German Space Command
German Space Command
As of 13 July 2021, Germany opened a new space command, following the lead of other Western countries amid growing concerns over Russian and Chinese military advances in outer space and a surge in satellite launches. 1)
In the last two years, the United States, France and Britain have all established space commands - military bodies with responsibility for space operations - to address what they see as a threat from Russia and China at a time when relations between West and Moscow are at a post-Cold War low.
Military sources see Russia and China as capable of waging a war in space and damaging even very advanced adversaries badly, putting them on par with the West in space.
At its summit in June, NATO warned it was ready to retaliate militarily if attacked in or from space, after designating space as a fifth domain of operations in 2019, alongside land, sea, air and cyberspace.
"Space has become a critical infrastructure that we need to secure," German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in the small town of Uedem close to the Dutch border. Germany's existing space situation center there is to be expanded into the new command.
The command's main job will be to protect satellites that provide the military with crucial communications services and surveillance data against any outside interference, and disrupting an adversary's satellite operation in the event of a conflict.
Also, it will tackle the threat to military and civilian devices in space from a fast-growing satellite population and resulting debris.
At the moment, the experts in Uedem are tracking around 30,000 pieces of space debris with a diameter of 10 cm or more, a size assumed to have the potential to destroy a typical satellite, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
This comes on top of the currently almost 5,000 active and around 3,400 dead satellites in space, according to space data publisher Seradata, with the number of active satellites having almost doubled within a year.
The surge is mainly driven by commercial operators such a Elon Musk's SpaceX and its Starlink network that aims to launch tens of thousands of satellites to supply global space-based WiFi.
Space insurance companies are concerned about the dense accumulation of satellites and space debris, particularly in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) at altitudes of up to about 2,000 km, arguing it makes risks incalculable.
It is expected to take a long time to clean up space, even if countries were to agree on international binding rules for the disposal of old satellites, as many of today's problems originate way in the past.
"The latest near-miss a few weeks ago happened between a decommissioned U.S satellite from 1978 and a Soviet one from 1981 that passed each other at an estimated distance of less than 10 meters," a German military source said.
The occasion makes Germany the fourth NATO power in the last two years to establish a space command. 2)
The US led the charge when it re-established US Space Command after a 17-year hiatus, during which its duties were folded into multiple other commands as the Pentagon focused on the US War on Terror. 2019 is also when then-US President Donald Trump ordered creation of the US Space Force (USSF) as a sixth branch of the armed forces dedicated to what the new service called "spacepower," or the defense of the ultimate "high ground."
French President Emmanuel Macron created a space command in 2019 as well, renaming the air force to the French Air and Space Force in 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the UK's new Space Command in late 2020 as part of the largest defense expansion the country has seen in decades.
In all cases, the heads of state pointed to the increasing space capabilities of Russia, China, and India, claiming the development of anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles and directed-energy weapons had imperiled US satellites like never before. In fact, the US has long possessed such ASAT weapons, but between GPS navigation, guided munitions, communications, and cloud-based information exchange by US and partner forces, satellites have become indispensable to how they wage war.
German Bundeswehr sets up space command center
A new German military space command center has been officially inaugurated, with the goal of protecting satellites and monitoring threats in outer space. The focus is on asteroids and space junk rather than aliens. 3)
A new German military space command center has been officially inaugurated, with the goal of protecting satellites and monitoring threats in outer space. The focus is on asteroids and space junk rather than aliens.
The German military crossed into the final frontier on Tuesday (13 July) while staying firmly on the ground — with the official launch of the country's first space command center. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer officially inaugurated it at the site for the Center for Air Operations in Uedem near the Dutch border.
Figure 1: The space command center will be used to monitor satellites (photo: dpa, A. Stoffel)
While it sounds like something out of science fiction, the German armed forces's foray into space has a wide-reaching mandate. Defense operations include military reconnaissance and the monitoring and protection of satellites. The tracking of dangerous debris — so-called space junk — will also be a central task for the command center.
And the need for a presence in space goes beyond military considerations.
The term space command brings to mind adventurous associations from Jules Verne to the Starship Enterprise, Kramp-Karrenbauer said — but the reality, she said, was "nowhere near as sensational."
"Our prosperity and security are highly dependent on space," she said. "Our civilian and military satellites have long since become a resource without which nothing works. As always, when a resource becomes vital, its security becomes an issue."
Figure 2: German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer officially inaugurated the command center (photo: dpa)
War in space?
"We know that threats in space are growing," the defense ministry tweeted ahead of the launch — but the idea of a war in space as we might expect from science fiction movies is unlikely.
Instead, attacks on satellites could attempt to undermine communications and technology of specific countries. Satellites count as "critical infrastructure" that Germany wants to protect, and the Bundeswehr also said that they wish to better protect their own communications infrastructure.
But attacks in space are no longer hypothetical, said the President of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy, Ekkehard Brose.
"Some states now regard space as a field of future military conflict," Brose said in a statement. "Technology is advancing rapidly in this area, and it's important to keep that in mind. China and Russia, for example, have developed missiles and other military capabilities that could be used against satellites."
But the new German command center remains primarily a place for information reconnaissance; Germany is not currently in a position to carry out an attack in space.
1) ”New German space command to tackle Russian, Chinese threat, overcrowding,” Reuters, 13 July 2021, URL: https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/
2) ”Germany becomes latest NATO member to establish military space command,” Space War, 15 July 2021, URL: https://www.spacewar.com/reports/
3) ”German Bundeswehr sets up space command center,” German Bundeswehr, 13 July 2021, URL: https://www.dw.com/en/german-bundeswehr-sets-up-space-command-center/a-58250738
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).