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23 March 2021

Space gets the recognition it deserves in the Integrated Review

Mark Hilborne and Mark Presley

Space recognised alongside land, air, maritime and cyber as a key domain of operations


The government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, along with its accompanying Defence Command Paper, has made the first significant inclusion of space in such a UK policy document.[1] This is a welcome development, indicating the growing importance of space in reaching a number of key policy objectives, such as prosperity, diplomacy and security, and putting it alongside land, air, maritime and cyber as a key domain of operations.

The government’s vision for space is given some scope in the section entitled “An Integrated space policy: making the UK a meaningful player in space”. “Integrated” here refers both to the cross-governmental approach, incorporating the civil, commercial and military sectors, but also with regards to the UK’s allies and partners. The recognition that a cross-government strategy is required is an important step, and it will be critical in unlocking the full potential of the UK in space.

The Integrated Review makes numerous references to the importance of allies, and this applies to the space domain. By doing so, it gives a realistic portrayal of Britain’s capabilities in this area – while there is a clear design to increase sovereign capabilities, allies will be a consistent part of future space operations. This will only increase as states seek resilience in space in the face of determined competitors.

Even fully capable space-faring states such as the US increasingly proclaim the need for capable allies. The Review emphasises participation with key alliances and structures, including NATO, as well as NASA and the European, Canadian, Australian and Japanese space agencies. Demonstrating global leadership on reducing space threats will require working with like-minded nations to shape the international debate on threats to the space systems on which we rely so extensively.

While security is identified as a key driver, the economic case is emphasised at least as strongly. The value of the space sector to the UK economy (£14.8bn and supporting 42,000 jobs) is noted numerous times, as well as its significance to future scientific research and as an engine for growth. This resonates with the wider commitment to use science and technology to boost UK prosperity and enhance its “strategic advantage” against competitors.

While there is not great depth to the detail – more will become apparent with the publication of the National Space Policy and the Defence Space Policy – it is interesting to note that space domain awareness (SDA) is the only specific capability mentioned apart from space launch. We have argued elsewhere that this is a founding capability: while directly enabling the ability of the UK to manage British operated satellites, it could also enhance the UK’s role in space sustainability and in the associated international regulatory diplomacy. Additionally, while this is a high priority for the MoD’s Space Directorate, it has clear relevance across the space sectors, and thus can act as a catalyst for integration.

Space domain awareness and other space capabilities are further developed in the subsequent Defence Command Paper. It states that there will be a constellation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites developed, as well as a National Space Operations Centre to track and characterise various – specifically malevolent – activities in space. Although details are scant, these steps will undoubtedly add sovereign capability for the UK, while adding to its influence in the domain.

The Defence Command Paper also makes reference to a space cadre, supported by a Space Academy. Again here, detail of these is scant, although they will be necessary to help fill gaps in expertise and establish the long-term institutional knowledge that will be required to carry out the plans laid out in these reviews.

A strong theme that runs through both documents is shaping the governance and norms of behaviour in space. This is a fundamental step, for space security more broadly, but also for a “global Britain” to be a “force for good”. The UK has already made some important contributions, which adds substance to the Review’s goals. Recently within the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the UK has made some tangible steps in focusing the UN forum on space security. This has led to the sponsoring of the successful resolution on responsible behaviour in space, adopted last November.[2] This is an area to which the UK can bring significant leverage. Efforts in strengthening governance in space will benefit its increasing stake in the domain, while its voice will be amplified by the introduction of space capabilities, in particular SDA.

With the Integrated Review, and the subsequent Defence Command Paper, space takes its place alongside the other traditional domains and cyber, and it is assumed it will become part of the fabric of the future. While more detail will be delivered by the National Space Policy and Defence Space Policies, recognition of the space domain is in itself an important step forward.


Dr Mark Hilborne is a Lecturer in Conflict and Security in the Department of Defence Studies, King's College London.

Dr Mark Presley completed his PhD in the Department of Defence Studies at King’s College London and is now Director and Space policy and strategy analyst at MAP Analytica.


[1] The 2010 The Strategic Defence and Security Review merely mentioned the need for a National Space Policy, recognising the UK’s increasing dependence on space.

[2] RES/75/36, “Reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours.”


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