COLORADO SPRINGS – Ongoing fighting in Ukraine continues to underscore the importance of combining military, civil and commercial space capabilities, international military space leaders said April 18 at the Space Symposium.
Ukraine has been able to fend off Russian forces with the help of space-based weather data, communications, GPS, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said Lt. Gen. Eric Kenny, Royal Canadian Air Force commander. Even the surface-to-air missiles Canada donated to Ukraine depend on space systems like GPS and satellite communications, he added.
At the outset of the war, commercial satellite imagery played a critical role in helping Ukraine and its allies counter Russian propaganda, said Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey, commander of the U.K. Space Command.
When Russia claimed that Ukrainians killed their fellow civilians in the town of Bucha, Maxar Technologies’ unclassified time-stamped satellite imagery appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world in April 2022 to prove the claim wrong.
“We were able to fend off that false narrative,” Godfrey said. “Do not underestimate the deterrent effect that that had on the Russians.”
Protecting Commercial Assets
The war in Ukraine showed that commercial “entities can provide cost-effective and scalable solutions that meet some of NATO’s intelligence requirements,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Julazadeh, deputy chief of staff for capability development in NATO’s Allied Command Transformation headquarters.
Because those contributions are so apparent, the war also “reinforced our need to protect and defend” commercial space assets, said Kelli Seybolt, U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for international affairs.
At the outset of the war, Russian forces targeted Ukraine’s communications infrastructure with missiles and cyberattacks on Viasat’s KA-SAT and SpaceX’s Starlink networks.
“So, it was significant for us to see how a proliferated LEO constellation could bring communications back,” said Godfrey. “One of the more interesting things here, and it’s well documented on Twitter by Elon himself, is the cyber-jamming attacks against Starlink throughout this and how resilient they have been as well. That is really something that we’re looking at and trying to understand.”
The U.S. Space Force, meanwhile, is focused on the cybersecurity of its own networks as well as working “with our allies and partners to defend our shared networks as we go forward in a coalition engagement,” said Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, Space Force deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear.
For example, the Space Force is considering “how are we sharing cyber threat information across the coalition and the partnership so that we’re all looking at ways to creatively exploit the capabilities that we have to defend against cyber,” Burt said. Potential solutions include jointly buying or building unique cyber-defense systems,” she added.
Panelists cited specific civil and commercial space systems that have proven valuable in supporting Ukraine.
The Canadian government worked with MDA to supply data from the Canadian Space Agency’s three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission “to show the Ukrainians where the Russians were advancing and to help with their targeting,” Kenny said. Another Canadian company, Telesat, provided critical communications, he added.
“It shows the close relationship we need to have with industry as we move forward,” Kenny said.
Gen. Hiroaki Uchikura, Japan Air Self- Defense Force chief of staff, said one of Japan’s takeaways from the war is the need to “promote the utilization of private and commercial satellites by strengthening government-private cooperation.”