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10 July 2023

New project will use maritime approach to advance space strategy

A new project supported by the Laughton Unit in the School of Security Studies aims to use maritime strategy to advance understanding of the role of space in national defence.

James Smith Space Project

The project led by Dr James W.E. Smith, Visiting Research Fellow at the Laughton Unit in the Department of War Studies, seeks to leverage lessons and tools derived from the maritime domain to advance understandings of the role of space in defence and security, in particular the interactions between human exploration, science, commerce, law, communications, and military operations as part of a national strategy which reflects national ways of ‘war and peace’.

My approach will demonstrate to policymakers in governments how a maritime model for space is useful not only in broader national policy but military strategy, where navies will be an essential component of the process as space increasingly influences events and supports defence operations on Earth or potentially beyond."

Dr James W.E. Smith

As space becomes more accessible for the military, commercial enterprises, and private citizens, this frontier will increasingly influence events and defence operations on earth. It is already playing a vital role in the war in Ukraine, with both sides relying heavily on their space-based capabilities for military advantage, such as satellites for intelligence gathering and communication between the frontline and commanders.

To account for the growing importance of space in security and defence, governments are revising defence policy, national policy, and the operational capabilities of their military forces, led by the US. This includes the launch of the UK’s first ‘Defence Space Strategy’ last year at King’s that sets out the government's vision to become a global actor in the increasingly congested space domain. However, Dr Smith argues that governments need an integrated national defence strategy from the seabed through space in order to effectively address emerging threats and capitalise on the future opportunities that space innovation will bring.

The reality is that future national strategy relies on comprehensively understanding space and how it forms part of viewing that strategy from the seabed right through to space. We cannot afford to ignore the close historical connection between the sea and maritime strategy and harness that for future thought on space. It comes a time where serious thought needs to be put towards the future of humanity as a spacefaring civilisation, which is at a time of increased competition in and for space between nations, each of whom are influenced by national character and objectives."

Dr James W.E. Smith

To broaden discourse surrounding the strategic use of space, Dr Smith will bring together a diverse range of stakeholders, including civilian and military space organisations, as well as partners from the fields of science, law, technology, and the environment. He will also draw upon the research conducted by the Laughton Unit’s Corbett 100 project, a project he also leads, that is a collaboration between King’s College London, the U.S. Naval War College, and the Australian Naval Institute that marks the centenary of the work of philosopher of seapower and maritime strategy, Sir Julian Corbett (1854–1922). Through using concepts of maritime strategy and adapting them for space, Dr Smith hopes to contribute to advance understanding of the role of space in defence and its interface with geostrategy, geopolitics, and civilian activity, something he argues the oceans have been central to throughout history and remain so. 

The current direction on strategic space doctrine is increasingly based on one particular form of military power and experience, whereas the maritime model where the encompassing maritime environment sees exploration, science, commerce, law, communications, and military interact, notably resembles the next-generation space revolution that is taking place. There needs to be a more inclusive approach to space in the future and a mindfulness of broader international discussions on a range of topics related to the future use of space, whether philosophical, scientific or genuine concerns over the risk from space debris or hasty responses to ongoing threats of space warfare.”

Dr James W.E. Smith

Dr James W. E. Smith is a visiting research fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He is a non-resident research fellow at the US Naval War College, was awarded fellow status from the Royal Astronomical Society and various space related organisations.

In this story

James W.E. Smith

Laughton-Corbett Visiting Research Fellow

Andrew  Lambert

Laughton Professor of Naval History