The long-awaited Bush Administration national space policy is a statement of the past dressed up 21st century garb. The dramatically changing context of space policy for this century is missing in action. The United States is asserted to be the dominant space player with a right to “freedom of action” in a period of robust national space exploration and commercial space revival. The only thing wrong with this document is its misguided direction. The United States cannot lead if it does not know how to leverage an increasingly dynamic and fluid space environment.
The United States will not be alone in space in the immediate period ahead. This is clearly why concepts such as “freedom of action” and “space control” are becoming problematic . The challenge is to shape a realistic space policy in the context of the growing competition from new space entrants and allies in the space arena.
A negative view can focus upon the threats posed by the expansion of non-U.S. players; adversaries, competitors and allies all provide challenges to U.S. leadership and dominance. A positive view would shift the notion of what U.S. leadership might now become — the ability to work with others, to leverage their approaches, to gain knowledge of what others are doing and to focus U.S. resources on capabilities which others are not likely to duplicate.
The key is to engage in a strategy of “co-opetition” — working with others to better position one for investments in breakthrough capabilities which others are not likely to or not able to invest in. The challenge for U.S. leadership is not to impose an agenda, but to shape it. The challenge is to be able to compete and to cooperate to achieve strategic leadership in the growing presence of other space powers and players. Diversity is the future; assertion of primacy will fail unless accompanied by a clear co-opetition strategy.
Four key requirements are coming to the fore for a U.S. national space policy, none of which are effectively addressed in the space strategy and all of which are crucial for an effective strategy of space power for the 21st century.
First, there is a need to craft an international exploration strategy, not to simply assert the capacity of the United States to fund its own program as if this was the era of the M oon race. Without international cooperation, space exploration will not be affordable or doable in the two decades ahead. The resources and technology are not there; others will compete with us. Scarce exploration resources will be frittered away; these resources could be combined under an enlightened U.S. exploration approach, which accepts partnership as indispensable to an exploration strategy and not a sideshow to follow the demonstration of U.S. capabilities.
Second, the United States will no longer have a monopoly on key space capabilities such as global positioning systems. In crafting GPS 3 it would be wise to ensure that the European effort on its Ga lileo system can be tapped as well. The Japanese, Chinese and Indians will probably generate their own regional GPS systems, and the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System, dubbed Glonass, will be strengthened by oil dollars and Russian arms alliances and sales, such as those with India. With the diversity of global positioning systems, how will the United States most effectively shape a leveraging strategy?
Third, there is a need to prepare for the acceleration of a digital space era in which satellite constellations, I nternet protocols, Earth observation systems, new communication links and systems supported by new launch systems redefine the commercial space business beyond recognition. With the nano- and micro-electronics revolutions accelerating, accompanied by new materials technologies, new space capabilities will emerge.
The evolution of just-in-time manufacturing, the globalization of research and development , and the movement of maritime and air traffic throughout the globe all rely on the use of space systems. Such reliance will drive growth in commercial space. At the same time, communication, navigation and entertainment systems are evolving to rely more heavily on space as well. The hopes of the 1980s and 1990s will become realities in the 20 years ahead and even more so.
Fourth, the military dimension of space is changing dramatically as well. The ongoing restructuring of U.S. military forces to network centric warfare will change forever the role of space. Ground-based systems, air-breathing manned and unmanned aircraft, near space and space systems will all compete and contribute to a growth in the networks available to U.S. forces. Increased reliance on the middle of the network — especially air-breathing — will shift the requirements for space systems, but not reduce their importance. As the U.S. shifts towards smaller, and more discrete insertion of forces, an ability to link modular force packages together will grow in significance — and space will be the connector. To play this connective role, space policy will require an ability to leverage a diversity of military and commercial space and non-space networks. It is impossible to write a realistic national space policy without regard to the evolution of the non-space enablers and elements of the military network.
In an era of space diversity, the challenge for the United States is to define a realistic notion of leadership, one in which leverage, not hegemony, is the order of the day. An ability to leverage commercial capabilities, shape allied and competitive frameworks, and to work within evolving military networks is the key to 21st century space power. From this perspective, the new national space policy seems more oriented towards the past than the future.
Laird is a Washington- and Paris-based defense aerospace consultant.