To mark this recent and most significant integration of space into a defence review as a ‘better late than never’ posture would be to disjoint the necessity to properly assess priorities, ambitions, and resilience geared growth. In this respect, ‘meaningful’ approaches to space at a formative stage is an encouraging sign that the UK is thinking significantly enough about its growing role in space as a unique role not to mimic other space powers such as the US, Russia, UAE or China.
Language of a ‘meaningful UK in space’ therefore breeds expectations that adequate assessments will be made about which particular strengths are most imperative for the UK to prioritize. While competition exists in space, especially between the UK and other actors with much higher space sector spending, the UK must continue to tread cautiously as it ensures space power growth doesn’t encounter any white elephants on its course. Intentionality is at the essence of making post-COVID UK recovery, growth, and goals realistic.
Also worth noting is the consistent 2030 deadline cited for space ambitions. On 8 April 2014, the Space Growth Action Plan 2014-2030 pointed to raising the UK share of the ‘expected 400 billions global space-enabled market to 10% by 2030’ whilst a House of Commons debate pack on ‘The Future of the UK Space Industry’ – published in early February 2021 – affirmed this 10% capture of the global market by 2030. The IR reaffirmed a 2030 deadline for ambitions: ‘By 2030, the Government’s ambition is for the UK to have the ability to monitor, protect and defend our interests in and through space, using a mixture of sovereign capabilities and burden-sharing partnerships with our allies.’ A 10 year timeline is valuable in that assessments of success can be measured efficiently and trial and error have room to run course. On the other side of the coin, this may also jolt ambitious growth if risk averse timelines stunt creative visions and progressive future planning. While 10 years is a valid start to measure development, it’s also necessary to think of longer term space power goals to give missions meaning beyond mere technological determinism, to be proactive and cutting edge, and to shape a strategy that will stand the test of time. As more information on space strategy begins to surface in the near future, particularly with the National Space Council developing the UK’s first national space strategy in 2021, long term ambitions are worth noting as remarkable pieces to the long-term picture of UK space power growth.
The UK Ministry of Defence followed the IR with the publication of the Defence Command Paper (DCP), Defence in a Competitive Age, in March 2021.