Dollars And Sense: Military Space Control–Get Involved

By | November 1, 2003 | Government, Uncategorized

by Carissa Bryce Christensen

Space control–assuring that friendly forces can use the space environment while denying its use to the enemy–is perhaps the highest priority space mission of the United States military.

The terminology for the elements of the space control mission–space situational awareness, defensive counterspace and offensive counterspace–may not be familiar, but many of the functions they describe are. The trackers at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) who catalog on-orbit objects fall into the category of space situational awareness, or ensuring that the United States is knowledgeable about both friendly and adversarial space capabilities at any given time. The destruction of an Iraqi GPS jamming device by a GPS-guided weapon was a defensive counterspace action, one aimed at ensuring that the United States and its allies have access to the space capabilities they rely on. The prospect of space weapons aimed at space systems is a dramatic example of offensive counterspace, or denying the use of space capabilities to an adversary.

Space control concerns now encompass commercial space capabilities, which play a large part in delivering the benefits of space to U.S. warfighters. The U.S. Defense Department (DoD) and intelligence communities use the services of commercial imaging and communication satellites, launch on dual military/commercial launch vehicles and rely on much the same space industrial base as commercial organizations.

The topic of space control for commercial space raises some serious questions for the industry. Decisions in this arena have the potential to affect every aspect of the global space industry. Space control decisions may enhance or reduce the competitiveness of U.S. firms. Satellite service providers globally may benefit from DoD as a growing customer, or feel the effects of policies that seek to limit access to their services by U.S. adversaries.

Space control implications should be part of the business planning of all commercial satellite firms. Even more, industry stakeholders should seek active involvement, both to understand the implications of space control decisions and to broaden the terms of the debate. The industry perspective is valuable to DoD decisionmakers in considering new options unique to commercial capabilities, and in understanding the potential for market-driven consequences.

Space control for military space systems and national space assets focuses largely on operational functions such as spacecraft health, capacity and utilization, tracking launches and on-orbit objects, and technology development and other R&D.

Space control for commercial space capabilities also encompasses institutional issues –financial, contractual and customer relationship-focused tactics for monitoring, getting, or controlling access to commercial capabilities and assets.

Many government decisionmakers are working to understand the implications of using commercial space capabilities and are receptive to innovative approaches to relationships with commercial firms. For example, the war games held at Schriever Air Force Base included a commercial space cell that provided useful insight. Interviews conducted in a survey project by the National Defense Industry Association last year found military space operations professionals recognized the value of innovative customer relationships, contracts and acquisition strategies for commercial capabilities.

Commercial space is generally at the bottom of a long list of jobs and priorities for organizations addressing related topics, however, and progress has been slow.

For firms who are not U.S. defense contractors, just getting in the door can be a challenge. Space control cannot be discussed comprehensively in the kind of open forum typically accessible to a full cross-section of the space industry. In addition, industry will have to contend with fragmented decisionmaking about commercial space that encompasses dozens of organizations. Consistent decision- making is impeded by the lack of a shared understanding of the best military uses of commercial space.

For industry involvement to be effective, communication between DoD and industry must be ongoing, consistent and include broad industry representation.

While there are many avenues today for industry/DoD communication–ad hoc committees, limited-mandate advisory groups, marketing efforts and standing working groups for a particular technology or operational arena–none are adequate for this purpose. An encompassing, space industry-wide mechanism for communication is needed.

Government needs to understand the unique space control options and consequences associated with commercial space capabilities; these insights will apply widely to planning, wargaming, operations and acquisition strategies. Commercial entities need to understand military requirements with a longer-term perspective and better insight into the government’s trade space to ensure the options that are least disruptive to business are part of the government’s consideration.

The bottom line: space control is a reality with global business consequences and firms who expect to feel its effects in the future should invest now in getting involved.

Carissa Bryce Christensen is a founder and managing partner of the Tauri Group, in Alexandria, VA. The Tauri Group delivers systems analysis for the space enterprise, technology assessment for weapons of mass destruction threat reduction and strategic IT support.

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