In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine has turned to commercial space capabilities for a significant advantage. The use of commercial systems has not only demonstrated resilience but has also complicated Russia’s moves. Sharing unclassified, actionable data from commercial defense sectors has proved to be one of the most significant contributions in Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.
Commercial Space: A Valuable Asset
Leading up to the conflict, commercial remote sensing data played a crucial role in highlighting Russia’s military advances. It debunked Russian disinformation operations and provided a fact base to unify NATO, other European allies, and global partners. As the war began, commercial space capabilities became instrumental in saving lives and altering the course of the war.
The disruption of Ukraine’s primary satellite communication systems by Russia brought commercial low-Earth orbit satellite constellations into play. These constellations powered broadband services, ensuring that the Ukrainian military could continue critical communications, command, and control. Additionally, high-resolution Earth observation satellite imagery provided essential intelligence on the movement of Russian troops and equipment.
Radio frequency sensors in space detected Russian interference with global positioning satellite activities, enabling counter-responses. These sensors also provided invaluable radio-frequency intelligence, offering insights into Russian troop movements and highlighting patterns of war.
Accelerated Integration for Enhanced Defense
Given the undeniable advantages of commercial space capabilities, it is imperative for the US Department of Defense to accelerate the incorporation of these technologies. While the government has gradually integrated communications satellites and network services, it has yet to fully leverage the intelligence capabilities offered by commercial space systems.
Currently, commercial space capabilities are treated as separate entities from military forces. To strengthen national defense and maintain a proactive stance, it is crucial to integrate commercial space capabilities into US defense plans and operations without delay. Waiting until a conflict starts would prove too late.
The US Department of Defense should prioritize the integration of commercial space capabilities into relevant mission area architectures. This integration will enhance the ability to “Deter and Defend” against adversaries and allow for the refinement of necessary tactics, techniques, and procedures before the onset of conflicts.
Commercial companies bring valuable resources and innovation to the table, leveraging private capital and advancing disruptive capabilities. However, it is essential for the government to budget for the procurement of these capabilities in advance, considering the process’s length within the Department of Defense.
Increased investment in commercial defense technologies not only strengthens the US defense but also reinforces friendly regional alliances. The global and interoperable nature of the commercial space ecosystem facilitates these alliances, which are foundational in deterring aggression and increasing the likelihood of victory during conflicts.
It is crucial for national security leaders around the world to recognize the value of commercial space capabilities. Following the example set by Ukraine, the integration of commercial space technologies into defense architectures is necessary for deterring conflicts and effectively fighting and winning future battles.