Air chief warns of potential space threat amid Russia tensions

Space operations have become "increasingly important" to the RAF, the chief of the air staff has said as he warned Russia may also attack Britain from above the earth.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said we live in a time when "the global networks we rely on are being challenged by Russia and other states".

He said this includes the Global Positioning System (GPS), a constellation of satellites, which could be jammed by an adversary such as the Kremlin, ultimately impacting life on the planet.

Following a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, Air Chf Mshl Hillier said there are international rules and protocols in space that should stop a full-scale conflict happening.

But he warned: "We have potential adversaries like Russia who are disregarding that rules based international system and exploiting  environments in whatever way they feel they can to their advantage.

"I don't foresee, if you like, a war in space, but I can see us being contested for use of space and for people trying to deny some of our specific capabilities.

"We already see that to a significant degree and we need to be prepared to deal with that threat."

Air Chf Mshl Hillier said in order to defend space you need to have "space situational awareness", adding that the RAF is "introducing more capabilities which allow us to see more into space and understand what is happening".

During his lecture, held days before the centenary of the RAF, he revealed how space operations has become an "increasingly important part of RAF business".

Pressed by reporters on what the impact a state jamming of GPS would have, he said positioning on mobile phones would not work, as well as in cars and aircraft.

"The degree to which we are reliant on GPS I do believe that most people just don't realise the degree of that dependency," he added.

"Not all of our communications go via satellite but a lot of them do across defence, across the civilian network as well. Imaging capability google earth, it is not just a military situation.

"What we are trying to do in the military is both ensure that we can protect the space environment in order to allow us to do our military tasks, but ultimately we are about protecting its interests and the nations, and its interests are very heavily dependent upon space to a degree that most people I don't think properly appreciate."

Air Chf Mshl Hillier warned that there are a "whole range of countries that have looked at anti-satellite technology".

With extensive GPS jamming technology available on the internet, and state actors in possession of "more powerful versions", he said these are some of the capabilities Russia and other adversaries could "reasonably be expected to deploy should they wish".

"We could look at it and say 'ah yes that is the theory but they wouldn't do it would they?' Yeah well they would never launch a nerve agent attack on a city in the United Kingdom would they?' but they did," he added.

"So we need to be ready for those situations."

Air Chf Mshl Hillier also revealed that the Space Operations Co-ordination Centre at RAF High Wycombe will be doubled in size to "give us much more command and control".

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