The critical role of space in modern warfare and the imperative of joint space capabilities in Europe

Cooperation with Allies and partners is essential to protecting the sovereignty and safety in the space domain, and over this past year we’ve made significant progress in advancing our shared objectives in space.


To effectively counter the growing range of threats from counterspace systems and hostile uses of space, we must continuously review and modernize our policies, and structure joint doctrine to enable a collaborative approach with our Allies and partners.
By Lt. Gen. Steven L. Basham United States European Command Stuttgart, Germany Feb 09, 2024
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In today’s rapidly evolving security landscape, the importance of military space capabilities cannot be overstated. Through satellite-based communication, precise navigation, real-time intelligence and surveillance, and other capabilities, space operations are woven into the fabric of modern military operations. In the European theater, space assets support a wide range of missions, including deterring potential adversaries, responding to crises and protecting the Joint Force and our Allies and partners. The recent establishment of United States Space Forces Europe and Africa (SPACE-EURAF) underscores the vital role space capabilities play in advancing our defense objectives in Europe. U.S. European Command, alongside our European Allies and partners, will leverage these assets to deter conflict and uphold peace and security in the region.

Critical role of space in modern conflict

The Department of Defense has increasingly recognized space as an important operational domain. The development and testing of anti-satellite capabilities by major powers signifies a shift in the strategic landscape of space. It reflects the importance of space in national security and the evolving nature of military power in the 21st century. The department, recognizing this shift, identified the need to adapt its policies, doctrine and capabilities to protect U.S. interests in space and to deter and, if deterrence fails, defeat aggression against our Allies and partners. The creation and continued evolution of the U.S. Space Force and other recent reforms remain critical to U.S. leadership in space.

The conflict in Ukraine underscores the crucial role of space in modern warfare. As USSF leaders previously stated, Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine with a cyberattack on a space ground station and continues to regularly leverage these capabilities, underlining the importance of continued development of our space capabilities and space defense.

Today, our modern warfighters use GPS and satellite communication to enable surface-to-air missiles as well as combat false narratives by providing time-stamped satellite imagery. With ongoing advancements and the role of space technology in the contemporary application of war, we are facing even greater competition in space. As use of commercial space in military operations continues to grow in relevance and prevalence, the pivotal role of our space forces in Europe becomes increasingly vital for safeguarding access to essential space assets.

Role of joint space capabilities

In Europe, the pressing need for advanced joint space capabilities is clear. To effectively counter the growing range of threats from counterspace systems and hostile uses of space, we must continuously review and modernize our policies, and structure joint doctrine to enable a collaborative approach with our Allies and partners. Together, combined space capabilities deliver the tools to safeguard our assets, respond to threats and deter potential adversaries.

U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command are the latest U.S. geographic combatant commands to establish a space component, following in the footsteps of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command. SPACE-EURAF will ensure we remain agile globally and postured to respond to threats in any domain. Its formation reinforces our current abilities and adds new capabilities to defend our interests, support our Allies and partners, and respond to emerging threats.

Space cooperation and multi-domain awareness

Our European Allies and partners also recognize space is a strategic domain. The European Union published its first Space Defense strategy this year in recognition of the growing need to protect their sovereign space assets and deter hostile activities in space. Cooperation with Allies and partners is essential to protecting the sovereignty and safety in the space domain, and over this past year we’ve made significant progress in advancing our shared objectives in space.

This year, Italy and Norway joined France, Germany and the United Kingdom as European partners in the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) Initiative, which seeks to generate and improve cooperation to sustain freedom of action in space, optimize resources, enhance mission assurance and resilience and deter conflict. CSpO is a key forum through which we will improve coordination between our respective space centers, communicate via shared secure satellite systems, contribute to a unified common operating picture through space data sharing and engage in international space exercises.

Our European Allies continue to facilitate the posturing of U.S. space systems critical to military satellite communication, ballistic missile warning, space situational awareness, and space security. Noteworthy recent activities include partnership to increase satellite communication capability with Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland; the installation of space situational awareness systems in Poland and Romania; and the deployment of defensive space systems throughout the theater. Also, the U.S. committed this year to support the development of a space operations center in Poland, a pivotal step in enhancing our coalition operation with a highly capable Ally.

As we move forward, it is essential that we invest in cutting-edge space technologies, expand our space infrastructure and enhance training and education for our space personnel. To ensure our joint space capabilities remain at the forefront of modern warfare, we will continue to adapt, innovate and collaborate with like-minded nations. In doing so, we bring ourselves one step closer to achieving our shared vision of peace and stability in Europe and beyond.

(Editor's note: This article was originally published on the SpaceNews website.)  


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