British satellite threat from near-misses with China and Russia

Wednesday 11th September 2019 14:00 BST

Air Vice Marshall Simon Rochelle said "the fight is on" to increase the presence of UK military satellites in space, as it has become a "contested environment" between a number of rival nations.

Speaking at the Defence and Security International Fair at the ExCel Centre in London, as reported by the i newspaper, the senior RAF officer suggested that Britain needed to build "defensive capabilities" into its satellites.

"There are on-orbit proximity issues daily now, so when you launch your satellite you have to consider what defensive capability you are putting up," he told the conference.

"The fight is on. It is a contested environment and we have to speed up our response to it."

His comments echo remarks made recently by US President Donald Trump, who said the final frontier was vital to the defence of America when he launched Space Command.

Mr Trump appointed four-star air force general John Raymond as first commander of the force, which will conduct operations such as enabling satellite-based navigation and communications for troops in the field, and providing warning of missile launches abroad.

The president is also waiting for his ambitious Space Force project, which has been pitched as a distinct military branch like the army or navy, to be approved by Congress.

Space has become a focus for the Trump administration due to concerns over the vulnerability of US satellites - both commercial and military - to potential disruption by China and Russia.

The US has a world-leading 830 military satellites in orbit, while Britain has 54.

Last year Britain launched Carbonite 2, which is equipped with full colour HD video camera to capture footage of the Earth from above and is utilised by the RAF.

The Ministry of Defence said at the time that British satellites could eventually beam video directly into the cockpit of fighter jets in real time, improving the situational awareness of pilots.

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