PacNet #18 – Ukraine and the decoupling of space cooperation with Russia

The imposition of wide-reaching sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine will have long-lasting effects on the space industry, academia, and government cooperation.

International cooperation with Russia, principally from Western countries, will likely take a similar path to the ongoing bifurcation in supply chains and academic cooperation between China and the United States and its allies and partner countries. This ongoing competition for both market and academic dominance in high-technology is the most poignant manifestation of a new geopolitical era marked by growing economic fragmentation and the retreat of globalization.

Australia’s Director General of the Office of National Intelligence Andrew Shearer told the Australian Financial Review’s Business Summit this month: “Technology is the center of gravity in this new geopolitical contest, and we are going to see increasing maneuvering between the great powers in particular for pre-eminence in critical technology.” Space falls squarely into this technological contest with far-reaching implications for cooperation between Russia and the West.

In February, five days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket’s first stage was built in Ukraine, but other parts came from the United States and featured components from many European nations, plus it was powered by a Russian engine. This exemplified how space cooperation has until now transcended geopolitical tensions. The continuation of such cooperation now looks unlikely.

Speaking to the Chinese media, Dmitry Rogzin, the head of Roscosmos, stated that the “European Space Agency and the whole European Union have taken a frenzied position on the conduct of Russia,” making cooperation “impossible.” Russia had already begun turning to China for greater space ties after the West imposed sanctions in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The latest spate of sanctions will further limit space cooperation with Russia and further push Moscow into Beijing’s orbit. Agreements on a number of missions have already been struck, including on the Chang’e-6, which seeks to return lunar samples from the far side of the moon, and the Chang’e 7, which looks for water at the lunar south pole. Last year, Moscow and Beijing also released an ambitious roadmap to construct a joint lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station.

Roscosmos’ future does not appear rosy, however. Russia’s space program has already come up against severe cash shortages and the Russian economy, barely bigger than Australia’s, faces significant contractions due to sanctions. Its ambitions and forecasted projects, including the development of its own space station, will likely face significant delays. “Roscomos is in for some very tough years,” David Burbach of the US Naval War College recently told media.

The hiatuses on joint projects, including the Venera-D mission with NASA and the ExoMars mission with the European Space Agency, represent some of the most immediately recognizable casualties for the space industry. But OneWeb’s pivot to Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide launch services, after the tearing up of its contract with Russia, most clearly indicates Russia’s accelerating decline. While a major space player that has developed, and is developing, some world-leading space technology, Russia amounts to less than a central player today and will face considerable financial constraints going forward.

The dilution of dependence on Russian space services continues. NASA, for instance, no longer relies on purchasing seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, at around $80 million a seat; SpaceX now launches astronauts via the Commercial Crew Program. As a result, the United States and other space powers have less need to maintain strong ties with Roscosmos, as seen in SpaceX’s offer to boost the altitude of the ISS. Besides, Russia’s bluff and bluster around deorbiting the space station already indicate an empire in decline.

By future-proofing access to facilities in orbit, NASA supports a number of private companies in funding the development of private stations that will replace the ISS. As Phil McAlister, director of commercial space at NASA said, “The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance.”

Even if joint projects, academic or commercial, included Russian expertise, the current geopolitical climate will likely place hard limits on such projects. A significant collapse in scientific collaboration has already occurred and, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Congress banned US companies from using Russian rocket engineers for national security launches after 2022. “We need to completely reconceptualize and recognize that security and economics are completely integrated and interdependent,” Shearer pointed out in his speech to the business elite gathered in Sydney.

Some argue that cooperation with Russia can continue, noting that Moscow remains committed to supporting the ISS and just launched three cosmonauts to the station. However, Roscosmos continues to express doubt over its future involvement with the ISS beyond 2024 as it continues to advance plans to build its own private space station. Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin states that the plan is to be ready by 2025, but the difficulty in meeting this timing would likely result in Russia requesting access to the Tiangong space station that China hopes to complete this year.

Just as COVID-19 accelerated pre-existing trends around the bifurcation of the West and China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fast-tracked divisions already underway. Geopolitics extend beyond Earth and the blurring between civil and military spheres of space will only intensify competition. The deepening cracks and heightening geopolitical tensions negatively impact the critical work on establishing rules, norms, and principles for responsible behaviors in space necessary to ensure that the space domain remains free, open, and safe for everyone.

Philip Citowicki (citowicki@gmail.com) is a Non-resident Vasey Fellow at Pacific Forum and an Australian foreign policy commentator.

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PacNet #12 – To succeed in space, the US must become the partner of choice

Space remains a key defense vulnerability for the US, and one that weakens US superiority in all other domains. To mitigate this vulnerability, it is essential that the US fosters a more competitive mindset in space. This will require substantial investment into the newly formed Space Force and much larger investment into NASA. It will also require a shift in the mindset of senior government officials to see space as a domain of national security, as well as an opportunity for economic growth across the short, medium, and long term. The result needs to be a more fluid and robust partnership between the government and private industry, helping to generate innovative solutions for problems the US will encounter in space, today and tomorrow. The result should be a direct linking of competitiveness in space to competitiveness globally, transcending the competition we’re seeing unfold in areas such as the Indo-Pacific.

The US military undertakes four key missions if and when needed in times of conflict, in and through space: superiority, denial, preservation, and assurance. These missions do not have static conditions defining success; rather, success must be considered its own dynamic path constantly requiring adjustment. US decisions today will enable, but also constrain, future strategic and operational maneuverability in the space environment.

Superiority remains the most difficult mission to define and attain. The US has a long history with the defeat and deter construct in other domains and theaters, and this construct can be applied to space. Yet a key question is whether the defeat and deter framework for success aligns with the structural conditions of the space environment. The use of space to achieve terrestrial political objectives does not yield clear cut conditions for success during times of peace; rather it yields operationally specific conditions dependent on often quite contrasting terrestrial objectives. Superiority in space will likely remain tied to a series of these dynamic conditions, each linked to the terrestrial objectives of highest priority. The Indo-Pacific, and Russian and Chinese competition in space in relation to Indo-Pacific strategic touchpoints, is an essential element of assessing and rating the success of the US space superiority mission.

With this in mind, ability to deny the space environment to others in times of conflict will remain the yardstick by which space power will be ranked for many years to come. Space denial is ultimately a multi-domain objective but can perhaps be defined as the ability to deny or compromise space-based information to an adversary when they most need it. As a strategic objective, denial must be coupled with preservation, and that involves more than the stewardship and custodianship of the civilian and military space environment. To outmaneuver adversaries in space, the US must regularly demonstrate the capability to field new satellite constellations on demand, in both the civil and military realms. To out-innovate, the US must constantly iterate the hardware and software of these constellations. Today’s description of space environment risks as “highly reliant on highly vulnerable assets” only rings true for space powers without redundant satellite constellations ready to proliferate all orbits on demand. It is hard to imagine how the US could engage in this “on demand space proliferation” without also engaging in large-scale public-private partnerships.

The mission of assurance, however, provides a very different challenge. Within the next five to 10 years, leading space powers, like China, Russia, Japan, and the EU, will be able to provide competing geospatial data to their partners and customers – potentially creating spheres of interest linked to the underpinning space infrastructure of any given geography. If every space power can distribute a daily download of their own curated version of Earth, then it remains to be seen what will happen to the digital truth of geospatial information. Which country’s geospatial data will the world come to trust and rely on for their most essential services? Or will different truths hold for different geographies. This will be particularly important as geospatial refresh rates continue to decrease between competing commercial geospatial providers.

For the US to out-partner its adversaries in space, it needs to provide high levels of geospatial assurance at both the civil and military level. To out-partner Russia and China, it needs to provide this assurance across all countries within the Indo-Pacific. The US must also assure its partners and allies of its own space situational awareness. If the US were to lose global confidence in its civil and military satellite data, it would seriously undermine its ability to prosecute superiority, denial, and preservation missions in space. Perhaps more importantly, it would seriously undermine the ability of the US to publicly declare the bad actions of adversaries in space. The recent innovations of fake news and deep fake capabilities are only indications of what a Balkanised internet with imperfect information flows can do. The US needs to prepare for the “truth” of the space environment to be just as contested a location.

Tomorrow’s space operations will no doubt share similar characteristics to recent terrestrial information and influence campaigns. A key question in the coming years will be, is Space Force ready for these kinds of operations, and are they prepared to train and equip those who will need to carry them out? The answer to these questions will communicate to all regional actors whether or not the US is ready to defend the Indo-Pacific from non-traditional operations that seek to undermine confidence in a space-reliant order. That order currently relies on US-owned space assets but there is no guarantee that reliance will continue.

Thom Dixon (thom.a.dixon@gmail.com) is Vice President for the Australian Institute of International Affairs NSW and a PhD candidate in the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University.

David Kirichenko (davishjr@gmail.com) is a researcher focused on understanding the strategic nexus between China, Russia, and the United States in global diplomacy and conflict resolution. He is a former Mosaic Taiwan fellow and an alumnus of the Yenching Global Symposium imitative.

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PacNet #9 – A New Space Race? The Meaning Behind Japan’s New Plans

This article originally appeared at East Asia Forum and is reprinted with permission.

During the new session of parliament in January this year Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo reiterated his pledge to utilize outer space to guarantee national security. Only last year, Abe confirmed that a unit responsible for space operations will be established inside the Air Self-Defense Force (SDF) by the start of fiscal year 2020.

The announcements triggered media attention and concerns in some overseas capitals, but Japan’s outer space ambitions are not new. Neither do the announcements imply that the country is about to enter the space race heating up between the United States, China, and Russia. Japan is still legally restricted when it comes to space activities and capabilities.

Based on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, a 1969 parliamentary resolution states that Japanese use of outer space should be only for “peaceful purposes.” This meant that space activities could be conducted only by the civilian sector and for the development of civilian technologies.

In 1998, after North Korea launched its Taepodong-1 missile over Japanese airspace, Japan started an Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) program to monitor Pyongyang. The Japanese government denied violating the 1969 resolution, asserting that multifunction IGSs were dedicated to supporting the exclusively defensive duties of the SDF. The term “peaceful purposes” gradually reinterpreted from its original meaning of “non-military” to “non-offensive.”

In the mid-2000s—as the Six-Party Talks on North Korean nuclear weapons between the United States, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China, and Russia stalled—the Japanese government sought a legal revision. In 2008, the parliament approved a new law that permitted space activities “to increase the national security of Japan.” This opened the door to the development of early warning and military grade intelligence satellites. But the use of space is still only permitted today through non-offensive means.

Japan currently possesses five radar IGSs, two optical IGSs and plans to develop a constellation of eight satellites of both types plus two relay satellites. Tokyo has also begun deploying military communications satellites. In 2017, Kirameki-2 was put into orbit over the Indian Ocean, Kirameki-1 was launched over the Pacific Ocean in 2018 and Kirameki-3—with a planned orbit over Japan—will be launched this year. Japan is developing its own Global Positioning System (GPS), the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). Four Michibiki satellites are now in orbit and another three are scheduled to be launched by fiscal year 2023.

The objective of Japan’s space strategy is to ensure it maintains in all circumstances the ability to use space-based assets for the combined operations of the SDF. This will tackle the threat posed by anti-satellite (ASATs) weapons and space debris. According to a 2019 report by the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the main dangers are Chinese and Russian ASATs, including ground- and aircraft-launched ballistic missiles, “killer satellites,” laser weapons, and jammers.

Defending satellites is the primary mission of Japan’s new space unit. The National Defense Program Guidelines released in December 2018 suggest its role is to conduct “persistent monitoring of situations in space, and to ensure superiority in use of space at all stages from peacetime to armed contingencies.” The Space Domain Mission Unit, to be based at Fuchu Air Base near Tokyo and initially staffed with about 20 personnel, will become fully operational in 2022.

It will cooperate with US Space Command, established by US President Donald Trump last year.

Protecting Japanese satellites requires an in-depth monitoring of space, thus Space Situational Awareness (SSA) space-based optical telescopes and ground-based laser ranging devices will also be deployed. Japan’s SSA capabilities are expected to be connected to US forces in two years. Another dimension of US-Japan cooperation is related to QZSS, as the system is compatible with the US GPS and explicitly dedicated to complementing it in the Asia Pacific.

Japan’s space strategy is almost purely defensive in the sense that it aims to protect against the elimination of space-based assets, which would blind and paralyze the SDF and leave the country vulnerable. Due to legal, political, and budget constraints, Japan is not militarizing outer space beyond what is necessary to guarantee the proper functioning of the SDF. In other words, Japan is not on the verge of playing a remake of Star Wars.

But this does not mean that Japan’s space program has no offensive dimension. First, one of its stated goals is to build “the capability to disrupt C4I (command, control, communication, computer, and intelligence) of opponents in collaboration with the electromagnetic domain.” The future development of Japan’s own ASATs cannot be ruled out. This would certainly trigger domestic debates over their constitutionality as ASATs could arguably violate the non-offensive principle.

Second, Japan’s space-based information gathering and positioning capabilities are key to allowing the SDF to strike targets with precision, for example using the Joint Strike Missile or Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. It is no secret that some in Japan are seeking the capacity to destroy North Korean missile launch pads and vehicles. And to strike, one must first see.

Lionel Fatton is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Webster University, Geneva. He is also a Research Collaborator at the Research Institute for the History of Global Arms Transfer, Meiji University, Tokyo, and an Adjunct Fellow at the Charhar Institute, Beijing.

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