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The Pentagon’s new Defense Space Strategy, unveiled June 17, includes multiple lines of effort to ensure the United States maintains military superiority over advanced adversaries such as China and Russia.
The document “defines the strategic environment and the critical movement that we’re at, and in turn, identifies the ends we’re trying to achieve, the ways we are going to achieve them, and the means to do so,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay said during a press briefing.
The U.S. military is increasingly focusing its attention on protecting its space assets as great power competitors bolster their anti-satellite capabilities that could threaten its systems. It is building up a new Space Force, reforming its acquisition enterprise and has established a unified Space Command, which is charged with overseeing military operations that occur 100 kilometers or more above sea level.
Kitay said the Defense Department’s key strategic objectives include maintaining space superiority; providing space support for national, joint and combined operations; and ensuring space stability.
“We will achieve these objectives through a phased approach, moving with purpose and speed,” he said.
The Pentagon’s new strategic blueprint calls for a multi-pronged approach to stay ahead of potential challengers and protect its interests.
“The Department of Defense is embarking on the most significant transformation in the history of the U.S. national security space program. Space is now a distinct warfighting domain, demanding enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities and expertise for a new strategic environment,” according to the unclassified summary of the Defense Space Strategy. “This strategy identifies how DoD will advance spacepower to enable the department to compete, deter and win in a complex security environment characterized by great power competition.”
Kitay said Pentagon officials are working on the fiscal year 2022 budget request to examine what funds are needed to carry out the strategy. The fiscal year 2021 request already provided a “very significant budget to fully resource the Space Force,” he noted.
“I can’t speak to the FY ‘22 budget yet, but we are in deliberations on that budget right now within the Department of Defense,” he said. The fiscal proposal will “include funding the execution of this strategy.”
The document identifies China and Russia as the greatest strategic threats, citing their development, testing and deployment of counter-space weapons and their military doctrine for fighting wars in space. Kitay noted that both countries have developed jamming, cyber, directed energy and ground-based anti-satellite missile capabilities.
“Outer space has emerged as a key arena of potential conflict in an era of great power competition,” Kitay said. “China and Russia have weaponized space and turned it into a warfighting domain.”
The United States still maintains an edge over those two nations, but that is at risk of eroding given the pace at which they are developing their space capabilities, he said. “These are very serious threats.”
The U.S. space enterprise was not built for the current strategic environment, he noted. “We’re not fully steeped in the whole element of building our forces.”
Another complicating factor is the growth in activity in the space domain.
“Rapid increases in commercial and international space activities worldwide add to the complexity of the space environment,” the strategy summary said. “Commercial space activities provide national and homeland security benefits with new technologies and services and create new economic opportunities in established and emerging markets. The same activities, however, also create challenges in protecting critical technology, ensuring operational security and maintaining strategic advantages.”
Meanwhile, other nations, including U.S. allies and partners, are actively expanding their defense space programs, which could also be at risk, the document noted.
The new space strategy calls for four main lines of effort to tackle these challenges: build a comprehensive military advantage in space; integrate space into national, joint and combined operations; shape the strategic environment; and cooperate with allies, partners, industry and other U.S. government agencies.
“DoD will be prepared to protect and defend [the] U.S. and, as directed, allied, partner and commercial space capabilities, and to deter and defeat adversary hostile use of space,” the document said.
To advance its goals, the Pentagon plans to leverage and bolster the civil and commercial space industry. It will also maintain a “persistent presence” in space in cooperation with allies and partners to deter aggression, as well as “provide for safe transit in, to, and through space; uphold internationally accepted standards of responsible behavior as a good steward of space; and support U.S. leadership in space traffic management and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities,” according to the strategy.
The first line of effort calls for building out the U.S. Space Force; developing spacepower doctrine; developing and expanding space warfighting expertise and culture; fielding assured space capabilities; developing and fielding capabilities that counter hostile use of space; and improving intelligence and command-and-control capabilities.
“We need to maintain our space superiority, which includes having the freedom of operation in the domain, assuring these capabilities to our warfighters throughout the conflict and … being able to protect and defend against hostile space activities to our interests or other nations’ interests,” Kitay said.
The second line of effort — integrating spacepower into military operations — includes: enabling U.S. Space Command to plan, exercise and execute joint and combined space operations across the spectrum of conflict; realigning operational authorities and updating rules of engagement; integrating space warfighting operations, intelligence, capabilities and personnel into military plans and staffs; updating security classification for military space programs; and integrating allies and partners into plans, operations, exercises, engagements and intelligence activities.
The third line of effort — shaping the strategic environment — will require teaming with the State Department and foreign partners to develop common understandings of appropriate behavior in space, the document said. “The United States must align with allies and partners to engage proactively and assertively with the wider international community — including with potential adversaries — to advance U.S., allied and partner national security interests and to reduce the possibility of mishaps and misperceptions.”
To that end, the U.S. government must pound the drum to international and public audiences about growing threats in space, coordinate messaging, and promote standards and norms of behavior favorable to U.S., allied and partner interests, it noted.
Kitay said allies have also recognized the importance of developing space capabilities. The United States has an intelligence-sharing partnership with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany through the Combined Space Operations initiative, he noted.
Our allies “are looking to enhance those partnerships,” he noted. Additionally, “NATO recently declared space an operational domain. They’re recognizing the threats to our interests.”
The fourth line of effort — boosting cooperation with friendly nations, other government agencies and industry — calls for expanding information-sharing and cooperative research, development and acquisition efforts. It also embraces leveraging commercial technological advancements and acquisition processes, and modernizing the Defense Department’s approach to the commercial licensing approval process.
“This strategy provides an opportunity to build upon existing work by taking immediate and enduring steps to generate and employ a superior spacepower capacity,” the report said. “Successful implementation of this strategy requires embracing space activities as a unique source of national and military power and incorporating the principles of joint warfare into space operations. Implementation of the strategy will posture the department to achieve its strategic objectives with the necessary prioritization of resources.”