The European Union announced on Monday that it is going to mobilize the Satellite Center (SatCen) to provide intelligence information to Ukraine, in the framework of the military aid that the EU is providing to Kiev in the midst of the Russian invasion. The SatCen is located in Spain, specifically at the Torrejon de Ardoz Air Base outside Madrid.

The center is expected to provide aerial and satellite imagery, after Ukraine requested such assistance from the EU. The 27 have been open to make this contribution in the framework of assistance to the Ukrainian Army in the midst of the Russian military offensive. But what is SatCen and how does it work?

SatCen was founded in 1992 as an analysis tool of the WEU (Western European Union). In 2002 it became part of the European Union and today is its geospatial intelligence agency. It works under the supervision of the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC) and the direction of the High Representative, Josep Borrell. Its headquarters, where 145 people work, is located at the Torrejon Air Base.

Its main mission is to support decision-making at different levels within the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), including support to the various missions and operations that are part of this policy, such as the EU’s military missions abroad (now those in Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and -still- Bosnia-Herzegovina). That is to say, until now it has basically served to support peace missions. What is happening now, Putin’s war against Ukraine, is quite different.

The EU Satellite Center is dedicated to analyze images (aerial and satellite) and data for Security and Defense decisions. Or as SatCen itself says, its role is “to support the Common Foreign and Security Policy through services based on space assets and collateral data”.

The main users of SatCen’s services are the European External Action Service, EU Member States, EU missions and operations, the European Commission, other EU agencies such as Frontex, third states and international organizations such as the UN and the OSCE. To this end, it collaborates with, among others, the European Defence Agency, the European Commission and the European Space Agency.

What SatCen provides to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is geospatial intelligence. This, says the agency itself, is applied to assess classic military infrastructures, such as military camps, airfields, naval bases or surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missile sites, or simply elements related to paramilitary activity.

In purely military terms, which is what the Russian invasion of Ukraine is all about, the EU Satellite Center does analysis of military activity and forces deployed by another actor, but also battle damage assessment. In both fields the European input can be of great help to Ukraine in the face of the immense Russian deployment.

SatCen uses geospatial intelligence to analyze physical and functional damage: “Battle damage analysis has an increasingly important role to play in assessing the consequences of modern warfare, where civilian casualties are higher as urban guerrillas become the most common combat strategy,” the agency explains.

This is what the EU Satellite Center does, what it has done so far. But, as Borrell has said, this is a war: “That’s why I’m not going to give any information that might be of use to the party we’re dealing with, I can’t tell in detail how and where we’re going to provide the assistance that we’re going to pass on to Ukraine”.


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