Reasons behind UK-US joint space cooperation

China Military Online
Xu Yi
2019-07-30 00:15:55

By Lan Shunzheng

July 20, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the moon. "Space" has once again become a hot word for the international community. As commemorative events are held all over the world, a new round of "space battle" is also quietly unfolding.

After France officially announced that it would establish a space force command, the UK recently expressed its intention to strengthen space military power. The US and the UK will jointly strengthen their space defense capabilities to jointly respond to "threats" from competitors such as China and Russia, according to the website of the US "Defense News".

According to the statement made by the then British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt at the Air and Space Power Conference in London, the UK and the US are working on a space programme called "Operation Olympic Defender". The programme is led by the US and aims to form "Space Alliance" with other countries to strengthen the so-called deterrence of allied forces against certain space forces.

At present, military operations in various countries have been more and more dependent on space power, and as a result, the militarization of space has been intensified. In this context, some countries are rushing to invest huge sum of money to accelerate space exploration. As a former empire, the UK has its own considerations on how to compete for "space rights." The idea of "Global Britain" emerged especially after the "Brexit" referendum.

This idea has even affected the UK's strategic choice in space defense. In this February, Gavin Williamson, the then British Defence Secretary, said in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies that the UK should seize the rare opportunity brought by "Brexit" and take advantage of the situation, and "build new alliances, as well as rekindle old ones." Williamson said that they should protect the "backyard" and more importantly assume a "true global role." The "Operation Olympic Defender" programme is undoubtedly an example of the UK's use of the "Space Alliance" to play a "leadership role" in global security.

Despite its ambitions for space, the UK lacks the necessary power. Considering that the various operations in space require huge financial and human support, it is really impossible for the UK to become a "space leader" alone.

In addition, "Brexit" has also caused further damage to the space industry in the UK. On the one hand, "Brexit" means that the UK will lose the EU as an important platform for promoting transparency and confidence-building measures in space activities, and its influence and discourse power over European and even global space activities will be weakened. On the other hand, once the UK officially exits the EU, some British companies or institutions that originally played an important role in the EU space program are likely to be restricted or excluded, causing serious losses to these enterprises or institutions.

Take the Galileo satellite navigation system in Europe. It has long been pointed out that once the UK exits the EU, British companies will no longer be directly involved in the development of the EU's new satellite navigation program. In addition, some transnational aerospace companies may transfer some or all of their investments in the UK to the euro zone, and even the important infrastructure involved in the EU space program may not be located in the UK.

Faced with insufficient strength and the risk of being excluded by the EU, the UK have to choose to rely on the most powerful US if it wants to achieve its space "ambitions". As Mordaunt said: "The UK must be ready to face these dangers. But we know we cannot compete in this contested and dangerous world alone."

For the US, the ever-increasing space power of other countries makes it difficult to dominate the space. The "allegiance" of the UK came at the perfect time and therefore the two countries hit it off. However, what worries the world is that if space militarization is intensified, the "peaceful use of outer space" initiative will hardly become a reality.

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