The new (January 2011) National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) has been signed by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence. The overarching theme is this: DoD and the intelligence community (IC) like what they’re getting from space and want to preserve this position. In fact, DoD and the IC even have the stated objective of enhancing the national security advantages space gives the United States despite the fact all the current trends are moving us away from these goals.
These current trends acknowledge that space is congested (crowded with debris, satellites, and radio frequency interference), contested (potential adversaries can mitigate the benefits the U.S. receives from space through space warfare), and competitive (others are catching up to U.S. space systems and capabilities).
So what does the NSSS suggest to sustain our unprecedented advantages and address these trends?
No brainers: enhance U.S. space situational awareness (SSA); improve our ability to attribute events in space; strengthen our space resilience; improve space acquisition.
Flashing yellow lights: support code of conduct-type efforts; U.S. provides more SSA-type information, largely as a ‘global utility.’
Missing in action from the NSSS is specificity:
- Definitions and terms. What does it mean to ‘enhance our space capabilities,’ to ‘energize’ and ‘foster a healthy’ U.S. space industrial base?
- Partnering. Who will we partner with that we’re not already: China and Russia? Are they ‘responsible nations’ per the NSSS?
The NSSS’s unclassified summary is chock full of “we will” and “we will continue to” type statements.
But instead of “we will” statements, a strategy would be better served to offer “how we will” statements. For example, what will DoD and the IC be doing differently to energize the industrial base? How will resources be applied differently than they are today towards U.S. space capabilities? What will DoD and the IC do to get export controls reformed? How will they develop current and future national security space professionals, and “support an entrepreneurial ethos” that encourages “initiative, collaboration, resourcefulness, and resilience”?
Sadly, the "we wills" are most of what the NSSS is: boiler-plate, soft, squishy language that describes goodness and goals. What’s missing is the hard work of strategy which will revise the methods and resources we use to achieve all these inherently desirable outcomes and will show us if we’re getting better in space…or worse.