Realising the Ambitions of the UK's Defence Space Strategy

Telecommunication network above Europe viewed from space, photo by NicoElNino/Adobe Stock

NicoElNino/Adobe Stock

Researchers examined the factors influencing the implementation of the UK Defence Space Strategy to 2030 as well as the unique attributes of the UK space enterprise—including its strengths and weaknesses—to help decision makers navigate capability management choices along the 'own-collaborate-access' framework.

What is the issue?

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is preparing to implement its new Defence Space Strategy to become a ‘meaningful actor in space’ and support the overarching vision of the 2021 UK National Space Strategy. This calls for a robust, evidence-based analysis of the potential opportunities and challenges facing this objective.

Through the Global Strategic Partnership, RAND Europe was commissioned by the MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre to analyse the strategic, policy and capability choices which will affect the implementation of the Defence Space Strategy out to the year 2030.

How did we help?

Given the relatively low baseline of the UK’s existing capabilities in space, this independent study aimed to provide greater insight into the factors at play in fully realising the Defence Space Strategy.

We had three core research objectives: to outline key factors shaping the strategy’s implementation; to articulate the UK’s ‘value proposition’ in space; and to outline guidance on different capability management options. We have answered these through a review of the relevant physical characteristics of space, and trends and developments in the space economy, technology and policy, as well as analysis of the unique attributes of the UK space enterprise.

The study provides a decision support tool that will be helpful to decision makers in navigating capability management choices using the ‘own-collaborate-access’ framework, articulated in the 2021 Integrated Review and the associated Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS).

The resulting overall findings give a better understanding of the space domain to help guide the prioritising of finite resources, identification of new opportunities and ultimately the development of new capabilities for the Defence Space Strategy.

What did we find?

Our study identified several different trends and developments in the space domain relating to the implementation of the Defence Space Strategy.

  • Space is a highly unique and important domain. Although it overlaps with other domains, the unique physical characteristics of space necessitate a tailored approach to appraisal and decision-making.
  • The UK has both strengths and weaknesses in space. While the UK has considerable niche strengths in government, industry and technology, its sovereign capabilities are limited compared to peers such as France, Germany and Japan.
  • The UK has a range of options for developing new capability. There are different benefits, costs, risks, and trade-offs associated with the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy’s ‘own-collaborate-access’ framework. The MOD should systematically consider these different options available to influence programme outcomes.

What can be done?

  • Decision makers implementing the Defence Space Strategy need to have a deep understanding of the evolving trends and factors shaping the space domain.
  • UK Defence must communicate it’s unique ‘value proposition’ as a partner in the space domain. This is necessary to exploit new opportunities, enable successful collaborations with allies and boost space literacy in the UK public.
  • The ‘blank slate’ nature of space presents a unique opportunity for a capability management strategy based on innovation and experimentation, unencumbered by traditional precedents.
  • However, given its finite resources and limited capability baseline, ruthless prioritisation is needed. Defence should ‘own’ space capability where necessary, ‘collaborate’ where possible, and ‘access’ space data or services from the civilian market where prudent.
  • Practical measures should be put in place to accelerate learning and enable effective implementation of the Defence Space Strategy.