Better SSA, More Partnerships, at Heart of National Security Space Strategy

Better SSA, More Partnerships, at Heart of National Security Space Strategy

The National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) released by the Department of Defense (DOD) and Director of National Intelligence earlier this month “recogniz[es] reality: we are not alone, we can’t do everything alone,” said the Honorable Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force. His comment was made during an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that featured a conversation with top U.S. military officials on the implications of the strategy for the DOD. The event was moderated by CSIS’s President and CEO, Dr. John J. Hamre.

Of this first dedicated national security space strategy, the Honorable William J. Lynn III, Deputy Secretary of Defense, explained that it demonstrates the importance of the space domain to U.S. national security and is meant to deal with “these changed circumstances” where space is congested, competitive, and contested. These factors require a new way of thinking of ways to protect not only U.S. space assets, but also the industrial base.

Critical to the first task are improvements in space situational awareness (SSA). SSA, simply put, is the ability of knowing precisely the location of space objects and where they are going. General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that space deterrence made improved SSA a critical need both for identifying anomalies and for attribution in the event of an attack. The NSSS states that the United States reserves the right of self-defense, but “all of space is not in space,” he added, and norms are needed to know what the appropriate response to a potential attack would be. SSA, which he said “raises the bar in deterrence,” has to be part of the discussions because “absent that, you really are in a large area of ambiguity.”

With respect to protecting the industrial base, Lynn said that the DOD was taking steps to modify its acquisition approach, with a goal to infuse greater stability. Block buys and fixed price contracts are needed to increase predictability. The changes also include a different approach to buying launch vehicles. Donley described interagency coordination efforts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to “decouple launchers from payloads,” allowing agencies to buy launchers on a more routine basis.

A vital step to support the industrial base, added Lynn, is export control reform, which has been an important priority of President Obama’s Administration. The current rules date back to the Cold War, and now “seem to be designed to keep technologies from our allies,” he said. This, agreed Cartwright, is part of the old approach to “go it alone,” which he said was simply not affordable. Just as new constructs are needed for transactions with industry, so are new constructs needed for partnering with other countries. “If we are gonna fight in a combined way, we gotta find a way to operate in a combined way,” he argued. He said that Russia was one of the countries where space could provide an opportunity for cooperation.

Greater cooperation may require greater coordination. The European Union’s draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities has been a topic of discussion recently as one potential way forward in developing norms for responsible behavior in space. In response to a question about the code, Lynn said that while it was not in the national security space strategy, the code is “frankly, very consistent with some of the goals of the [NSSS]” and was therefore of a lot of interest. Discussing the benefits of this approach, he said that as opposed to other proposals that tend to be restrictive, the code had “important protections,” including acknowledgement of the right of self-defense, and that, as a voluntary move, it had “strong potential of being a positive step” forward.

A webcast of the event is available on the CSIS website.

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