Spurred by Ukraine war, 18 Western countries plan to share remote sensing data

By Theresa Hitchens,
Published by Breaking Defense, 15 February 2023

“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the importance of a persistent space surveillance capability,” said the United Kingdom, as European nations (and Canada) band together.

WASHINGTON — A group of 17 European nations, plus the US and Canada, today announced a plan to share intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance data from satellites — spurred by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that has highlighted the value of space-based remote sensing for warfighting.

Under a letter of intent, the nations will launch the Allied Persistent Surveillance from Space Initiative (APSS) to explore “the potential for sharing data from national surveillance satellites; processing, exploitation, and dissemination of data from within national capabilities; and funding to purchase data from commercial companies,” according to a UK Ministry of Defence press release.

The new alliance is expected to start operating in 2025, the release added.

The letter was signed by Britain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Sweden and the US. All are NATO members, with the exception of Sweden, which has asked to join. Most also are members of the European Union, except for the UK, US, Norway and Turkey.

Not all the signatories own or operate remote sensing satellites, and only a handful have dedicated military ISR satellites — the latter including the US, France, Germany, and Italy. But most participate in space programs, either through NATO or the European Space Agency, which operates separately from the EU. And many, such as the UK, are home to commercial remote sensing satellite firms.

The commitment came in the margins of a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, where a group of member nations agreed to jointly provide Kyiv with a first equipment package worth some $240 million under the International Fund for Ukraine, including tank spares, uncrewed air systems, electronic warfare and air defense systems.

Ukraine’s successful use of remote sensing satellite data, primarily but not exclusively provided to Kyiv via the US commercial providers at the urging of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, to assist its military in both keeping tabs on its own dispersed forces and in targeting Russian forces has resonated with other nations around world. In fact, NATO has been considering whether it should begin buying commercial remote sensing data collectively.

“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the importance of a persistent space surveillance capability, which also forms one of the North Atlantic Council’s agreed strategic outcomes of its Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Vision 2030+,” the UK press release explained.

While the issue of sharing remote sensing data and analytical tools with Ukraine was not addressed in the letter of intent, at least some of the signatories besides the US already are doing so either via government or commercial satellites. Russia, in fact, at a UN meeting last month alleged that 200 commercial satellites and 20 analytical centers from Western countries are providing ISR products to Kyiv — citing for example firms in the US, Canada, France, Italy and Finland.

See: Original Article