Space defence strategy to include ‘millions’ for UK companies

The defence secretary has announced the UK’s first space defence strategy at a conference in London.

Gavin Williamson, defence secretary, said work had begun developing the strategy, which would ensure the UK was “ready to deter and counter intensifying threats” on space infrastructure, including satellites.

He said the RAF would lead the strategy and pledged to increase number of people working in the space defence sector by a fifth, from 500 to more than 600, over the next five years.

As part of the announcement, Guto Bebb, minister for defence procurement, said millions would be invested in UK companies in the sector.

“With the launch of this strategy, we are setting our aspirations much higher, to ensure that our industry continues to benefit from this growth in satellite technology,” he said.

“We are investing millions into Britain’s most innovative companies to help us launch forward in the space domain.”

Bebb said the space industry was worth £14bn a year to the UK economy.

The strategy is due to be published this summer.

The announcement comes while the UK’s post-Brexit involvement in the EU’s Galileo navigation system – a modern alternative to the US’s GPS system – is still in question. Brussels has proposed barring the UK from participating in the secure aspects of the project because the UK will no longer be a member state.

The government estimates the UK has already invested €1.4bn (£1.2bn) into the Galileo project, and a number of the major suppliers are UK based.

At the conference today Williamson said: “Britain is a world leader in the space industry and our defence scientists and military personnel have played a central role in the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme alongside British companies, so it is important we also review our contribution and how we plan for alternative systems in this crucial area.”

He added: “Satellite technology is not just a crucial tool for our armed forces but vital to our way of life, whether that be access to our mobile phones, the internet or television.

“It is essential we protect our interests and assets from potential adversaries who seek to cause major disruption and do us harm.”

The Financial Times has reported the UK is looking to publish the first tenders for a domestic satellite navigation system by the end of the year. It also said Australia, which has recently launched its own space agency, was in early talks about becoming a partner.

The government’s preferred outcome is to continue as a partner in the Galileo system, however it has already publicly announced plans to explore options for developing a British satellite navigation system.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) declined to comment on either the start of the tendering process or any talks with Australia, but did say if the UK was to develop a domestic satellite navigation system it would be open to working with international partners.

The FT had also previously reported that the UK government had sent letters threatening to revoke security clearance for UK companies that continue working on the Galileo project if the UK is barred from the project.

The letters, sent by business secretary Greg Clark to 13 companies working on secure aspects of the project, asked the companies to consult government before agreeing to any new contracts.

BEIS confirmed to SM that these letters had been sent.

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