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Dual-Use – Balancing the Equation

The passing of lethal authority to the military is a matter of enormous gravity, must be clearly separated from civil and commercial activity and rescinded at the earliest opportunity – ambiguity can be catastrophic. But unlike the air, maritime, land and to a lesser extent cyber domains, there is far greater inter-dependency between civil, commercial and military parties in Space. This is why the notion of ‘Dual-Use’ is so important, needs careful treatment and should be central to Armed Forces’ approach to Space Worldwide.

The Civ-Mil boundary in space is blurred. Earth-imaging satellites offer insight into optimising agriculture and observing the environment as easily as they can see the first military moves of a malign state; geostationary communications carry Christmas family calls, internet purchases and messages between warships at sea; and GPS delivers position, navigation and timing to the financial industry, traffic lights and combat aircraft – data, information, images and/or communications from Space is invisibly interwoven. But there is friction – reasonably, those investing in peaceful outcomes like medical advances may find rubbing space shoulders with battle damage assessment awkward or impossible; some worry that insidious military activity threatens orbital opportunities; and others covet military budgets. These are real challenges, but they need to be lanced if we are to make the most of Space. This will require greater unity of action between civil, commercial and military communities, which itself needs better mutual understanding and very careful handling. If the former is culturally difficult, careful handling will be equally complex as National security will remain the prime Government consideration, but all Nations need Space if they are to thrive.

So, balancing the Dual-Use equation – protecting and propelling populations – is key and will demand an ever-closer co-operation between all parties’ interests. We should aim at greater flexibility, enabling activities commissioned/led by the military, supported by civilians, equally with those of civilians, supported by the military. We should form more combined, blurred and increasingly indivisible Space teams to get the most out of every mission and enable both sides of the Dual-Use equation. We should draw civilians into military Space commands, and more freely accept military personnel into civil and commercial space organisations and industries. We should design sharper procedures to pause commercial activity when essential, protect civilians and enable the military to do its stuff. We should develop more sophisticated prediction systems to track and predict, decades ahead, space trajectories and Space digital twins to inform Governments of the consequences of military actions ahead of making decisions. Government and commerce should have drier eyes around procuring assets together – designing systems that benefit the equation and not one side. We should raise capital together via the State and markets to accelerate the development of capability. We should design systems to co-share development, build, launch, orbit and de-orbit risks. Dual-Use will mobilise all the Space Partnership’s attributes making the team stronger – greater experience, more challenge, better decisions, enhanced capacity – the sum is truly greater than the parts. But understanding (trust) each other is key to progress, balancing everyone’s objectives and accelerating everything; this is where we need to invest the greatest effort initially.

Dual-Use should be at the heart of all nations’ Space designs. Many are moving in this direction, others have work to do, but new Space nations should place this approach at the centre of their Space Enterprise. Drawing on a triumvirate spirit and exploiting all partners’ capabilities will make Nations better, stronger, and more collectively able. Dual-Use will help illuminate opportunities, elevate ambitions, accelerate achievements and deliver more capability from finite investment, expanding Space skills faster and making Space a safer place.

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