same common-law legal system, the same respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and the same Westernised culture.”
This month, the government created a task force to look into the options for a Galileo alternative. A Whitehall official said this would not have been done unless the study indicated a potential to create growth.
Speaking at the Defence Space Conference, Minister Guto Bebb said:
“Space is a vital part our economy, with an industry worth £14 billion a year. With the launch of this Strategy, we are setting our aspirations much higher, to ensure that our industry continues to benefit from this growth in satellite technology.
We are investing millions into Britain’s most innovative companies to help us launch forward in the space domain.”
As part of the Defence Space Strategy announcement, RAF Air Command has assumed responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations.
“I am determined to ensure that the RAF’s leadership of military space operations transforms our ability to address the growing threats and hazards,” comments Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller. “In doing this, it is essential that we work jointly across defence and with partners cross-government and internationally.”
Defence Secretary Williamson has pledged to boost the 500 personnel currently working in the UK defence space sector by a fifth over the next five years, taking the total to over 600.
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