Sweden signs first military space strategy, aims to strengthen role in global space race

Worldwide, Space

Stills from the animation Spaceport Esrange

Illustration of Spaceport Esrange (Illustration: Swedish Space Corporation)

WASHINGTON — Sweden’s first-ever space defense strategy aims to build up the capabilities of its armed forces so they can play a greater role as countries around the world prepare for potential conflict in the skies.

“The overall goal of the strategy is to secure Swedish defence and security interests in and through space. To achieve this, Sweden will establish itself as a significant and responsible space actor in defence and security through national and international activities,” according to an English-language press release issued by the Swedish Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The Swedish Defense Ministry announced the new strategy on July 5 — just days before Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Foreign Minister Tobias Billström and Defense Minister Pål Jonson were due to arrive here for this week’s NATO summit. Strengthening the alliance’s military space capabilities and interoperability among its 32 members is among the priorities for the meeting that begins today and ends Thursday.

“With this strategy we are strengthening the defence and security dimension of space policy, so that Sweden is better equipped to meet the challenges in space and to use space for defence and security,” Jonson said in the press release.

The Defense Department’s announcement highlights four key “pillars” of the strategy:

  • Provide freedom of movement in and through space through the ability to anticipate and address challenges associated with the space.
  • Create a portfolio of space capabilities, services and capabilities to support our total defense and crisis preparedness.
  • Be an active and responsible partner on the international space stage and contribute to common security.
  • Implement a coherent and knowledge-based space policy that contributes to the development of crisis preparedness and total defense.

The language the Defense Department uses to describe the strategy’s rationale echoes that long used by the U.S. Department of Defense, for example, citing the fact that space is “increasingly competitive and contested,” putting national space systems at risk.

Sweden, along with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ukraine, last month complained to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) about deliberate interference in their domestic satellite networks that, among other problems, could disrupt air traffic control systems. Ukraine’s complaint named Russia as the culprit. The other countries only asked the ITU to investigate, but some national officials have previously blamed Russian jamming.

The ITU, which has 193 member states including Russia, is responsible for regulating satellite use of radio frequency spectrum to prevent interference, and the underlying treaty prohibits harmful interference with another country’s satellite operations. That said, the ITU has no direct enforcement powers to block such activities, but can only act as a mediator.

Sweden’s strategy makes no mention of Stockholm’s budget plans for military space. However, the government has been steadily building up the overall military budget since 2020, partly to support its bid for NATO membership. (Sweden joined NATO in March.) The MoD’s budget for 2023-24, announced last September, is set at 127.4 billion kronor ($12 billion), and the ministry has proposed a jump to 185 billion kronor ($17.5 billion) by 2030.

While neither the strategy nor the budget documents available in English detail space-related spending, Sweden is trying to establish space launch capabilities. The country has been home to the European Space Agency’s Esrange Space Center since the mid-1960s, and in January 2023 the center will open a new rocket launch facility called Spaceport Esrange. The spaceport’s management company, Swedish Space Corporation, plans a first launch in 2025 under a partnership with Korean startup Perigee.

On June 27, the company signed an agreement with Firefly Aerospace to launch Firefly’s Alpha rockets from Esrange. Firefly, based in Texas, was tapped by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in January to join its pool of small launch providers, following a successful Alpha launch in September under the U.S. Space Force’s Victus Nox mission to turn around a satellite launch in a 24-hour time frame.

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