Applying Lessons Learned from the U.S.-Canadian NORAD to Multinational Space Situational Awareness

Applying Lessons Learned from the U.S.-Canadian NORAD to Multinational Space Situational Awareness

A new report sponsored by the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and published by George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute provides an interesting comparison of the formation and operation of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and today’s need for multinational Space Situational Awareness (SSA).

The similarities and differences between the motivation behind NORAD at the beginning of the missile age and for SSA in this maturing space age were drawn from interviews with U.S. and Canadian military pesonnel who served in NORAD as well as a literature search. The report offers the following insights:

“Although the study found many areas of commonality, there are three critical differences between the NORAD experience and SSA data sharing which should also be kept in mind. The first, and most significant, is that the rationale behind the formation of NORAD was the specter of nuclear war, as powerful a driving force as any in the history of humanity. No motivation of that magnitude is currently foreseen for SSA. The second major difference is that NORAD involved cooperation between two States that had a lengthy (albeit not always peaceful) history. Unlike NORAD, SSA data sharing is very likely to involve a large number of States, some of whom may not have any past experience in sharing data of a security nature or cooperating in general. The third difference is that NORAD is a military organization performing a military mission. Future SSA data sharing and warning efforts are likely to contain a mix of military and non-military organizations and provide data in support of both civil and military missions.”

The report’s author, James C. Bennett, offers a series of observations and conclusions that are captured in the report’s Executive Summary. Of particular note is his conclusion that: “The vast majority of political controversy and tension is likely to arise over decisions based on analyzed data; thus, data sharing agreements should focus on data collection and analysis and leave decision making and responses to the individual participating States.”

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