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Guest Blog: Gregory Schulte on Space Security — “Adjusting to an Evolving Domain”

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Ambassador Gregory L. Schulte, who presently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, provided this essay to NPF as a guest blog posting.  (Dr. Ford adds his own comments below, but readers are encouraged to offer their own commentary and feedback, which should be sent to

Adjusting to an Evolving Domain

by Gregory L. Schulte

During the past fifty years, U.S. leadership in space activities has benefited the global economy, enhanced our national security, strengthened international relations, advanced scientific discovery, and improved our way of life.  Space is vital to our national security.  Space-based capabilities enable us to see with clarity, communicate with certainty, navigate with accuracy, and operate with assurance.

Space is increasingly a shared domain in which we operate with more and more space-faring countries – both close allies and potential adversaries.  Space is increasingly congested – the Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 man-made objects in orbit, and there may be as many as hundreds of thousands of additional objects too small to track but still capable of damaging satellites.  Space is increasingly contested, as space systems face a range of man-made threats that can deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy them, and potential adversaries seek to exploit perceived space vulnerabilities.   And space is increasingly competitive – although the United States still maintains an overall edge in space capabilities, the U.S. competitive advantage and technological lead is eroding in several areas as market-entry barriers lower and expertise among other nations increases.  These “three C’s” pose new challenges for U.S. security.

In response to these challenges, Secretary of Defense Gates and Director of National Intelligence Clapper approved a new National Security Space Strategy, delivered to Congress in February.  Responding to Congressional questions, then-Secretary-designate Panetta stated his intention to continue the strategy’s implementation. This strategy, which builds on the President’s National Security Strategy and National Space Policy, is significant in several regards.  It is the first-ever National Security Space Strategy, and, as the DoD and DNI seals on the cover denote, it is a strategy that applies to the full range of national security activities in space.  Most importantly, it signals that, just as the space environment has changed, the way we advance our national security through space must also change.

The new strategy establishes three broad objectives.  One is obvious and enduring:  to maintain and enhance the strategic advantages that we derive from space.  The other two are newer but equally important:  to strengthen safety, stability, and security in space; and to energize our industrial base.  In short, in addition to protecting the advantages we derive from space, we must also protect the domain itself and the industry that provides our capabilities.  Once, we could take space and our space industry for granted.  We cannot any more.

To meet these three overarching objectives, the strategy establishes five strategic approaches.  The first approach is promoting responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space.  The second approach is providing improved U.S. space capabilities.  Third, the strategy calls for partnering with responsible nations, international organizations, and the commercial sector.  Preventing and deterring aggression against space infrastructure is the fourth approach, and the final strategic approach of the new National Security Space Strategy is preparing to defeat attacks and to operate in a degraded environment.

The National Security Space Strategy is currently informing planning, programming, and acquisition activities, and will continue to shape operations, and analysis guidance.  DoD is working with the Intelligence Community and other U.S. Government agencies and partners, as well as with foreign governments and commercial partners, to update, balance, and integrate all of the tools of U.S. power, evolving policies, strategies, and doctrine pertaining to national security space.

I.          Promoting the responsible use of space

Promoting the responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space is a foundational step to addressing to congested and contested space domain, and, building on the President’s National Space Policy, one of the new strategy’s key approaches.  A more cooperative, predictable environment enhances our national security and discourages destabilizing behavior.  The United States is supporting the development of data standards, best practices, transparency and confidence-building measures, and norms of behavior for responsible space operations. We are also leading by example.  We are beginning to provide pre-launch notification of DoD space launches, just as we notify ballistic missile launches.  And U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), a command first established for the sole purpose of delivering nuclear weapons, is now delivering warnings of potential collisions in space.  It has signed agreements with over twenty satellite operators across the world to share space data and conjunction analysis.

This sharing of space situational awareness (SSA) data will help to increase transparency and cooperation in the domain. With increasing congestion in the space domain, these efforts can help bring order to the congestion and prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust.  The Department of Defense continues to improve the quantity and quality of the SSA information it obtains and, in coordination with other government agencies, will seek to establish agreements with other nations and commercial firms to enhance spaceflight safety for all parties.

The United States is also pursuing bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space. We believe that rules of the road can encourage responsible space behavior and single out those who act otherwise, while reducing risk of misunderstanding and misconduct. With that in mind, we are currently evaluating the draft international “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” proposed by the European Union (EU), including what, if any, modifications would be necessary to gain our acceptance.  The Administration has not made a final determination on whether the United States can subscribe to the proposal.  Our preliminary review, however, is that it is a positive approach to promoting responsible behavior in space, enhancing our national security in the process.

II.         International Cooperation

Partnering with responsible nations, international organizations, and commercial firms is a key tenet of the new National Security Space Strategy.  Space is a domain in which we once operated alone.  Increasingly, however, we need to think of operating in space as we do in other domains:  in coalition.  Partnerships allow us to benefit from the growing space capabilities of allies and other countries and to make our space capabilities more diverse and resilient.

Allies like France, Japan, Germany, and Italy have increasing space-based capabilities in many mission areas.  Leveraging their systems can augment our capabilities, add diversity and resilience, and complicate the decision-making of potential adversaries.  Cooperation can also better enable coalition operations in the land, sea, and air domains, which are increasingly dependent on space-based capabilities.

The Air Force’s Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system provides a good example.   Our close ally Australia has bought into the system, and the Air Force is exploring similar arrangements with other allies.  This approach increases the number of satellites in the constellation, adds coverage and resiliency, and shares the cost, a welcome benefit at a time of budget constraints.  Internationalizing WGS also forces a potential aggressor to contemplate attacking space systems used by a coalition of countries instead of one country.

Led by General Kehler at USSTRATCOM, the Department is working to transition today’s Joint Space Operations Center into a Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC).  A CSpOC will allow our allies to work side-by-side with U.S. commanders, integrating a coalition approach to space into our day-to-day operations.  It will provide a mechanism for information sharing and centralized tasking while also helping to identify capability gaps.

III.          Deterrence

One of the “three C’s” driving the new strategy is the increasingly contested nature of space.  During the Cold War, space was the private reserve of the United States and Soviet Union.  It was the “high frontier” from which we could support our national security with near impunity.   This is no longer the case.

The new strategy reflects a new, comprehensive approach to deterring attack on our space systems.  This is important as we monitor countries like China that are developing a wide range of counterspace capabilities.  China is pursuing a broad range of anti-space capabilities, most obviously with its 2007 test of a direct-ascent ASAT, but also including jammers, lasers, and other technologies.  While we see attacks on space assets as provocative and escalatory, Chinese military writers see them as an integral part of modern “informationalized” warfare, to be employed early in a conflict, not as a last resort.

But our concern here is not focused on only one country.  The increasingly contested nature of space is most readily seen today in the jamming of commercial communications satellites by countries as varied as Iran, Libya, and Ethiopia.  These satellites carry content that is critical for commerce, democracy, and U.S. and allied military communications.  Even non-state actors have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of space technology.  Before their defeat, the Tamil Tigers were accused of hijacking satellite transponders to broadcast propaganda.  As Secretary Lynn writes in The Washington Quarterly, “Irregular warfare has come to space.”

The new strategy’s approach to deterrence has four layers.  The first layer of deterrence is the establishment of norms of responsible behavior.  This helps separate responsible space-faring countries from those who act otherwise.  Building on this, the second layer of deterrence is the establishment of international partnerships.  This forces an adversary to contemplate attacking the capabilities of many countries, not just one.  The third layer of deterrence is increasing our resilience and capacity to operate in a degraded environment.  This reduces the incentive to attack our space capabilities. The fourth and final layer of deterrence is a readiness and capability to respond in self-defense, and not necessarily in space.  This complicates the calculus of a government considering an attack on our space assets. Foundational to all of these layers is improved space situational awareness and an improved intelligence posture to better monitor and attribute activities in the space domain.

We should not think only about deterrence in space, but also about space in deterrence, including how a robust space posture can help deter terrestrial conflict, and how vulnerabilities in space can cause instability in a terrestrial crisis.

The space environment has changed, and we must change with it.  Our continued use of space for vital national security and economic endeavors depends on it.  The National Security Space Strategy outlines our approach to making these necessary changes.  As we move forward with implementation, we will be working with partners throughout the US government, in industry, and around the world.

-- Gregory Schulte


It’s a pleasure to hear from Greg Schulte again, with whom I had the pleasure of working several years ago in the Bush Administration, when he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  His guest blog from the Pentagon, where he now serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy, outlines the main thrust of U.S. national security space policy.

The Bush Administration did not formally issue a full-fledged national security space strategy, though we did promulgate National Security Policy Directive 49 on the subject in 2006.  It’s useful to compare the two documents.

There is much to like in the current space strategy Greg describes, including a commendable focus – driven, as he notes, by events such as China’s development of anti-satellite capabilities – upon deterring attacks upon our space infrastructure.  Beijing’s test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon in 2007, a few months after NSPD-49, understandably focused much more attention on space vulnerabilities.  The Soviets had tested ASATs years before, but the Chinese event highlighted two very specific new dangers: (1) the role of ASAT capabilities in strategies of “asymmetric warfare” by a smaller and less advanced military (i.e., China’s) against one that is generally much larger and more capable but is (like our own) extremely dependent upon space-based communications and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; and (2) the challenges of space situational awareness (SSA) in an orbital environment that is becoming increasingly dangerous on account of space debris.  (The Chinese ASAT test was crudely done, and produced a huge shower of fragments that greatly increased the risk of damage to orbital systems of all varieties, and to manned space flight.  There are no “fender benders,” even with tiny pieces, when objects fly around at 18,000 miles per hour.)

These are challenges that have increased significantly in recent years, and as noted in Greg’s essay, the current U.S. space policy properly emphasizes them – as well as the related challenge of ensuring that the U.S. is prepared to conduct operations after its space infrastructure has been degraded.  SSA, orbital debris, and anti-satellite threats were mentioned by NSPD-49 in 2006, but they now receive much more emphasis.  For some years now, American planners have worked increasingly hard to develop new approaches to space procurement that stress redundancy and functional resilience, with current efforts focusing upon such things as “rapid-response” deployment of backup satellites (in the event that existing birds are damaged) and new techniques for fielding constellations of smaller, cheaper, and mutually-networked satellites capable of responding adaptively to handle the loss of particular components.  The current U.S. strategy, set forth by the Obama Administration in January 2011, seems designed to encourage such efforts, as well it should in light of developments since 2006.

The new policy also builds upon NSPD-49 in stressing the need to deter attacks upon our space infrastructure.  Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration prefers to start by building “norms of responsible behavior in space.”  As Greg notes, there is apparently also interest in exploring the possibility of joining an existing draft of international “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.”  In the words of the Obama Administration’s unclassified summary of its strategy,

“The United States will support development of data standards, best practices, transparency and confidence-building measures, and norms of behavior for responsible space operations. We will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”

This presents at least a contrast in atmospherics with the approach of the Bush Administration, which in 2006 declared that “[t]he United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.”

Nevertheless, while Bush was clearly somewhat suspicious of space “arms control” and Obama is clearly more intrigued by the idea, it’s not clear how different the two approaches will prove in practice.  NSPD-49 only pledged to oppose regimes that seek to limit U.S. access to space, and the Obama document promises to support proposals that enhance our national security – which, elsewhere, the 2011 document makes clear requires “[m]aintaining the benefits afforded to the United States by space.”  These positions may not be as far apart, substantively, as their tone might suggest.

Washington is apparently currently evaluating the draft “code of conduct” for space activities issued by the European Union in December 2008, but unless and until the current administration takes a position on what the best “norms of responsible conduct” actually are – and how compliance with them should be encouraged – just how “new” an approach there is today will remain uncertain.  For now, one can say merely that Bush promised to resist bad space arms control, and Obama promises to seek good space arms control.  These are not necessarily inconsistent; we shall see what happens.

One interesting element of the Obama Administration’s 2011 strategy is its willingness to speak clearly about the need to deter attacks on U.S. space assets, to be “prepare[d] to defeat” them, and to preserve “the right to respond [to attacks], should deterrence fail.”  As Greg points out above, moreover, our response to an attack in space need not necessarily consist of responses in space: we apparently intend to retain the right to respond in the air, on the ground, or elsewhere, as circumstances warrant.

Such an emphasis upon deterrence and the possibility of what could amount to a military campaign in space, or involving space, was one of the things that occasioned the most criticism of President Bush’s NSPD-49.  That 2006 document declared space capabilities to be “vital” to U.S. national interests, and pledged to maintain American “freedom of action” in space.  The Bush team aimed to “dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so … [and] deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”

This seemed to be heady stuff in 2006, for while the unclassified version of President Clinton’s 1996 space policy had spoken of “deterring, warning, and if necessary, defending against enemy attack,” it was not perceived as having said anything that sounded like it could involve fighting over space.  In fact, however, the Clinton document had publicly referred to “countering, if necessary, space systems and services used for hostile purposes,” and it noted that the United States will develop “space control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries.”

Despite this substantive continuity, however, when it was published in 2006, NSPD-49 was attacked by some in the press for its supposedly warlike rhetoric, and for seeming to endorse preemptive attack doctrines with its language about the need potentially to “deny” space access to enemies who seek to threaten U.S. access.  It is noteworthy, then, that the Obama document also speaks of the need to “deny and defeat an adversary’s ability to achieve its objectives” in the event that someone becomes interested in “counterspace actions” inimical to U.S. interests.  (The 2011 strategy actually talks more about deterring and responding to space attack than did NSPD-49.)  With hindsight and the cooling of hyperbolic Bush-bashing, it would appear that the U.S. policy community has consistently responded on a bipartisan basis to the increasingly contested nature of the “final frontier” by explicitly warning potential adversaries of dire consequences should they attempt to interfere with critical space systems, and by maintaining the ability to move against others’ hostile uses of space.  There is much to applaud in such continuity of message; I hope those “others” are listening.

And now just one final note: the 2011 Obama strategy spends a good deal of time talking about the importance of reforming U.S. export control laws in order to ensure the future “competitiveness” of our space-related industrial base.  Details matter, and I’ve not yet seen detailed results emerge from the administration’s export control review process.  It is worth noting, however, that there is a good deal of substantive and political baggage here.  Anyone who was around Washington in the late 1990s, for instance, will recall the ugly fights between the Clinton Administration and the Republican-run Congress over satellite export controls – which were significantly tightened by statute after the discovery that Western engineers from Hughes Electronics and Loral had provided missile secrets to the People’s Republic of China in the wake of a Chinese launch failure that destroyed an expensive American satellite in 1996.  Will the Obama review re-ignite some of the tensions of that period?  Stay tuned.

NPF is grateful to Ambassador Schulte for his contribution.  In future postings, we hope to offer readers more information on current approaches to national security space policy.

-- Christopher Ford


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