The United States will partner with 15 NATO member countries, along with invitees Finland and Sweden, to launch the “largest space project” in history that would smooth the gathering process of data collected from space.
The goal of the initiative, entitled “Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space” (APSS), is to significantly enhance the alliance’s intelligence and surveillance while also providing essential support to NATO military missions and operations, according to a Feb. 15 statement.
“This project is also a great example of civil-military cooperation, providing a powerful asset to our intelligence toolbox,” said Mircea Geoană, NATO’s deputy secretary general.
Besides the United States and the two NATO candidates that are expected to join the alliance in the future, other participants currently included in the APSS program are Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
“This initiative will consist in the establishment of a virtual constellation—’Aquila’—of both national and commercial space assets, such as satellites, leveraging the latest advances in commercial space technology,” the statement noted. “As such, it will help streamline data collection, sharing, and analysis among NATO Allies and with the NATO command structure, while generating cost savings.”
Wendy Gilmour, NATO assistant secretary-general for defense investment, said all 30 NATO member countries, as well as Finland and Sweden, were invited to join the initiative, Defense News reported.
All countries who decide to participate in the program are allowed to choose their own level of involvement in the project, Gilmour noted.
Luxembourg has already agreed to provide an early contribution of 16.5 million euros (about $17.7 million) to launch APSS, according to NATO, which noted that the contribution laid the groundwork to allow other members of the project to contribute to “Aquila” through “their own assets, data, and/or funds.”
“Integrating and exploiting data from space effectively has been a growing challenge over time,” NATO stated. “By leveraging latest technologies from industry, APSS will help advance NATO’s innovation agenda and offer a new platform to engage with the growing space industry.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a news conference in Brussels this month that the suspected Chinese spy balloon, which hovered over the continental United States for days before being shot down off the coast in South Carolina on Feb. 4, highlighted the urgency for NATO to ramp up its information-sharing capabilities, warning China, as well as Russia, have heavily invested in new military capabilities, including surveillance.
“We’ve also seen increased Chinese intelligence activities in Europe—again, different platforms. They use satellites, they use cyber, and as we’ve seen over the United States, also balloons,” Stoltenberg said.
“So, we just have to be vigilant. We need to be aware of the constant risk of Chinese intelligence, and then step up what we do to protect ourselves. And we need also to react in a prudent, responsible, and vigilant way, as we have seen the United States has reacted to this specific balloon over North America and the United States,” he added.