Spacepower on Earth’s ‘cosmic coastline’ key to future large-scale conflicts, expert warns

Reproduced with kind permission from the Royal Air Force.

Global developments in military spacepower are likely to play a major role in future conflicts, an expert has warned.

Dr Bleddyn Bowen, Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Leicester and world-leading expert in the military uses of space, made the cautionary claim as he delivered a lecture to the Royal Air Force’s Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Air and Space Power Conference in December.

But, rather than being the ‘ultimate high ground’ in future conflicts, Dr Bowen underlined how military power in Earth orbit resembles coastal environments and maritime strategy.

Dr Bowen said: “Rather than being a simplistic high ground or a ‘new ocean’, Earth orbit resembles a coastal environment, a ‘cosmic coastline’, because what happens in orbit and on Earth intimately affect each other, whether through satellite infrastructure or anti-satellite weapons operations.”

In the talk, titled War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower and Geopolitics, Dr Bowen added that the space theatre is very much a continuation of terrestrial politics. Current military strategies should treat spacepower as a geocentric problem, he argued, where the impact of any action is measured against its effect on the Earth.

While many commentators focus on high-profile missile launches and space weaponry – such as a recent test of China’s Fractional Orbital Bombardment System – this distracts from the logistical support which spacepower provides to enhance the effectiveness of military forces on Earth.

These include assets such as the UK’s SKYNET satellite constellation, which delivers space-based communications capabilities for the UK Armed Forces and its allies.

Programmes such as these, argued Dr Bowen, are arguably of greater importance in understanding future conflicts than many space-based weapons concepts that belong in sci-fi films and TV.

He continued: “What ‘space warfare’ may be in future could be far more subtle than missiles and bombs in space, but rather jamming radio communications and corrupting data streams with malicious software code.

“We would do well to reject the vision of Moonraker and think more along the lines of interfering with the Global Positioning System as seen in Tomorrow Never Dies.

“Whilst space weapons and combat operations against satellites are a necessary part of understanding global military trends and space policy, the logistical information and telecommunications infrastructure satellites have provided to terrestrial military forces for many decades are just as important.” 

Dr Bowen is an internationally-renowned researcher with expertise in space warfare, space policy and international relations in outer space, and has previously advised the Prime Minister’s policy unit by contributing to high profile policy documents like the UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

His book, War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2020.

In a recent policy brief authored alongside Leicester colleague Dr Cameron Hunter, the pair called for ‘cool heads’ and urged further international dialogue following high-profile flight tests of a new long-range Chinese orbital bombardment system. Explore more of Dr Bowen’s work at