On July 18th, UK Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced that Britain would join the US-led international unit aimed strengthening deterrence against hostile actors in space and at stopping the spread of debris in orbit – “Operation Olympic Defender.”
Presumably those “hostile actors” are Russia and China, but it could potentially be aliens, who can tell.
To go with Mordaunt’s announcement, the UK Royal Air Force had a video.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) July 18, 2019
The Defense Secretary told the Air and Space Power Conference in central London that an RAF pilot is set to be seconded to the Virgin Orbit small satellite programme.
She noted that Virgin Orbit already has pilots with astronaut training and it is carrying out research into launching small satellites into space from the wing of a Boeing 747.
“Science fiction is becoming science fact. One day I want to see RAF pilots earning their space wings and flying beyond the stratosphere.
“So, today I can announce we’re making a giant leap in that direction by working towards placing a test pilot into the Virgin Orbit programme,” she said.
She described it as “a bold signal of global Britain’s aspiration” and said it showed that “if you join our RAF you will join a service where you can become an aviator or an astronaut, where you will push back the frontiers of space and create a launchpad to the stars”.
She said the Ministry of Defense is investing £30 million in launching a small satellite demonstrator within a year.
It is hoped that these small, low-orbiting satellites may potentially see live high-resolution video being beamed directly into RAF fighter jet cockpits and give pilots better battle awareness.
The small satellite demonstrator is to be supported by a new team of UK and US personnel, named Team Artemis.
Mordaunt further, without any evidence, just as usual rhetoric, warned competitors such as Russia and China were doing all they could to use their technology to disrupt UK access to satellite systems.
“China has tested hit-to-kill interceptor missiles increasing deadly debris and threatening every sovereign space enterprise. Russia is conducting sophisticated on-orbit activities, developing missile interceptors to threaten satellites and electronic warfare systems to jam satellite signals. And nonstate actors and cyber hackers have the potential to scramble satellite data and manipulate Earth-observation data to their advantage,” she said.
“The U.K. must be ready to face these dangers and [the Ministry of] Defense must play its part … but we know we cannot compete in this contested and dangerous world alone,” she added.
But she said the main threat to the British military was not a foreign power but the UK’s own political thinking.
“Today we show the sky is no longer the limit for our Armed Forced with a multi-million pound investment in the launch of a small satellite demonstrator, supported by a news transatlantic team of defense personnel.
In the face of evolving threats from hostile actors in space, we are acting more closely than ever with out international allies through Five Eyes, NATO and now Operation Olympic Defender.”
Joint Forces Command, the organization which co-ordinates activity across the armed forces, will be changed into a new body called Strategic Command, Mordaunt said.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, the Chief of the Air Staff, said Team Artemis is part of “our plans to take our space ambitions to the next stage.”
It is also among a range of projects which underline the “important and constantly growing role of space in the Royal Air Force’s capabilities,” he added.
The announcement was met with opposition from with the UK.
CND general secretary Kate Hudson condemned UK involvement in new military programmes in space, saying it should be left “free and undefiled”.
“The militarization of space will only make the world a more dangerous place by weakening existing arms control treaties and pressuring other states to ramp up their own military spending,” she said.
Britain is the first country to sign up for Operation Olympic Defender and there is very little information about it, per se.
Also, Britain’s “fears” from Russia and China are more or less unfounded, since according to Defense News, it dominates the small satellite market.
“The Airbus-owned company Surrey Satellite Technology alone accounting for 40 percent of the market share worldwide.
Surrey Satellites developed the Carbonite 2 spacecraft to demonstrate the ability of small, low-orbit satellites to provide high-resolution, full-motion video and imagery in color.
Carbonite 2 was launched on board the Indian PSLV rocket. The Artemis spacecraft, however, is likely to be launched from a dedicated small-satellite launcher able to demonstrate speed of response required to deploy the spacecraft in low orbit.”
The British Ministry of Defense further released a written parliamentary answer, saying that spending focused on space would increase within 2019.
“Our strategic work on space has developed significantly and will play a key role in spending review decisions. We expect to publish later this year.”
Very little is known about Operation Olympic Defender, in March 2019, At the Space Symposium the head of United States Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten also called for Space Rules in response to India’s ASAT test sharing for the first time American Space War plans, known as Olympic Defender, with a small number of allies.
The decision to include allies was part of a statement by John E. Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command on February 26th.
“Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) transitioned to a Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), now the centralized hub for operational space planning and tasking with distributed execution through contributing partners. This effort goes hand in hand with our recent update to Operation OLYMPIC DEFENDER to include international partners and define our operational relationships and associated authorities as we conduct combined operations in the space domain.”
It is not unlikely that France also announces some sort of collaboration, since just recently French President Emmanuel Macron announced the forming of the French Space Force.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
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