Pentagon Unveils U.S. Space Security Strategy

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SAN FRANCISCO — Pentagon officials unveiled Feb. 4 a plan that would make changes in the way the U.S. government works with allies and potential adversaries to acquire and protect the space-based assets that are of critical importance to U.S. commercial and military interests.

“We want to promote norms to encourage responsible behavior in space while increasingly sharing data that can be used to promote spaceflight safety,” Gregory Schulte, U.S. deputy secretary of defense for space policy, said Feb. 4 during a briefing on the National Security Space Strategy of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. “We want to increasingly leverage growing commercial and foreign capabilities that we can use to augment our own core capabilities and also increase the resilience of our overall space constellations. We want to ensure the ability to deliver essential services to the warfighter, whether it is communications or navigation or surveillance, even if our space systems come under attack.”

The National Security Space Strategy, which was mandated by the 2009 Defense Authorization Act and delivered Feb. 3 to Congress, lays out a multipronged approach to protecting existing U.S. satellites. That plan includes discussions with international governments to establish norms for space-based operations. For example, the United States may consider entering into voluntary, international agreements similar to the European Union Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, Schulte said.

The plan also calls for U.S. government organizations to form new partnerships to enable countries to share space-based capabilities. Those partnerships make sense in an era of funding constraints and provide the added benefit of deterring attacks on satellites, Schulte said. “If a country contemplates interfering with space activities … they would have to contemplate attacking international capabilities as opposed to national ones,” he added.

Because space has become increasingly crowded and U.S. satellites increasingly threatened, the National Security Space Strategy also calls for government organizations to maintain their ability to operate despite attacks. “Forces must be able to operate even if space is somewhat degraded,” Schulte said. “We are changing our training and doctrine to be able to do that.” As a result, potential adversaries may see “less value” in attacking U.S. satellites, he added.

Finally, Schulte said, the U.S. will “retain the option to respond in self defense to attacks in space.” That response may not be in space, Schulte said.