DoD launches Defence Space Strategy to maintain US dominance

Harry Lye 18 June 2020 (Last Updated June 18th, 2020 12:19)

The US Department of Defence (DoD) has published its Defence Space Strategy, aimed at maintaining the US dominance above the Earth and countering Russia and China’s ‘weaponisation’ of the domain.

DoD launches Defence Space Strategy to maintain US dominance
AEHF satellite launch. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

The updated Space Strategy outlines how the US plans to ensure the Pentagon can ‘compete, deter, and win in a complex security environment characterised by great power competition.’

The Defence Space Strategy reads: “The Department of Defense (DoD) is embarking on the most significant transformation in the history of the US national security space programme. Space is now a distinct warfighting domain, demanding enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for a new strategic environment.

“This strategy identifies how DoD will advance spacepower to enable the Department to compete, deter, and win in a complex security environment characterised by great power competition.”

In the document, the Pentagon describes China and Russia as the US’s ‘greatest strategic threat’ in the Space domain, due to the them developing and testing counter-space capabilities. In the strategy, the US says Russia and China have ‘weaponised’ the domain as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.’

The newly-published document will outline the US DoD’s Space plans for the next decade, in line with the previously published 2018 National Strategy for Space (NSfS) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).

The DoD strategy outlines four key lines of effort for the US:

1) Build a comprehensive military advantage in space;

2) integrate space into national, joint, and combined operations;

3) shape the strategic environment;

4) cooperate with allies, partners, industry, and other US Government departments and agencies.

The DoD’s desired conditions for space

In the Defence Space Strategy, the DoD says that its desired conditions for space are that: “The space domain is secure, stable, and accessible. The use of space by the United States and our allies and partners is underpinned by sustained, comprehensive US military strength.

“The United States is able to leverage our use of space to generate, project, and employ power across all domains throughout the spectrum of conflict.”

In the strategy, three defence objectives are detailed that the DoD says will allow it to achieve its desired conditions in space. The first is that the DoD should ‘establish, maintain, and preserve’ the US freedom of operations in the Space domain. The document adds: “DoD will be prepared to protect and defend US and, as directed, allied, partner and commercial space capabilities and to deter and defeat adversary hostile use of space.”

The DoD’s second objective is to provide ‘Space Support to National, Joint, and Combined Operations’ through the Pentagon’s space forces. The DoD added that an aspect of this would be leveraging and strengthening a ‘thriving domestic civil and commercial space industry.’

Finally, the third objective designed to help the US achieve its desired conditions in space is to ensure stability in the domain. In cooperation with its allies, the US aims to maintain a ‘persistent’ presence in space. This persistent presence the US says is to ‘deter aggression in space; provide for safe transit in, to, and through space; uphold internationally accepted standards of responsible behaviour as a good steward of space; and support US leadership in space traffic management and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.’

Threats in Space

The strategy summary reads: “More than any other nation, the United States relies on space-based capabilities to project and employ power on a global scale. Today, US reliance on space has increased to the point where space capabilities not only enhance, but enable our way of life and way of war. US national security and prosperity require unfettered access”

A key challenge for the US is that in the DoD’s view, the US defence space enterprise is not built to match the current ‘strategic environment’. With a return to great power competition between the US, Russia and China, Space is seen as a critical tool ‘for national power, prosperity, and prestige’.

China and Russia are described as the US’s most ‘immediate and serious’ threat to US operations in space, however, the strategy also describes North Korea and Iran as growing threats.

The strategy says: “Chinese and Russian strategic intentions and capabilities present urgent and enduring threats to the ability of the Department to achieve its desired conditions in space. China and Russia have analysed US dependencies on space and have developed doctrine, organizations, and capabilities specifically designed to contest or deny US access to and operations in the domain. Concurrently, their use of space is expanding significantly.”

The strategy explains how Russia and China are making space access and denial a critical part of their own national security strategies. The document adds: “Specifically, Chinese and Russian military doctrines indicate that they view space as important to modern warfare and consider the use of counter-space capabilities as a means for reducing US, allied, and partner military effectiveness and for winning future wars.

“China and Russia have weaponized space as a way to deter and counter a possible U.S. intervention during a regional military conflict.”