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Germany Invests in New Military Space Command

3 August 2021


Germany has recently announced the development of a military space command, and they are far from the first country to do so. Indeed, several countries have recently decided to allocate significant resources and funding for the exploration of space. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany’s defence minister, gave a statement in response to the creation of the space command, claiming that the underlying causes for its creation were due to “the increasing dependence of the armed forces on space-supported data, services and products and for the overall prosperity of the German people” (Machi, 2021).

The ceremony introducing the new space command took place in the German Space Situational Awareness Centre in Uedem (Machi, 2021). Since 2009, this Centre has been used by the German Air Force to control space assets and to manoeuvre commercial satellite operators. In 2020, following the NATO’s declaration that space is a new operational domain for its members, the German Air and Space Operations Centre was created (Machi, 2021). Indeed, space has been considered the fifth domain besides cybersecurity, land, air, and sea (Siebold, 2021). NATO has also designated space as one of its top priorities “for emerging and disruptive technologies” (Kurmayer, 2021).

Germany’s new space command has made it the fourth NATO member in the last two years to have created a military space operation (Artyukhina, 2021). In fact, other NATO member states have also invested in space, including France, which has also established their own Space Agency by turning their Air Force into the Air and Space Force in 2019 (Machi, 2021). The United Kingdom followed this lead in 2020 and established their own Space Command (Artyukhina, 2021).

The purpose of Germany’s new space command is not solely to protect their existent satellites, but to monitor any potential threats in outer space, including and not limited to “asteroids and space junk” (Douglas, 2021). Notably, Kramp-Karrenbauer claimed that the space command was paramount, as protecting the German civilian and military satellites is crucial. She continued by stating how dependent Germany is on these satellites and how they have evolved into a resource “without which nothing works. (…). When a resource becomes vital, its security becomes an issue” (Douglas, 2021). Indeed, attacks on crucial infrastructure such as communications satellites would leave the country defenceless. Such attacks have proven to be less of a speculative risk but rather a tangible one. Scholars have claimed that Germany’s development of this space command was mainly driven by the rising threat of Russia and China, and their recent rapid military developments in space (Siebold, 2021). In fact, China and Russia have already equipped themselves with missiles strong enough to destroy satellites (Douglas, 2021). Other military sources have gone as far as to claim that Russia and China would have the resources to be able to start a war in space and significantly damage the most advanced of systems (Siebold, 2021). However, both nations have already claimed that they do not wish to do so and have asserted that the US is the one who is pushing to start an “arms race in space” (Artyukhina, 2021). Despite this, Germany has already stated that it is in no position to wager a space war and has neither the infrastructure nor the equipment to do so. Regarding the possible retaliation of a space attack, NATO has declared that, depending on case-by-case assessment, if a foreign attack were to occur on a German satellite, this could technically provoke a response on land by NATO members (Douglas, 2021). Following up on this, the organisation changed its Collective Defence Pact to include attacks on space assets, specifically Article 5, which concerns retaliatory measures (Global Data, 2021).

Currently, the German space command has been tracking “around 30,000 space debris” (Siebold, 2021) that would have the potential of destroying an average satellite. The Space European Agency has also corroborated this. In total, there are around 5,000 active satellites in space and around 3,400 inactive ones (Siebold, 2021). This number of active satellites is growing exponentially due to the involvement of commercial corporations in the space race, such as Elon Musk’s Space X project, with which he wishes to create “global-space Wi-Fi” (Mann, 2021). Despite the potential benefits of this development, the increase in low earth orbit satellites can also create significant risks.  Specifically, space debris entering earth’s atmosphere because of collisions is a concern which has been manifested by space insurance companies (Siebold, 2021).

Written by Rita Barbosa Lobo





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