NATO’s approach to space
Space is a dynamic and rapidly evolving area, which is essential to the Alliance’s deterrence and defence. In 2019, Allies adopted NATO’s Space Policy and recognised space as a new operational domain, alongside air, land, maritime and cyberspace. This policy guides NATO’s approach to space and ensures the right space-based support to the Alliance’s operations and missions in such areas as communications, navigation and intelligence.
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- Space is increasingly important to the Alliance's and Allies' security and prosperity. Space capabilities bring benefits in multiple areas - from weather monitoring, environment and agriculture, to transport, science, communications and banking.
- The information gathered and delivered through satellites is critical for NATO activities, operations and missions, including collective defence, crisis response and counter-terrorism. Through the use of satellites, Allies and NATO can respond to crises with greater speed, effectiveness and precision.
- In 2019, Allies adopted a new Space Policy and declared space an operational domain.
- NATO remains a key forum for Allies to share information and coordinate activities on various space-related issues.
- Space is becoming more crowded and competitive, and satellites are vulnerable to interference. Some countries, including Russia and China, have developed and tested a wide range of counter-space technologies. NATO Allies have condemned Russia’s reckless and irresponsible anti-satellite missile test of 15 November 2021.
- NATO's approach to space will remain fully in line with international law.
- In October 2020, Defence Ministers decided to establish a NATO Space Centre at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.
- At the 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO recognised that attacks to, from or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance and could lead to the invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
- The 2022 Strategic Concept – the Alliance’s guiding document and blueprint for adaptation – underlines the vital role of space for NATO’s deterrence and defence posture.
- In February 2023, NATO announced plans to establish the Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space (APSS) initiative to enhance space-based surveillance and intelligence for the Alliance, which will improve situational awareness and decision-making.
The role of space in a changing security environment
Space is essential to the Alliance's deterrence and defence. Space underpins NATO's ability to navigate and track forces, to have robust communications, to detect missile launches and to ensure effective command and control. More than half of active satellites orbiting the Earth belong to NATO members or companies based on their territory.
NATO Allies increasingly rely on space for various national security tasks, as well as military operations around the globe. Space data, products and services are a critical enabler and directly support other operational domains.
The evolution in the uses of space and rapid advances in space technology have created new opportunities, but also new risks, vulnerabilities and potential threats. While space can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used for aggression. In addition, satellites can be hacked, jammed or weaponised, and anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications and affect the Alliance's ability to operate.
Some countries, including Russia and China, have developed and tested a wide range of counter-space technologies that could restrict Allies’ access to, and freedom to operate in space. Various risks to space systems are increasing and can harm Allies' security and commercial interests.
NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept reiterates the concerns that Allies have previously expressed about increasing threats in space, highlighting that “strategic competitors and potential adversaries are investing in technologies that could restrict our access and freedom to operate in space, degrade our space capabilities, target our civilian and military infrastructure, impair our defence and harm our security.”
NATO’s approach to space and key roles
NATO is an important forum for Allies to share information, increase interoperability and coordinate actions. The Alliance is not aiming to develop space capabilities of its own and will continue to rely on national space assets. NATO's approach to space will remain fully in line with international law. NATO has no intention to put weapons in space.
From a security and defence perspective, space is critical for the Alliance, including in the following areas:
- positioning, navigation and timing, which enables precision strikes, tracking of forces or search and rescue missions;
- early warning, which helps to ensure force protection and provides vital information on missile launches;
- environmental monitoring, which enables meteorological forecasting and mission planning;
- secure satellite communications, which are essential for missions to enable consultation, command and control;
- intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which are crucial for situational awareness, planning and decision-making.
To implement space as an operational domain, the Alliance is enhancing its space domain awareness and common understanding of the space environment, including threats and risks. Maintaining situational awareness and reliable access to space services are critical to ensuring the success of NATO’s operations, missions and activities.
NATO is developing a Strategic Space Situational Awareness System (3SAS) at NATO Headquarters. This capability will allow the Alliance to better understand the space environment and space events, and their effects across all domains. The system is supported by EUR 6.7 million funding from Luxembourg.
While 3SAS focuses on looking up at space, it’s equally important for the Alliance to develop assets that look down at Earth and provide a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground. To that end, at the February 2023 Defence Ministers’ meeting, a group of NATO Allies together with former Invitee (now member country) Finland and Invitee Sweden agreed to develop the Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space (APSS) initiative. APSS will enhance cooperation on space-based surveillance in support of the implementation of NATO’s overarching Space Policy. Space-based assets, such as satellites, can provide real-time information on the movement of enemy forces, weather conditions and terrain – essential information for understanding the battlefield and making informed decisions. This new mechanism will establish a large-scale, virtual constellation of national and commercial surveillance satellites, called “Aquila”. It will provide the Alliance with faster and better intelligence, integrate even more space-based data into NATO’s intelligence ecosystem and leverage technological breakthroughs from the commercial sector. Luxembourg's early contribution of EUR 16.5 million has laid the groundwork for this transformative initiative and will allow participating countries to contribute to Aquila through their own assets, data and/or funds. Next to Invitee Sweden, the 18 participating NATO Allies are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Türkiye, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Alliance is also integrating space in training and exercises, operational planning, capability development, as well as in its innovation efforts. Emerging technologies are transforming the space domain and NATO will take advantage of these developments to maintain its technological edge. In this regard, NATO’s Science and Technology Organization network helps to leverage the scientific and technological capacity among Allies and partners.
To allow NATO forces to communicate more securely and quickly, NATO is investing over EUR 1 billion in procuring satellite communications services for the period of 2020-2034. This is the Alliance's biggest-ever investment in satellite communications, which is being provided by NATO member countries and enabling more resilient and flexible communications with ships at sea, air assets and troops across the globe.
NATO’s Space Centre
The NATO Space Centre was established in 2020 at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. This Centre serves as a focal point to support NATO’s activities, operations and missions; share information; and help coordinate Allies’ efforts in the space domain.
The Space Centre reaches out to national space entities to ensure that NATO commanders have access to required space data and services. Streamlining requests for space products through a single entity increases NATO’s responsiveness and supports timely decision-making. The Space Centre closely follows the developments in the space security environment.
At the July 2018 Brussels Summit, NATO Leaders recognised that space is a highly dynamic and rapidly evolving area, which is essential for the Alliance's security, and agreed to develop an overarching NATO Space Policy.
At the June 2019 Defence Ministers' meeting, Allies adopted NATO's Space Policy.
At the December 2019 Leaders' Meeting in London, Allies declared space a fifth operational domain, alongside air, land, maritime and cyberspace. In their declaration, NATO Leaders stated: "We have declared space an operational domain for NATO, recognising its importance in keeping us safe and tackling security challenges, while upholding international law."
On 22 October 2020, Defence Ministers decided to establish a NATO Space Centre at Allied Air Command in Ramstein.
At the June 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO Leaders stated that “attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance, the impact of which could threaten national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security, and stability, and could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack. Such attacks could lead to the invocation of Article 5. A decision as to when such attacks would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis.”
In November 2021, NATO Allies condemned Russia’s reckless and irresponsible anti-satellite missile test of 15 November 2021. This test caused an orbital debris field that significantly increased risk to human life and to the space-based assets of numerous countries and entities. This dangerous behaviour directly contradicted Russia’s claims to oppose the “weaponisation” of space, and undermined the rules-based international order. NATO Allies remain committed to protecting and preserving the peaceful access to and exploration of space for all humanity.
At the June 2022 Madrid Summit, NATO Leaders adopted the 2022 Strategic Concept, the guiding document that defines the security challenges facing the Alliance and outlines the political and military tasks that NATO will carry out to address them. In addition to describing the increasing threats in space, the Strategic Concept also contains a commitment from Allies to “enhance our ability to operate effectively in space and cyberspace to prevent, detect, counter and respond to the full spectrum of threats, using all available tools… We will also boost the resilience of the space and cyber capabilities upon which we depend for our collective defence and security.”