DOD Issues Defense Space Strategy

DOD Issues Defense Space Strategy

The Department of Defense rolled out a Defense Space Strategy (DSS) today in response to what it sees as Russian and Chinese weaponization of space. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the United States wants a stable and secure space domain, but our adversaries have made it a warfighting domain and we must respond.

Stephen Kitay, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, speaking at the Pentagon, June 17, 2020.

At a Pentagon press conference today, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Stephen Kitay said Russia and China pose a great strategic threat with their development, testing and deployment of counterspace systems and associated doctrine.

This new strategy “defines the strategic environment in a critical moment” and “identifies the ends we’re trying to achieve, the ways we’re going to achieve them, and the means to do so.”  The objectives are:

  • Maintain space superiority
  • Provide space support to national, joint and combined operations
  • Ensure space stability

It outlines a phased approach that will take place over 10 years to achieve those objectives across four “lines of effort”:

  • Build a comprehensive military advantage in space
  • Integrate military spacepower into national, joint and combined operations
  • Shape the strategic environment
  • Cooperate with allies, partners, industry, and U.S. Government departments and agencies

The Trump Administration’s theme for the past three years is that space no longer is a sanctuary, but a warfighting domain just like land, sea, air, and cyber.  The reestablishment of U.S. Space Command and creation of the U.S. Space Force last year are part of its response to that threat.

This strategy is one more step.

In a statement, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the United States wants a “secure, stable, and accessible space domain,” but our adversaries are forcing us to make changes.

 “We desire a secure, stable, and accessible space domain that underpins our Nation’s security, prosperity, and scientific achievement.  However, our adversaries have made space a warfighting domain and we have to implement enterprise-wide changes to policies, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for this new strategic environment.  This strategy identifies a phased approach on how we are going to achieve the desired conditions in space over the next 10 years.”

Asked exactly how Russia and China have weaponized space, Kitay referred to reports issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center last year for details on the range of capabilities they have in development.

He focused on one, however, what Russia calls “inspector satellites.” Although much information about U.S. and foreign military space capabilities is classified, U.S. officials have publicly discussed this particular system, underscoring their concern.

The first was launched in October 2017.  U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Yleem D.S. Poblete told the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) in August 2018 that the satellite was exhibiting “very abnormal behavior.”  As described by Kitay today, the original satellite deployed a small subsatellite that then deployed a third object — a “projectile that went into space and has not been moving since,” which is not what one would expect from an inspector satellite, but something “much more concerning.”

Russia launched another one on November 25, 2019.  The parent satellite has deployed the subsatellite, but not a third object, at least not yet.  Instead, it has been maneuvering close to a U.S. military satellite.  Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations and Commander of U.S. Space Command, called its behavior “unusual and disturbing” in a February 10 interview with Time magazine.  At that time, it had come within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the U.S. satellite.

Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com describes the maneuvers of the parent satellite, Kosmos 2542, and the subsatellite, Kosmos 2543, and those of USA-254 based on observations by amateur satellite trackers. He reports that more recently the orbits of the Russian satellites and USA-254 no longer are synchronized and Kosmos 2543 appears to be rendezvousing with another Russian satellite, Kosmos 2535.  Citing Russian journalist Igor Lissov writing in Novosti Kosmonvatiki, Zak reports that as of Monday (June 15), they were within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of each other.

Russia’s actions, coupled with China’s testing of antisatellite weapons — especially its 2007 test against one of its own satellites that created thousands of pieces of space debris — and other counterspace capabilities, is causing DOD to step up its game.  Kitay declined to discuss what capabilities the United States has at its disposal, but said while we are still ahead now, “we are absolutely at risk with the pace that they are developing these capabilities. These are very serious threats.”

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