Nato warns space satellites are 'high-priority targets' for enemies

Report raises possibility of war in space with adversaries developing sophisticated weapons

Satellites could be vulnerable to enemy attack. Getty Images
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Nato’s member states have said in a report that space satellites key to fighting wars are “high-priority targets” for enemy attacks.

It has also raised concerns that sophisticated terror groups or criminals have made plans to “target satellite navigation and commercial services”, which could cause chaos.

The report comes as tension intensify between Nato and Russia, with a senior figure linked to the Kremlin threatening on Friday that the military had “countermeasures which could devastate” the West.

“We have said several times that if a war was unleashed against us … there is all kind of measures that could be done,” Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, told the BBC.

In the report, titled “Nato’s Overarching Space Policy”, military chiefs have raised concerns that space has been weaponised by various states, though it did not name Russia or China.

Russia's Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft blasting off to the ISS from the launch pad at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. AFP

“It has created new opportunities but also new risks, vulnerabilities and potentially threats for the alliance,” it said.

“Allies’ space capabilities could become a high priority target given the advantages that space systems provide in conflict and given allies’ dependence on these systems to enable operations.”

There were growing concerns that opponents had developed “sophisticated counter-space technologies that could threaten allies' access and freedom to operate in space”, as the weapons have the capability to “disrupt, degrade, deceive, deny, or destroy capabilities” on which Nato “might critically depend”.

Opponents can now project power over greater distances and with increased precision to track forces on the ground, the report said. This would mean that Russia would be able to spot troop movements from the US or other Nato allies in support of any attack against Ukraine.

An artist's impression of space debris objects in low-Earth orbit. ESA

It admitted that satellite communications were “essential” in all Nato missions, particularly for command and control for generals running a battle.

Training for Nato forces should be stepped up to ensure the military could continue to operate if space support was “degraded, denied or disrupted”. It is understood that this is might lead to armed forces revising traditional methods of navigation, such as using sextants and changing communication methods, perhaps reintroducing Morse code or light signalling.

The report suggested two methods of attack. One referred to “reversible effects”, such as jamming communications or GPS signals.

But the other said “high-end kinetic capabilities”, such as anti-satellite missiles or lasers, would produce irreversible effects which could lead to “adverse long-term impacts to the space environment”, including space debris that could affect the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth.

Last month, Russia used a missile to destroy one of its defunct satellites in a test operation, creating further debris that caused panic on the International Space Station.

The UAE’s Minister for Advanced Technology, Sarah Al-Amiri, warned the Davos meeting of world leaders on Thursday that “space clutter” was a severe threat to exploration. Victor Besa/The National.

Sarah Al Amiri, UAE’s Minister for Advanced Technology, warned the Davos meeting of world leaders on Thursday that “space clutter” was a severe threat to exploration.

The alliance urged extreme caution over the new form of warfare.

“Space is an inherently global environment and any conflict that extends into space has the potential to affect all users of space,” the report said.

“The free access, exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes is in the common interest of all nations.”

It added that any hostile action against a Nato member in space could also lead to the invocation of Article 5, whereby an attack on one was an attack on all.

Nato’s ruling council will now consider a range of options “across the conflict spectrum to deter and defend against threats to or attacks on allies’ space systems”, the report concluded.

Updated: January 30, 2022, 7:48 PM