Cover: The Role of the Space Domain in the Russia-Ukraine War

The Role of the Space Domain in the Russia-Ukraine War

The Impact of Converging Space and AI Technologies

Published in: CETaS Expert Analysis (February 2024)

Posted on rand.org Mar 4, 2024

by Theodora Ogden, Anna Knack, Melusine Lebret, James Black, Vasilios Mavroudis

Since the invasion of February 2022, Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine has become an attritional grind, inflicting heavy losses on both sides, and driving a race for tactical and strategic advantage through technology. Alongside rapid innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) and drone technology, the conflict continues to demonstrate the profound and growing influence of outer space. Space operations have emerged as important enablers of Ukraine's ongoing efforts to resist and drive back the Russian attackers. Space capabilities are also documenting the conflict in real-time. In turn, space has emerged both as an arena of intensifying inter-state competition and as a domain where non-state actors, including private companies and NGOs, play an increasingly hands-on role in shaping conflict dynamics and outcomes. Notable, too, is the growing convergence of space technology with AI. This reflects the acceleration of a broader effort by global powers to bring a digital revolution to how they approach the command, control, and execution of multi-domain operations. This effort predates the conflict, but the invasion of Ukraine has created an opportunity to test emerging technological concepts and tactics that make use of converging space and AI technologies. At the same time, the growing reliance on interconnected space-based systems and infrastructure has introduced new vulnerabilities that can be exploited to disrupt, coerce, or attack. This growing interconnectedness creates risks of the conflict spilling over into orbit or across borders to affect national security. Against this backdrop, this article examines the space domain's role to date in the Russia-Ukraine war. It first considers how space has shaped the war, before exploring how space technology is used in combination with AI – covering the direct role of satellite communications (SATCOM), positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT), and Earth observation (EO) services.

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