Spacepower Is ‘Catastrophically Decisive’ In War: New Space Force Doctrine

Gen. Jay Raymond

WASHINGTON: The Space Force’s long-awaited capstone doctrine sets out the new service’s raison d’etre, which includes providing decision-makers with potentially war-winning “spacepower” options for attacking enemy satellites in future conflicts.

The Space Capstone Publication: Spacepower “represents our Service’s first articulation of an independent theory of spacepower. This publication answers why spacepower is vital for our Nation, how military spacepower is employed, who military space forces are, and what military space forces value,” says Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond in the forward, released today.

As Breaking D readers know, crafting a warfighting doctrine for space has been on Raymond’s to-do list from the get-go, when he was first invested as head of Space Command last August, prior to the Space Force’s creation in December. After a year of wearing both command hats, Raymond is now in charge of Space Force. His successor at SPACECOM, Army Gen. James Dickinson, was confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 6.

The new document is based on concepts and definitions built by earlier doctrine papers on space operations by the Air Force and the Joint Staff, such as Joint Doctrine 3-14. However, it differs in one major aspect: it is the first one that looks at military space operations as a separate domain of warfare, rather than as a supporting function for other domains.

“From a doctrinal perspective, it is not a massive departure from 3-14 and previous Air Force and Joint doctrine, but it does make some philosophical changes that begin the process of separating spacepower doctrine from air, maritime, and land power,” Brian Weeden, head of programming planning at Secure World Foundation, says in an email.

At the same time, the document sets out to place military operations in space in a broader context as part of a national spacepower strategy that includes diplomacy and economic activity.

“It fully acknowledges that spacepower is not entirely a military activity and that military power and goals need to be placed in the context of broader national power and objectives. It also acknowledges that the military needs to be good stewards of space,” Weeden said.

Although not directly articulated, the publication has another purpose: to justify the creation of an independent Space Force. Thus, the document dedicates a good number of words characterizing “spacepower” as a vital form of national power, and military spacepower as a “critical manifestation of the high ground in modern warfare” that is a core factor in winning future wars.

“Military spacepower cannot unilaterally win wars, but like landpower, seapower, airpower, or cyberpower, its success, absence, or failure could prove catastrophically decisive in war. Because military spacepower has the potential to be the difference between victory and defeat, it must be viewed with equal importance as military power in any other domain,” the document argues. “This observation is the strategic imperative for creating the United States Space Force as an independent military Service capable of maximizing military spacepower as a distinct and vital formulation of military power.”

As a capstone document, the new doctrine is a baseline document to be followed by more specific doctrines that lay out operational responses and standard tactical procedures. It sets terms and concepts, and forms a framework for military space operators to follow in undertaking their jobs. The capstone doctrine will be reviewed and potentially updated every four years.

“The Space Capstone Publication is the inaugural doctrine manual for the United States Space Force, providing a basis for training and education, and informs decision-making, mission analysis, objectives, and the development of military space strategy in support of national security, national defense, and national military strategies,” the document explains.

The document lays out what Space Force calls “three Cornerstone Responsibilities” that it says “form the vital purpose of military spacepower:”

  • Preserve Freedom of Action in the space domain. The United States’ ability to project and employ national power is predicated on access to space. Therefore, unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space is a vital national interest.
  • Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness. Given the vital and interdependent nature of military spacepower within the Joint Force, military space forces must comprehensively and effectively integrate space capabilities into Joint training, planning, and operations. Maximizing Joint lethality and effectiveness requires a cadre of military space forces that are deliberately prepared to integrate spacepower across the range of national and Joint operations.
  • Provide Independent Options to U.S. national leadership capable of achieving national objectives. Because nations can generate and apply national power from space, actions in the domain can directly affect a nation’s decision calculus. Therefore, a central tenet of military spacepower is the ability to independently achieve strategic effects. In this capacity, military spacepower is more than an adjunct to landpower, seapower, airpower, and cyberpower. Across the conflict continuum, military spacepower provides national  leadership with independent military options that advance the nation’s prosperity and security. Military space forces achieve national and military objectives by operating in, from and to the space domain.

In order to accomplish these, the document says, “military space forces must be organized, trained, and equipped to perform five Core Competencies: Space Security; Combat Power Projection, Space Mobility and Logistics; Information Mobility; and Space Domain Awareness (SDA). Command and control, and stewardship of the domain, enable military space forces to accomplish these core competencies.”

Like its predecessor doctrinal documents, as well as the Trump administration’s Space Policy Directive 4 (SPD-4), the Space Capstone Publication explains that “combat power” in space will be used for both defensive and offensive purposes. The document also makes clear that spacepower can be employed using lethal and non-lethal means “in, from and through space.”

“Defensive operations enhance control by protecting and preserving U.S. freedom of action in the space domain,” it says. Defensive operations can be passive, such as ensuring spacecraft maneuverability or building large constellations; or active measures ” to destroy, nullify, or reduce the effectiveness of
threats.” Active measures, it notes, could include “proactive” actions in the face of an imminent threat.

As for offensive operations: “When warranted, offensive operations are designed to achieve a relative advantage by negating an adversary’s ability to access, or exploit the space domain and are therefore essential to achieving space superiority. … Offensive operations are not limited to adversary counterspace systems and can also target the full spectrum of an adversary’s ability to exploit the space domain, which includes targets in the terrestrial and cyber domains.”

What the capstone doctrine does not do is explain the difference between “active defense” and “offense” in space — a distinction that long has been less than clear. It also does not explain exactly when offensive operations are deemed “warranted;” nor does it detail who gets to make that decision. Under previous administrations, a decision to attack adversary satellites was held strictly as a presidential prerogative.

Finally, the capstone doctrine explains that the service “competencies” require specialization by space warfighters in the “disciplines” of “Orbital Warfare, Space Electromagnetic Warfare, Space Battle Management, Space Access and Sustainment, Military Intelligence, Cyber Operations, and Engineering/Acquisitions.”