While it isn’t exactly “to infinity and beyond” or “where no one has gone before,” last week Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper released the Defense Space Strategy (DSS), which identified how the DoD will advance space power to allow the U.S. to compete, deter, and win in the complex security environment characterized by so-called great power competition.

The DSS Summary June 2020 addressed how the DoD is now poised to embark on what was described as the most significant transformation in the history of the U.S. National security space program. The summary described “space” as a distinct warfighting domain, and said it is one that is demanding enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for a new strategic environment.

The DoD identifies space as vital to the United States’ security, prosperity, and scientific achievement. While space-based capabilities are integral to modern life in the U.S., it is an indispensable component of U.S. military power.

Enemies Abroad and in Outer Space

One of the concerns raised in the study is that space is not a sanctuary from attack, and now more than ever, space systems are potential targets at all levels of conflict. China and Russia now present the greatest strategic threat to their respective development, testing, and deployment of counter-space capabilities. The DoD warned that China and Russia have also weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness, which challenges the nation’s freedom of operation in space.

Space Force Increases U.S. Offense and Defense Capabilities

“The DSS is the next step to ensure space superiority and to secure the Nation’s vital interests in space now and in the future,” said Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper via a statement. “We desire a secure, stable, and accessible space domain that underpins our Nation’s security, prosperity, and scientific achievement. However, our adversaries have made space a warfighting domain and we have to implement enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for this new strategic environment. This strategy identifies a phased approach on how we are going to achieve the desired conditions in space over the next 10 years.”

As previously reported, while critics have issued concerns that the creation of the U.S. Space Force, the sixth and newest branch of the U.S. military, could result in the “militarization” of space that should not be seen as the same as the “weaponization” of space. The DoD’s DSS is as much about simply ensuring the peace rather than actively creating a new arena for future conflicts.

Objectives and Priority Lines

The DSS calls for the advancement of space power through the pursuit of three objectives including:  Maintaining Space Superiority; Providing Space Support to National, Joint, and Combined Operations; and Ensuring Space Stability.

Additionally it called upon the DoD to pursue four priority lines to achieve those desired conditions while addressing the identified threats, opportunities and challenges.

Four Priority Lines

  1. The DoD must build a comprehensive military advantage of space, which would see the transformation of the DoD’s space enterprise by reforming organizations, including the building out of the U.S. Space Force. In addition, the DoD needs to field assured and resilient architectures; improve intelligence, command and control, and our ability to counter hostile uses of space; and develop spacepower culture, expertise, doctrine, and operational concepts commensurate with the threat.
  2. The DSS called upon the DoD to integrate military space power into national, joint and combined operations. This would include developing and enhancing the integration of space power doctrine, capabilities and personnel while integrating warfighting operations, but also updating security classifications for DoD space programs and improved integration with allies and partners in space activities.
  3. The DoD has been called upon to shape the strategic environment to deter adversary aggression and attacks in space, and to align with allies and partners to develop and promote standards and norms of appropriate behavior in space to reduce the potential for miscalculations.
  4. The DSS called for improved cooperation with allies, partners, industry and U.S. government departments and agencies. This enhanced space cooperation – notably within the U.S. government and with the international community as well as the commercial sector – could be used to leverage opportunities in policy, strategy, capabilities, information sharing, and operations.

Successful Implementation Celebrates the Uniqueness of the Space Force

The DSS concluded by noting, “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 and risk management to advance U.S. national interests.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.