COLOGNE, Germany — NATO member defense ministers are expected to approve a plan this week to create a space center at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, according to officials and local media reports.
The center’s creation, which is on the agenda for an Oct. 22 meeting of defense ministers, would come as space capabilities gain importance in the defense calculus of global powers. The United States, Russia and China have each heavily invested in space technology in recent years, though many of the activities are closely guarded secrets.
“We expect NATO defense ministers will agree on Thursday to create a new NATO space center at our air command in Ramstein,” an alliance official told Defense News. “This will be a focal point for ensuring space support to NATO operations, sharing information and coordinating our activities.”
The plans were first reported Monday by German press agency DPA and the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Alliance members designated space as an operational domain at NATO’s 2019 London summit. Spacecraft are essential, but vulnerable, elements powering modern-day armed forces, carrying payloads for navigation, communications, surveillance and targeting.
“Satellite systems keep our world running in ways many people barely realize. Commerce, weather forecasts, mobile phones and banking all rely on satellites,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Still undecided, meanwhile, is the location of a center of excellence devoted to military space — a kind of NATO think tank on the subject — where analysts would study concepts and develop doctrine. France and Germany each have lobbied to host such an organization.
A group of German companies has urged the government to highlight the country’s space-technology capabilities in an effort to lure the center of excellence here.
One proposal, pitched by the Federation of German Industries trade association, envisions building a mobile launch platform in the middle of the North Sea that could eventually be used by the armed forces of Germany and NATO. Such a move would nurture an ecosystem of companies whose business model is based on small, low-cost space launches in the style of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the group has argued.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.