By James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

France's Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, reminded panellists in the Shangri-La Dialogue’s Third Plenary session that space – which had up until that point had not featured in the discussion of military modernisation – was also an important military domain, much like land, sea, air and cyber. 

The Defence and Military Analysis (DMAP) team at the IISS has also been discussing the military benefits of space,  and the increasing emphasis that defence technology places on information sourced from space-based assets, such as timing, location, and guidance data. 

Some states are increasingly perceiving space as just one of the 'contested commons', to borrow a phrase from the United States’ 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The proliferation of national space ambitions, and national space-based platforms, is well-documented, and many feature in the IISS’s  Military Balance. In recent years there has also been increasing focus on the development and deployment of capabilities designed to deny  or degrade states' ability to use space. These can include anti-satellite systems, micro-satellite operations, directed-energy weapons, and even electromagnetic pulse.  

Increasing access to space, and the spread of space technology, also mean that as the technological playing field levels out, states deploying advanced technologies are investing more to stay one step ahead of possible competitors.

However, it is also leading some states to take stock of their dependence on space. For instance, some recent US Air Force research and technology documents highlight the Pentagon's awareness that many of its systems depend on information from space-based assets. This is leading the Department of Defense to re-examine and reinforce established technologies that could reduce these vulnerabilities in weapons systems (such as guided weapons) possibly suitable for use in contested environments or those subject to anti-access/area denial strategies. Areas being considering include inertial guidance, including technologies like terrain mapping and the miniaturisation of atomic clocks – but there is also a focus on hardening existing technologies to minimise the risk of electromagnetic attack, or threats such as GPS degradation or spoofing. 

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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2018

The 17th Asia Security Summit will be held in Singapore on 1–3 June 2018.