Evolving Space Threats Require Evolving Policies and Strategy

Space threats

The National Academies have called for new policies that guide how the DoD reacts to space threats. Image via U.S. Air Force

The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) should make potential enemies think hard about any potential attack on the United States in space. So should the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP).

“The U.S. is prepared for space threats,” Adm. Cecil Haney said on August 16 in addressing the Space and Missile Symposium meeting in Huntsville, Alabama.

The JICSpOC will “serve to enhance the nation’s deterrent posture by demonstrating the United States is prepared when our space capabilities are threatened,” said Haney, head of the U.S. Strategic Command.

Prepared to do what? A symposium panel cited “National Security Space Defense and Protection, a report authored at the U.S. National Academies prepared for Congress that said there is an “urgent need to create relevant national policies to guide the creation of responses to these threats.”

The report acknowledged the importance of commercial space satellites in the world’s economy, as well as in the public’s daily lives. The National Academies scholars wrote that “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.”

The report said a reason for that is “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.”

The report also stated that while government spending on space shrank to less than a quarter of a total market of $330 billion in 2014, commercial spending on communications and sensors has burgeoned and continues to do so. This is being driven in part by worldwide growth in mobile phones and the Internet.

Though “the list of human activities that are dependent on space systems contains most of the major functions that are vital to modern society,” the report says, the public is not as aware of the need for space security as it should be. Awareness should be raised and the public as involved as much as practicable in formulating policy.

Today, DoD follows the clear policy statements in the National Space Policy of 2010 and National Security Space Strategy on 2011. In April, Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said the Pentagon was in the early stages of revising DoD policy.

Still, “what has not been present is a focus on achieving the stated policy goals, with resources, programs, and people devoted to the task of improving space system protection and defense,” the report said.

The National Academies also warned that over-classification of space security and protection could have adverse consequences in developing workable interaction with the public, with industry and among the services.

Threats in space have evolved beyond our current policies in space. What’s needed are updated strategies and concrete plans to deal with new challenges.

It’s clear that Gen. John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, was working in that vein when he said the GSSAP program was declassified “to make sure we send a message to the world that says: Anything you do in the geosynchronous orbit we will know about. Anything.”

The challenge in space has been recognized. The task that remains to be done is formulating policies and strategies for acting upon that knowledge.