U.S. Space Command develops operational concepts for waging war in orbit

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. —  For the U.S. Air Force Space Command, the question is no longer if war is battle zone, but how to fight it.

To that end, the command has developed a concept of operations (CONOPS) for fighting in that realm, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, told attendees Aug. 8 at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here.

“Space is a warfighting domain just like air, land and sea,” Raymond said.

With the needs of the Air Force and broader intelligence community in mind, the command recent developed CONOPS for the domain battle.

The CONOPS focus, Raymond said, is on command-and-control elements as well as integrated space awareness and warning. “It’s on paper,” he said. “Here’s how we plan to do this business.”

Along with the CONOPS, Space Command also has newly revived interest in strengthening partnerships. “We in the space community haven’t needed partnerships in the past,” Raymond said. “It was a benign domain. You launch something and as long as it survives the launch and survives the early obit” there was little to worry about.

“That’s not the case anymore,” he said. “We are in a partnership with the intelligence community, with industry and with our allies.”

Why is Space Command doing all of this? It is because, Raymond said, adversaries are “developing capabilities designed to stop” U.S. access to space and the advantages the nation gains from that access.

But the aim in all of this is to prevent a more kinetic war. “Ultimately the goal is deterrence,” Raymond said. “We do not want to fight. The only way not to do that is to be prepared to do that.”

Part of that preparation is to rethink how the U.S. operates in space, he said. It’s a question of weighing what is operationally capable, he said, with what is survivable.

Before, he noted, “The main emphasis of operational capability in a benign domain was [to ensure there were] no gaps in coverage due to an anomaly in the equipment. Today, it’s not good enough. You need adequate coverage, but you also must address protecting the operational capability.”

Today, he said, they must also account increasingly for the threat.

In the same vein, he said, the U.S. must give more priority toward operational risk in comparison to acquisition risk. “We must prioritize operational risk,” he said. “It’s a little out of balance [versus acquisition risk]. We need to move the fulcrum back to operational risk.”