NATO Space Center Coming to France

On Thursday, it was announced that NATO will be establishing a new center for excellence in France focused on the space domain. The center will be located in Toulon, where the French Air and Space Force currently maintains its Space Command. Germany and France both lobbied to host the center but in the end, the latter won out.

NATO already has 26 other centers for excellence around the world. These operate as a sort of think tank for concepts pertaining to specific fields such as strategic communications, human intelligence or military policing. NATO describes their role as being to “assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation”. In addition, they help to train leaders in the related field. France already hosts one other center for excellence: the Center for Analysis and Simulation of Air Operations, based in Lyon.

Center for Analysis and Simulation of Air Operations in Lyon (CASPOA)

The French military has had a significant focus on space operations in recent years. In 2019, the Air Force was redubbed as the Air and Space Force and a space command was established. France maintains 15 military-purpose satellites which offer Signal intelligence, earth observation, communication and space situational awareness capabilities. Perhaps this focus contributed to the ultimate decision to place the center in France rather than Germany. However, Germany already hosting two centers for excellence jointly with allies and two other ones independently may also have contributed to the decision against the federal republic.

The establishment of the new center comes in an era of invigorated focus on the military space domain around the world and throughout NATO. In 2019, NATO declared space an operational domain and the US Space Force was born. In 2020, the UK announced a new military space command with planned capabilities to launch rockets by 2022. In the same year, Japan established its Space Operations Squadron while Iran acknowledged the existence of its own space command.