German armed forces enter the space battlefield

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Following in the footsteps of the United States and France, Germany put into service its own space command on July 13, 2021. 

This new command, whose 80 service members come from the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, will regroup all the activities of the German armed forces associated with space. Its main mission will be to monitor and protect the seven satellites currently used and planned in the fields of telecommunications and observation. 

“This is an important step to strengthen the capacity to act in the spatial dimension,” commented Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the German Minister of Defense, during the inauguration of this new structure. “Space has become a critical environment that we need to secure.”

The “Weltraumkommando” will be based at the German Space Situational Awareness Center in Uedem. There, Germany opened its Air and Space Operations Center in 2020 from which it monitors objects orbiting around space using the GESTRA and TIRA radar systems.

In recent years, a number of major world powers have stepped up their military uses of space. In February 2019, US President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 4, which established the Space Force as a sixth branch of the US Armed Forces. The directive cited the increasing space capabilities of its “potential adversaries”. 

In July 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron also announced the creation of a space command within the French Air Force, which would be known as the Air and Space Force. Two years earlier, Defense Minister Florence Parly claimed that the Russian Luch satellite, also known as Olymp-K, had attempted to spy on the Franco-Italian satellite Athena-Fidus that provides high-speed and secure telecommunications services to the military forces and emergency services of both nations. 

In March 2021, Uedem’s German Space Situational Awareness Center trained alongside both the US Space Air Force and the French Space Command during the AsterX exercise. Among the situations studied is the monitoring of a planned re-entry of a space object into the atmosphere, anti-satellite weapon fire, or a satellite approach for suspected espionage.

Uedem also houses one of NATO’s two multinational Combined Air Operations Centers. It is responsible for all Air Policing matters in European airspace north of the Alps (the south being entrusted to another center in Torrejon, Spain.) Thus, it includes NATO’s Baltic Air Policing operation, which protects Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as these countries have no airborne capability of their own.

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