RAF chief Sir Mike Wigston: future wars will be 'won or lost' in space

Head of RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston says future wars will be ‘won or lost’ in space and warns disruption to UK satellites would be ‘disastrous’ for our everyday lives

  • Warned any disruption to the UK’s satellites would have a ‘disastrous’ effect 
  • Including no cash out of an ATM and no delivery of coronavirus PPE
  • Logistical effort supporting vaccine rollout also dependent upon space assets 

Future wars will be ‘won or lost’ in space and it would be ‘negligent’ if the UK was not ready to fight them, the head of the RAF said on Tuesday.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston warned any disruption to the UK’s satellites would have a ‘disastrous’ effect on people’s day-to-day lives.

He said there would be no cash out of an ATM, no petrol in the pumps, traffic gridlock and no delivery of vital PPE kit to deal with coronavirus.

The ‘immense’ logistical effort supporting a future vaccine rollout is also dependent upon assets in space, he said, saying he made no apologies for ‘painting a grim picture’.

Future wars will be ‘won or lost’ in space and it would be ‘negligent’ if the UK was not ready to fight them, the head of the RAF said on Tuesday (Pictured: file photo of a satellite)

Speaking at the virtual Defence Space Conference, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) called out Russia and China for developing anti-satellite weapons.

He said: ‘A future conflict may not start in space, but I am in no doubt it will transition very quickly to space, and it may even be won or lost in space.

‘So we have to be ready to protect and if necessary defend our critical national interests in space.

‘If we don’t think and prepare today, we won’t be ready when the time comes.’

He said the UK’s access to space was fundamental to national security and ‘our way of life’ but the threat was not registering with normal citizens.

‘Space is critical to the day to day life of every citizen of the UK.

‘Without space there would be no bank transactions, no cash out of an ATM, no petrol in the pumps, traffic gridlock, a malfunctioning national grid to list just a few examples. 

‘In the context of COVID 19, around 15 million items of NHS PPE are delivered every day and the delivery of these vital items are dependent upon space, as will be the immense logistics effort supporting a future vaccine’, he added.

He said the UK must be ‘prepared to fight to defend those interests if it came to it’.

He outlined how Russia and China had multiple space weapons that had either been deployed or were under development.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston warned any disruption to the UK’s satellites would have a ‘disastrous’ effect on people’s day-to-day lives

He said Russia had threatened the peaceful use of space by conducting a series of tests with space-based anti-satellite weapons.

Such actions lead to increased debris and could potentially leave parts of space completely unusable, he said.

Britain’s adversaries have also developed weapons such as lasers that could be used to damage satellites vital for tasks such as predicting the weather and carrying out disaster relief operations.

In one example a rocket was fired from Earth to orbit with the aim of destroying satellites. In 2007 China destroyed a weather satellite, creating more than 3000 pieces of debris.

Air Chief Marshal Wigston said ‘that one irresponsible action represents a significant portion of the total debris in orbit today’.

He also attacked Russia for its operations in space, pointing to one satellite being potentially used for spying for both commercial and military purposes.

The Ministry of Defence is currently fighting for more money so it can deliver on plans worked up as part of a major defence review.

The Integrated Review was due to conclude in the comings days but it has been delayed and ministers have yet to agree on how much new money the MoD will get.

Those in the department are becoming increasingly frustrated at the indecision surrounding the review.

Also speaking at the conference, General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of Strategic Command, said there was ‘inevitable frustration’ that the review had not yet resulted in a multi-year spending plan.

SPACE WARS: NATIONS CONSIDER RULES TO GOVERN THE USE OF MILITARY WEAPONS IN SPACE

A group of more than 40 international experts are conducting a multi-year research project that will culminate in a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space.

MILAMOS Project is to ensure space activities are conducted in accordance with the rule of law.

This will involve a consideration of the existing international rules on outer space.

It will also involve integration with international humanitarian law and the rules prohibiting the use of force.

The drafting of the rules will involve many meetings, heated discussions and compromises.

It is envisaged that at the end of the project the applicable rules will be agreed on the basis of consensus.

The MILAMOS Project is not an effort to condone warfare in outer space.

On the contrary, it seeks to prevent armed conflict and minimise the devastating impact that space technology and military operations may have on the long-term and peaceful use of outer space. 

The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, was agreed through the United Nations, and today it remains as the ‘constitution’ of outer space.

The space treaty states that celestial territory is not subject to ‘national appropriation’ – in other words, no country can lay claim to them. 

In the fifty years the treaty has existed, it has yet to be violated.  

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