RAF Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) (Crown Copyright, 2018)

RAF to Lead UK Defence Space Strategy

RAF Air Command Now Responsible for Command and Control of UK Military Space Operations

Minister for Defence Procurement speaking at the Defence Space Conference 2018

Minister for Defence Procurement speaking at the UK’s first Defence Space Conference (Crown Copyright, 2018).

The UK space sector’s world-leading experts gathered for the first ever UK Defence Space Conference, where Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the launch of the UK’s first Defence Space Strategy and pledged an uplift in expertise to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the space domain.

With an increasing amount of the UK’s military systems now dependent on space technology, it can today be announced that RAF Air Command has assumed responsibility for command and control of UK military space operations to defend the UK’s interests in space.

The Defence Secretary has also confirmed his intention to boost the 500 personnel currently working in the UK defence space sector by 20 per cent over the next five years, taking the total to over 600.

The new Strategy, expected in the summer, will set out plans to protect UK operations against emerging space-based threats, such as jamming of civilian satellites used for broadcasters and satellite navigation to support military capabilities.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

We must make sure we are primed and ready to deter and counter the intensifying threats to our everyday life that are emerging in space. That’s why today I’m announcing the RAF is taking the lead in this area and why we plan to increase the number of personnel covering space.

Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our Armed Forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet or television. It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm.

 Britain is a world leader in the space industry and our defence scientists and military personnel have played a central role in the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme alongside British companies, so it is important we also review our contribution and how we plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.

As part of the EU’s Galileo programme, UK companies have led the way in developing innovative satellite technology. The UK has contributed €1.4bn (£1.2bn) in funding to the programme and provided vital ground infrastructure in the Falklands and the Ascension Islands. Participation in Galileo with the appropriate level of access and involvement remains our preferred option, however we are working on alternative options, and as part of this the MOD will work with the UK Space Agency to explore opportunities for UK companies.

Speaking at the conference, Defence Minister Guto Bebb said:

Space is a vital part our economy, with an industry worth £14 billion a year. With the launch of this Strategy, we are setting our aspirations much higher, to ensure that our industry continues to benefit from this growth in satellite technology. We are investing millions into Britain’s most innovative companies to help us launch forward in the space domain.

Speaking at the conference, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller said:

I am determined to ensure that the RAF’s leadership of military space operations transforms our ability to address the growing threats and hazards. In doing this, it is essential that we work jointly across Defence and with partners cross Government and internationally.

Satellites and space-based services provide communications, imagery, precision targeting and friendly force tracking for the UK’s Armed Forces. As the reliance on satellites continues to grow, any disruption could lead to severe consequences, whether by natural or man-made hazards, or intentional threats from hostile states. The Defence Space Strategy will examine how the UK can work with her allies across NATO and the five-eyes partnership to protect and defend mutual space interests.

The Defence Space Conference took place from 21-22 May 2018 at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY.

Source: MOD.

Image: RAF Fylingdales. RAF Fylingdales is a small unit on the North Yorkshire Moors and was first declared operational in 1963 as one of 3 radar sites in the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), the other 2 sites being in Alaska and Greenland.

The site was originally dominated by 3 ‘Golf Balls’ which housed mechanical tracking radars. In the early 1990s, the old radars were replaced by a much more capable Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR), which underwent another upgrade completed in 2007.

The SSPAR was built by Raytheon and consists of a 3-sided truncated pyramid about 120 feet (40m) high. Each face is approximately 84 feet (28m) in diameter and contains an array of 2,560 transmit/receive modules, each with a circularly polarised ‘Pawsey Stub’ antenna. Each antenna has a power output of 340 watts and this gives an overall mean power output from the 3 faces of approximately 2.5 Mega Watts. The SSPAR has no big dishes that turn, indeed no moving parts at all. Instead, the SSPAR uses changes in electrical phase to steer the radar beam.

Each of the 2,560 transmitters on a face can send out its pulse at a slightly different time – or more correctly in a different phase. These pulses combine together to form a wavefront which can be effectively pointed in any direction simply by altering the timing, or phasing, of the 2,560 transmitters. Although the use of this ‘phased array’ principle is well known and many radars now use this technique, Fylingdales is the only 3-faced BMEWS radar in the world, providing a full 360º of cover. The SSPAR can keep track of many hundreds of space objects per minute out to a range of 3000 nautical miles. The radar software is designed to ignore targets that do not behave like a rocket being launched or a satellite in orbit.