NATO plans new space centre at Ramstein base in Germany

21 October 2020

NATO plans to build a new space centre at the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, the newswire DPA and Deutsche Welle reported on 19 October. The new space base would join with the NATO Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) in Ramstein and would serve as a coordination centre for space observation, the reports said.

The move comes nearly one year after the US military established the Space Force as a separate military branch. NATO formally adopted space as a new operational domain in 2019 alongside air, land, sea and cyberspace. About half of the more than 2,000 satellites that are in orbit are owned by NATO member countries. The French government also set out plans in 2019 to establish its own space command to be based in Toulouse.

The new space centre would gather information about possible threats to satellites and could be developed into a command centre for defensive measures, Deutsche Welle said. It quoted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as saying: “Fast, effective and secure satellite communications are essential for our troops. The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last decade. Space is becoming more crowded and competitive with hundreds of new satellites added every year. And satellites are increasingly vulnerable. Some nations — including Russia and China — are developing anti-satellite systems which could blind, disable or shoot down satellites and create dangerous debris in orbit”.

“Space is also essential to NATO,” Stoltenberg continued, “including for our ability to navigate, to gather intelligence, to communicate and to detect missile launches. So it is important that the alliance has a good awareness of what is happening in space, that we continue to have reliable access to space services, and that the alliance maintains its technological edge”.

The base at Ramstein serves as headquarters for the United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA) and also for NATO AIRCOM. It has been used by the US Air Force since 1953 and by NATO since 1974.

NATO Defence Ministers are expected to approve the creation of the centre later this week, according to Defence News. Still undecided, meanwhile, is the location of a NATO Centre of Excellence (CoE) devoted to military space where analysts would study concepts and develop doctrine. There are currently 26 NATO-accredited CoEs that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries on a range of topics from crisis management and disaster response to strategic communications. France and Germany have both lobbied to host such an organisation devoted to space policy.