U.S. Space Force’s First Space Doctrine Signals Expansive Plans

U.S. Space Force’s First Space Doctrine Signals Expansive Plans

The U.S. Space Force released its first space doctrine today, the foundation upon which future doctrine will evolve and “serves as a key guidepost for the ethos and values of the nation’s newest armed service.”  The “capstone” doctrine, Spacepower, envisions an expansive role for Space Force far beyond Earth orbit.

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, U.S. military leaders have been driving home their message that space no longer is a benign environment, but a warfighting domain just like air, land, sea and cyber. The reestablishment of U.S. Space Command and the creation of U.S. Space Force as a sixth military service emerged from that paradigm.  Space Force describes its central role as defending the space domain.

Eight months after President Trump signed the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act that founded Space Force as part of the Air Force, it now has its own doctrine, separate from the other military services.

Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations for the Space Force and Commander of U.S. Space Command, said the doctrine explains why spacepower “is a vital element of U.S. prosperity and security” and “guides its employment in multidomain operations.”

The basic principles of Space Capstone Publication: Spacepower, are —

  • “The United States desires a peaceful, stable, and accessible space domain. Strength and security in space enables freedom of action in other warfighting domains while contributing to international security and stability. The U.S. must adapt its national security space organizations, doctrine, and capabilities to deter and defeat aggression and protect national interests in space.”
  • “The space domain is the area above the altitude at which atmospheric effects on airborne objects becomes negligible. The value of the space domain arises from an ability to conduct activities with unrivaled reach, persistence, endurance, and responsiveness, while affording legal overflight of any location on the earth. Because of these attributes, spacepower is inherently global.”
  • “Military space forces are the warfighters who protect, defend and project spacepower. They provide support, security, stability, and strategic effects by employing spacepower in, from, and to the space domain. This  necessitates close collaboration and cooperation with the U.S. Government, Allies, and partners and in accordance with domestic and international law.”
  • Space operations are not only global, but multi-domain — “terrestrial, link, or space.”
  • The U.S. Space Force values “organizational agility, innovation and boldness.”

Inherent in DOD’s exposition of the importance of space, and spacepower, is a recognition of how dependent not only the military, but society as a whole, is on satellites. While it has been true for a very long time, the general public and many government officials seem largely unaware of the role satellites play in everything from weather forecasts to cell phones to automobile navigation systems. The document lists mass communications, financial and economic information networks, public safety, weather monitoring, and military technology among the benefits of space systems that make access to space “essential to U.S. prosperity and security.”

“National spacepower,” therefore, “is the totality of a nation’s ability to exploit the space domain in pursuit of prosperity and security.”

The space domain is described as having three dimensions: physical, network, and cognitive. The physical dimension comprises three nested orbital regimes: the geocentric regime where Earth’s gravity dominates, which is nested within the cislunar regime where the combined Earth-Moon gravity dominates, which is nested within the solar regime of the Sun’s gravitational field.

With that definition, Space Force apparently sees itself as having dominion over space throughout the solar system as protector of U.S. government and private sector entities engaged in space exploration and the exploitation of resources.  NASA and U.S. companies already are planning such activities in cislunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) and on the Moon.

The United States is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that declares space is for peaceful purposes. The doctrine acknowledges that, but adds a caveat.

… no domain in history in which humans contest policy goals has ever been free from the potential for war.  In keeping with international law, the United States acknowledges that the use of space is for peaceful purposes, while preparing for the reality that space must be defended from those who will seek to undermine our goals in space.

Spacepower is “a critical manifestation of the high ground in modern warfare” that must be harmonized “with other instruments of power to protect, defend and maintain U.S. strategic interests in space.”

To that end, the doctrine identifies three “Cornerstone Responsibilities of Military Space Forces.”

Source: U.S. Space Force. Space Capstone Publication: SPACEPOWER Doctrine for Space Forces. August 10, 2020,

The document has a combative tone in parts, saying, for example, that “military space forces must steadfastly prepare to prosecute the appropriate amount of violence against an opponent subject to strategic objectives, legal and policy restraints.” Asserting that “space warfare is a violent clash of opposing wills,” the doctrine argues that the adversary is “never a spacecraft or some other inanimate system.” Instead the target is “the mind of an adversary and seeks to neutralize their capability and will to resist.”

Thus, military space forces must prepare to outwit, outmaneuver, and dominate thinking, competent, and lethal aggressors who are attempting to thwart U.S. actions.

Military spacepower itself cannot win wars, but “its success, absence, or failure could prove catastrophically decisive in war.”

Raymond observes in a Foreward that the doctrine is subject to the “policies and strategies that govern its employment.” Spacepower provides independent options for National and Joint leadership, but “achieves its greatest potential when integrated with other forms of military power.”  Only through integration and interdependence with the other military services can Space Force hope “to unlock spacepower’s full potential.”

The document reflects work over the past year by a volunteer team of Air Force personnel ranging from Technical Sergeant to Colonel, as well as one Army space professional. Some international input was gathered through a Space Force summit in February that included representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Victoria Samson, Director of the Washington Office of the Secure World Foundation, told SpacePolicyOnline.com that she likes the principle that space is a “peaceful, secure, stable, and accessible space domain,” but is unsure whether this doctrine will lead to that “as its focus on threats tends to undercut that somewhat.”  She agrees, however, that antisatellite tests dating back to 1959 demonstrate that space “never has been a benign environment” and Space Force does need its own doctrine.

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