Lessons from the Ukrainian war on space assets

The war in Ukraine has underlined the importance of space capabilities in a modern combat environment. At the recent Space Symposium on April 18th multiple nations expressed the importance of a integrated space sector, using the Ukrainian war as a example.

Weather data, communications, GPS and intelligence were all provided to the Ukrainians via satellites. Direct military data, such as up to date intelligence and GPS data for precision military systems are just some of the examples but satellite imagery has also played a role in the information war. Russian war crimes were exposed in multiple areas after the Russians blamed Ukrainians for civilian deaths but later was determined to be the work of the Russian military.

Along with military satellite support, the commercial sector has proved invaluable to the intelligence effort. These assets have become targets of the Russian military, with cyberattacks on both Viasat and SpaceX’s starlink in a attempt to disrupt Ukrainian communication networks. Kelli Seybolt, the U.S. Airforce deputy undersecretary, has been quoted in saying there is a need to protect and defend commercial space assets. One of the interesting outcomes is the resilience of extensive LEO constellations to electronic warfare, a fact played out with Starlink able to mitigate extensive cyber attacks against there systems.

The war has highlighted a interesting argument for cybersecurity. The concept of operations for civilian imaging and communications satellites may see the role of cybersecurity downplayed but the usage of these systems may not always be what is envisioned. It is important these are robust in terms of cybersecurity because these assets are such a important part of modern connected society.