Josep Borrell warns space will become a 'battlefield'

Militarisation is to be expected, says senior EU figure

Out of roughly 5,500 satellites in orbit, about 10 per cent are owned by the world’s various armed forces, and many others are used for both civilian and military purposes. Getty Images
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Senior EU diplomat Josep Borrell on Tuesday said that space would become a “battlefield” between great powers as the world becomes increasingly reliant on satellites for sensitive data and the war in Ukraine edges closer to its first anniversary.

“Without security in space there will be no security on earth,” said Mr Borrell, speaking at the launch of the 15th European Space Conference in Brussels, a two-day event.

Out of roughly 5,500 satellites in orbit, he said, about 10 per cent are owned by the world’s various armed forces, and many others are used for both civilian and military purposes.

Governments invested about €100 billion ($108.58 billion) in space last year, which is double the amount that the EU has sent to Ukraine in support since the war began in February 2022, Mr Borrell said.

He said this represents a 9 per cent overall increase in space investment compared to 2021 and a 16 per cent increase in the space defence sector, with a record of almost €15 billion.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us, not just for Ukrainians, not just for the Europeans, [but] for the international community and international security,” Mr Borrell said.

Mr Borrell, who is the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said that information provided by the EU satellite centre in Turrejon, Spain, has provided officials with 4,500 geospatial intelligence products since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.

This figure is 10 times higher than in 2002, when the centre was incorporated as an EU agency.

Mr Borrell said that the war in Ukraine made him realise how important space services were to understand how the conflict develops on the ground.

“Satellite imagery and communications have proved to be a game-changer for the Ukraine armed forces and for the entire population,” he said.

“We have to make a better use of the benefits of the space base assets for security and defence, to strengthen dual-use innovation and invest more in capacity development.”

Mr Borrell said that wind turbines in one of the EU’s 27 countries went down at the same time as a major cyberattack was launched against Viasat, a US telecoms company, on the eve of the war last year.

Mr Borrell did not identify the EU state affected. Western countries have blamed Russia for being behind the cyber attack.

Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, speaking at the 15th European Space Conference in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday. EPA

“It took time to understand the link between the energy infrastructure and the satellite network that commands it, and this raises a number of strategic questions,” said Mr Borrell, who added that the EU does not know exactly how much of its critical infrastructure depends on space.

Additionally, the abrupt departure of Russian Soyuz teams from the European space port of Kourou in French Guiana a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine put the EU’s space launch capabilities in danger.

“We are becoming much more aware of dependencies on foreign supplies,” said Mr Borrell.

The diplomat reiterated his condemnation of Russia’s anti-satellite test in November 2021, which generated a large amount of debris and put other countries’ satellites at risk.

“If they could do that with one satellite, they could do it with our satellites,” he said.

“All these events highlighted the range of counter space capabilities that our competitors are developing, and they are increasingly testing to deploy, from anti-satellite weapons to spoofing and jamming satellite signals or cyberattacks,” he said.

“The Russian invasion has compounded the threats we have seen in space and yes, it exposed the vulnerability of our systems of disruption. But it also boosted our resolve to address security and defence more urgently.”

Updated: January 24, 2023, 11:57 AM
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