We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.
I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
President John F. Kennedy
speech at Rice University
September 12, 1962
The national security of the United States is inextricably linked to space and our unimpeded access to the capabilities resident in or traveling through that domain. Since the dawn of the Space Age, all those who have been a part of what was once a race between two superpowers and is now a $315 billion global enterprise, have implicitly understood this linkage. Over more than six decades, that reliance on space systems has deepened and broadened. What was once only a realm of exploration and national security has grown to include a commercial element that has become so ubiquitous that it has led us to fundamentally redefine the term national security space. President Kennedy was not the first to draw the analogy between space and
the oceans of the world. The literature is sprinkled with references to space “ships,” interplanetary “voyages,” and star “fleets.” Even the term “astronaut” is a combination of two Greek words, for “star” and “sailor.” In many ways, the analogy is apt in that space exploration, initially, and exploitation, ultimately, have parallels in mankind’s first tentative maritime endeavors. Sea-borne voyages of discovery led to the establishment of trade routes, colonial expansion, and, finally, contests for influence and security in the new domain.
The significant difference, of course, between the creation of global maritime policy and practice and that of the space domain is time. The technologies, customary behaviors, conventions and, eventually, treaties governing military and commercial naval activity evolved over centuries along with the enabling operational concepts, naval strategies, nation-states and attendant diplomacy. The system was thus able to gradually incorporate advances, slowly accommodate stresses, and, to some degree, resolve conflicts in a deliberate manner over time.
A key aspect of space is that the speed of advances in access and spaceborne capabilities has significantly outpaced the creation of guiding national-let alone international strategies and policies. The technological advances in space systems and increased reliance on them have created a space-enabled “critical infrastructure” that has not been matched by coherent supporting protection and loss-mitigation strategies, clearly articulated and accepted policies, and robust defensive capabilities. These gaps have created newfound concern domestically, confusion on the part of allies, and opportunities for misalignment and misperceptions on the part of potential adversaries. The need to rapidly, precisely, and effectively address all of these factors has created an environment of urgency to find mitigation strategies, fill policy gaps, and fund new capabilities. Done poorly, rapid efforts and expansive rhetoric can exacerbate existing tensions, pursue capabilities that add only marginally to system security, and increase the probability of misunderstanding or miscalculation on the part of potential adversaries. Well coordinated and properly executed, these efforts can meet real needs, add essential system security, and promote stability. These efforts must succeed. National security and global stability in space and on Earth demand it.
Space systems—systems with one or more components resident on Earth-orbiting satellites—are integral parts of the national and global information infrastructure. Some of these systems are essential parts of that infrastructure in that their functions either cannot be performed solely by terrestrial systems or can only be performed poorly and/or with great difficulty and expense by land, sea, or air-based substitutes. In the abstract, were all of the space systems suddenly to shut down, the global information infrastructure would cease to function as the world has come to expect; were the use of space to be denied in perpetuity, current information capabilities would be nearly impossible to reconstruct. Today, companies that operate space systems and the companies that use the services provided
by those space systems accept the risk that they can be disrupted by both natural and man-made causes, and plan accordingly.1 However, that risk is generally small. Were that risk to be perceived as being much larger, the business calculations would inevitably change, with potentially large consequences for both global commerce and daily life.
The list of human activities that are dependent on space systems contains most of the major functions that are vital to modern society, including trade and commerce; banking and financial transactions (from operations of major financial markets to minor retail purchases); personal, corporate, and government communications; agriculture and food production and distribution; power and water systems; transportation; news gathering and distribution; weather assessment and prediction; health care and entertainment. Were the world to suddenly be “without space,” these would all seriously degrade or shut down entirely.
National security, in all its dimensions, is even more reliant on space systems. The U.S. military and other national security institutions are dependent on the reliable functioning of space systems in peacetime, crisis, and conflict, as are potential adversaries. U.S. national security depends on some of the same space systems that also serve important civil functions. There are, however, space systems that are solely for government use. Some of these are unique; some are vital; some are both vital and unique. National security functions provided by space systems range from the essential to the convenient, but the majority trend toward the former. The loss, or threat of loss, of secure communications; precise positioning, navigation and timing; and timely intelligence and surveillance of nearly every type, including missile warning, would dramatically and deleteriously affect the ability of the United States to conduct combat and other national security operations. Space systems enable everything from command and control to targeting and delivery of offensive capabilities to logistics and humanitarian relief. Space-based functions are also vital to most other nations and the global community in general, for maintaining stability during crises and more effectively addressing their own societal and security needs. Loss or degradation of those functions would increase the risk that a crisis would escalate into an unnecessary or unintended conflict.
Space systems are vulnerable to disruption from natural causes, from human activities that are not intended to damage or interfere with space systems, and from intentional attack. In the view of many, space has been, until recently, a “sanctuary” from intentional attack, but that sanctuary status has now eroded or vanished. Several nations have publicly demonstrated the ability to attack satellites on-orbit.
1 Natural hazards to satellites include space weather, meteors, space debris, and cosmic rays. For additional information, see National Research Council, Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2008.
However, any entity—government agency or private organization—that has the ability to launch a satellite to a precise orbital location, has at least latent capacity to attack a satellite by launching an object to an already-occupied location. Moreover, space systems are vulnerable to cyberattack by national or sub-national groups, including organized crime. The ground segments of space systems are themselves, or can be, vulnerable to hostile disruption or attack.
The importance of space systems to the United States and its allies and potential adversaries raises major policy issues. The demonstrated development of means to attack space systems by other nations—and the obvious potential for still more nations and perhaps non-state actors to develop such means in the future—raise practical problems that demand solutions. Moreover, there is an urgent need to address the increasing threat to vital U.S. space systems, a need that cannot wait until broader policy considerations have been fully developed. In the abstract, the United States would like to (1) have the means to deny anyone the ability to use space systems to support hostile actions against the United States; (2) maintain the ability to use space assets for national security purposes in peacetime, crisis, and conflict; and (3) ideally or idealistically, be assured that space remains a benign operating environment for all civil and commercial activities. These are not always mutually compatible.
Given the country’s broad dependence on space for both civil and military activities, U.S. interests would appear to be served by a future in which there exist no means to unilaterally attack U.S. space systems without attribution and effective counters, or a future where space systems offer sufficient resiliency that such unilateral attacks are not effective in negating a space capability. However, given the dependence of potential adversaries on space systems in time of conflict, the interests of the United States may also be served by having the means to disable adversary space systems in time of crisis or conflict. Moreover, a number of means to attack space systems have been demonstrated or are postulated, and failure to protect against the use of such systems would put the United States at a significant disadvantage. While the United States may decide what space future it prefers, the United States is not the sole determiner of that future. U.S. actions will be constrained by what our potential adversaries—and even our friends—decide to do. Furthermore, frenetic innovation in the commercial space sector has the potential to be the main driver of change in the space domain. Put somewhat differently, the United States faces a short-term problem that needs to be addressed with urgency and it also faces a more complex, long-term problem.
In the short term, what should the United States do to counter the emerging, multi-faceted threat to U.S. national security space assets? Potential measures include hardening systems against known and predicted means of attack; establishing capabilities to mitigate the effects of successful attacks on U.S. space systems; expanding systems to detect attacks in progress, including confidently distinguishing
attacks from other sources of failures; and reacting to them, implementing political-military means designed to deter attacks, and developing and deploying retaliatory systems and other means to hold adversaries’ assets at risk. This is not just a matter of developing hardware; organizations, policies, doctrine, and operational concepts need to be modified or created in parallel. Policy issues include declaratory policies with regard to attacks on the national security space architecture, including commercial space systems that provide national security functions, as well as appropriate responses to attacks on significant commercial systems. Addressing this problem requires a clear understanding of the threat and the diverging time lines associated both with threat evolution and timely deployment of solutions.
In the long-term, failure to build means to protect U.S. space systems from attacks by existing weapons could significantly increase risks to U.S national security. However, relying only on developing defenses against known threats would cede the initiative to potential adversaries and would risk deploying tomorrow the counters to threats that were developed yesterday. Failure to at least consider responding to evolving threats by building U.S. systems to attack adversary space systems could also increase the risk to the United States and would certainly constrain U.S. options in response to an attack. However, simply following the path of “offensive defense” as a deterrence strategy also goes a long way toward fundamentally defining the future security situation in space. That situation, an unfolding arms race in space, may or may not be the future that best serves the long-term interests of the United States. Focusing only on the short-term problem in this manner is a reactive approach that, to some degree, cedes initiative to potential adversaries. While this may turn out to be the only pragmatic approach, it would also be in the interests of the United States to take a longer-term strategic view and assess what the United States wants the future of space to be, and what is our ability, in a global context, to help shape that future. So the priorities are as follows:
- Develop a clear vision—or perhaps alternative options—of what the United States wants the future in space to be.
- Understand the extent to which the United States can shape that future, and the extent to which the future is subject to actions and activities beyond the control of the U.S. government and its allies.
- Identify and develop prudent methods to counter existing, evolving, and emerging threats to U.S. interests in space.
- Assess those methods in terms of how they affect the future in space and the ability and the commitment of the United States to shaping that future.
CURRENT AND FUTURE SPACE-ENABLED CAPABILITIES
Space is congested, contested, and competitive, but space also touches most of the world’s inhabitants. Directly or indirectly, everyone on Earth is affected and involved. Voluntarily or not, we are all now a part of the “space community.” Space, along with its adjacency, cyberspace, has joined the domains of land, sea, and air as part of an interwoven, global, critical infrastructure providing essential information and connectivity. In the face of new risks and potential threats from many directions, we face uncertainties, over intentions and ambiguity as to outcomes that have slowed our efforts to “organize, train, and equip” to effectively position ourselves in response to either today’s realities or tomorrow’s possibilities. At its heart, this is a governance challenge. What is required is leadership—sustained, consistent, and effective.
There are a couple of important overlooked historical aspects of the evolution of national security space in the United States and globally that contribute to the current state of affairs and that are relevant to potential mitigating strategies: (1) Space from its earliest days was viewed as a sanctuary with little need for physical security. The distances to orbit, limited number of players, and the norms established during the Cold War all resulted in an institutional set of views and policies that have not been normalized to the current environment. (2) No full military conflict has yet been fought in, though, or from space wherein both sides have parity in space capabilities and dependencies. Thus, part of the apparent paralysis in the development of coherent space policy and doctrine with respect to space comes only from hypothesized scenarios, not from experience in battle. (3) Space has heretofore been largely a supporting “utility” to the warfighter under largely uncontested circumstances. This has prevented the evolution of a coherent, integrated operational art involving all warfighting domains with the space domain. (4) And the lack of global experience involving military use and negation of space capabilities has resulted in a lack of direct experience with how to value the risks and consequences that are central to deterrence.
PRESERVING NATIONAL SECURITY SPACE–ENABLED CAPABILITIES
The contested character of space need not and should not lead to conflict. With our newfound appreciation of the importance of space systems, we had better understand the significant threat to modern society that their loss represents and, in considering how best to respond, we appreciate both the urgency of the need and the depth of the challenge. While deterrence, in all its dimensions, must be part of our national strategy, a successful outcome nationally and globally requires all elements of diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic domains to achieve outcomes desired nationally and acceptable globally. The sensitivity of space secu-
rity discussions can complicate this cross-domain collaboration, but lessons can and should be drawn from successful de-confliction, if not cooperation, in other areas. Finally, the fact that the United States is unlikely to be fighting alone against peer or near-peer adversaries is important when considering appropriate space security strategies. The United States is inextricably linked and dependent upon its allies to fight with it—something that is well recognized by the establishment of interoperability standards (e.g., North Atlantic Treaty Organization standardization agreements) and common field training venues. Extending this paradigm to the space domain is critical for our overall net resilience.
It is important to note that the committee was not briefed on all of the details of classified programs, extant or planned, or on the allocation of recent funds identified in their support. Given the scope of the challenges, it is unlikely those resources currently budgeted will be sufficient or that all risks can be identified and eliminated within the 5-year program horizon. While some progress has been made in the development of common ground architectures and battle management command, control, and computers, much remains to be done. The collection of intelligence on emerging threats and capabilities must be timely and better identify sometimes disparate patterns of science and technology. On the operational side, expansion of the ability to quickly detect and corroborate the deployment or pre-employment of adversary systems, be they terrestrial or space-based, will be essential. In addition, clarifying operational authorities for national security space assets during a potential conflict extending to space will be needed. Some defensive concepts, such as disaggregation or distribution, must be rigorously evaluated to identify required cost (and the cost penalty imposed on adversaries), capability and resiliency compromises. From an intellectual and workforce perspective, the challenges do not appear to be insurmountable. The high-tech labor market will likely respond to a real and sustained program of development and deployment of national security space assets and continue to produce sufficient numbers of dedicated workers equal to the demanding tasks.