The Space Force Spells Out What ‘Spacepower’ Is All About

  • The U.S. Space Force has articulated the meaning of “spacepower,” likely the most important definition in the new service’s mission.
  • Spacepower is everything from sensors on the ground that peek at satellites to reconnaissance, communications, and navigation satellites in space.
  • “Spacepower” doesn’t include armed spaceships … yet.

The U.S. Space Force has finally articulated its vision of “spacepower.” The service’s new Space Capstone doctrine describes spacepower as what military systems will be used to further American power on Earth. While spacepower doesn’t currently include actual spaceships and laser guns, that’s probably just a matter of time.

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Military power is typically described in terms of tank divisions, bomber wings, fleets, and other types of forces. Power wielded by the U.S. Army and its competitors is described as “ground power,” while power wielded by the Navy is “seapower” and the Air Force as “air power.”

So what is “spacepower,” then? The doctrine describes it as “the totality of a nation’s ability to exploit the space domain in pursuit of prosperity and security,” enabling that country “to protect and defend space-based sources of economic power.” That means spacepower will safeguard the satellites that help grow the civilian economy, from weather satellites to the globe-spanning GPS network.

In military operations, forces that hold the “high ground” are typically seen as having an advantage. In ground combat, holding a hill is advantageous to holding the ground at the base of it, as those on the top of the hill can shoot down onto the heads of their adversaries. In air combat, fighter pilots flying above adversaries can look down onto them and even turn their height advantage into speed.

The Space Force envisions itself as holding the ultimate high ground—the domain that looks down upon all over domains. The service believes it can assist the other services with intelligence support, ensuring GPS availability, weather reports, and more.

One thing that the Space Force doesn’t have right now? Actual spaceships analogous to the tanks, bombers, and warships that make up other definitions of power.

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The Space Force’s “fleet” is made up of military satellites, all of which are completely unarmed, as well as ground-based radars and other sensors. The Space Force itself has only one offensive (or defensive, for that matter) weapon: the Counter Communications System Block 10.2. The Space Force would deploy this mobile jamming system to combat zones in wartime to disrupt the enemy’s access to their own satellites.

Will we someday see Space Force warships? Recent Russian efforts to test an orbital anti-satellite weapon system are essentially very early versions of space warships. The test of a satellite that launched another killer satellite was similar to a sea-based warship or an air-breathing fighter jet that launches a missile at an adversary.

Russia’s development of such spaceships will almost certainly prompt the Space Force to develop similar systems of its own. These spacecraft will grow in complexity and adopt more missions, eventually becoming recognizable symbols of spacepower.

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