How do you increase the space security of the United States?

If you believe in the platitude/metaphor/common wisdom that the best offense is a good defense, one great way to increase space security would be to reduce space vulnerabilities. 

Space vulnerabilities can be mitigated with redundant (space and non-space) systems, robust and hardened space and terrestrial systems, and with flexible and nimble acquisition methods supported by a reconfigurable and responsive industrial base.

So since the United States has very little of the listed ‘space vulnerability mitigation’ capability, what else can be done to increase space security?

We could use codes, rules, and norms (CRAN).  In fact, CRAN appears to be the favored method of reducing space vulnerabilities per the new National Security Space Strategy (NSSS).

The idea behind CRAN is the assumption that if the United States gets on board with a ‘space code of conduct,’ ‘space rules of the road,’ or helpful ‘space norms,’ other space actors will emulate these actions.  CRAN efforts would regulate/govern/suggest a broad expanse of behaviors regarding things that put space-delivered capability at risk like minimizing collisions in space, reducing space radio frequency interference, optimizing crowed orbits, and discouraging destabilizing actions.

Is such a strategy likely to work?  Well, as a point of departure, 1928’s Kellogg–Briand Pact didn’t end war.  And actually, many of the space rules and codes and norms being proposed were codified into law long ago in 1967’s Outer Space Treaty.  How CRANs will be able to do what the OST hasn’t been able to do remains to be seen.  And because major weaknesses exist in space terms and definitions, attribution, and enforcement, CRANs are effectively a self-limiting partnership of the willing.

Of course the real-world actions of those who are not so willing could present significant challenges to the efficacy of the space CRAN hypothesis.

Another important element of the NSSS is that of ‘acting in coalition.’  The design of coalition action has historically meant that the United States does the heaviest lifting and the way it would work for space means that 1) others become entangled with U.S. space security products and 2) others will be able to provide the U.S. with space services we don’t currently have access to. 

Having the U.S. give away space-products is easily imaginable (look up GPS and space situational awareness), but how else might we get space-entangled with others?  By having them (for example) host U.S. payloads and buy/exchange space services (or vice versa).  And how will we leverage the emerging capabilities of our allies and partners?  Certainly, traditional space ally Australia comes to mind with their favorable geography (an ability to look into China and a southern hemisphere location) and their commsat participation.  India may be another.  For example, India was even suggested by Lockheed Martin as an outsourcing candidate for lightweight satellite launches.  On the other hand, neither India (nor China) won the launch services competition for the Iridium NEXT constellation.  The winner was Hawthorne, California’s SpaceX.

Entanglement is happening, but it has its own challenges.  For example, it’s unclear if the Department of Defense leasing bandwidth from Chinese commsats in order to fly U.S. UAVs in Afghanistan would be considered entanglement or not.

But at some point, an ability to respond punitively (should CRAN, space entanglement, and space deterrence fail) is needed.  It would seem likely that a non-space punitive response would be required as the United States would have already self-limited all its space warfare capabilities away in complying with said rules and codes and norms.

So just what would such a punitive response to a space attack entail?  Consider the challenges of just how we might comply with the Law of Armed Conflict while still responding to an attack on our space resources.  How would we reconcile the attack and our response with: 

1. The principle of military necessity which justifies measures not forbidden by international law, and which are indispensable for securing the complete submission of the enemy ASAP?

2. The principle of unnecessary suffering which forbids the employment of arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering and extends to unnecessary destruction of property?

3. The principle of proportionality which requires that the anticipated loss of life and damage incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained?

4. The principle of discrimination which requires that combatants be distinguished from non-combatants, and that military objectives be distinguished from protected property or protected places. Parties to a conflict must direct their operations only against combatants and military objectives?

Two things (at least) are clear.  1) The United States will be assuming more risk regarding its space security in the future, and 2) there are still many space security debates that need to occur.


  1. Now the military wants the power to rain down death from outer space!
    What a crying shame, that the military is now petitioning to spread mankind’s violent ways beyond our planet! The headline should read “Military pushes for death from the sky.” Imagine the planet’s most war-prone power-brokers with their fingers on the buttons which can launch deadly missiles on any country, any location, any time. Is that something an enlightened civilization would tolerate?

    Military wants more global partnerships in space

  2. […] U.S. Space Security – Songs of Space and Nuclear […]

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