WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s space policy office is drafting a congressionally mandated report explaining how the U.S. will defend satellites in orbit. DoD has a top-secret space defense strategy but Congress wants an unclassified version that explains to the public the threats facing U.S. satellites and what can be done in response.
“We’ll be writing that unclassified report,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said Feb. 14 at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.
Plumb said his office is responding to congressional language in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act directing DoD and the director of national intelligence to “make publicly available a strategy regarding defending and protecting on-orbit satellites.”
Although congressional defense and intelligence committees have access to the classified strategy and have been briefed on DoD’s plans with regard to space, they want a releasable version that lays out some level of detail and helps make the case for space funding.
“There are ongoing conversations with staff,” Plumb added. “They are asking for an ability to talk at an unclassified level about the need to invest in space,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
Plumb said the unclassified strategy will lay out the threats posed by Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons. These countries see the U.S. military’s reliance on space and the disruptive impact that disabling satellites would have on U.S. operations, he said. The strategy also will highlight the importance of space as a “national economic driver.”
The U.S. continues to advocate for “norms of responsible behavior” in outer space, said Plumb, but the military also will move forward with the development of new constellations to add resilience to current systems. He noted that resilience is not one-dimensional and requires investments in space and ground systems. “There’s a lot of pieces to it.”
“We need to defend our systems if deterrence fails,” he said. The U.S. also needs intelligence and space domain awareness capabilities to be able to attribute hostile acts.
Role of commercial space industry
Plumb said the DoD heavily relies on the private space industry but declined to comment on possible initiatives — driven by the war in Ukraine — to compensate contractors if their satellites are destroyed or damaged during conflicts.
“We leave that for the lawyers in the White House to decide,” he said. For the Department of Defense, “this is new terrain, kind of a new frontier.”
Plumb said the integration of commercial systems into military networks is “absolutely key” and that issue is being led by the head of Space Force acquisition Frank Calvelli.
“We have had conversations with Calvelli and he’s out in front leading on this,” Plumb said.
Space Force strategy guidance
The Space Force’s office of strategy and resourcing in an internal guidance document said the strategic competition in space will require the Space Force to field resilient constellations and also work closely with allies and commercial partners.
According to the Space Force’s “strategy note,” a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews:
- The U.S. Space Force will need to be able to fight through disruption by improving defensive capabilities and increasing options for reconstitution, while assisting allies and partners in doing the same.
- Cultivating partnerships builds advantages. For example, hybrid space architectures incorporating U.S. government, allied, and commercial satellites — while spanning multiple orbital regimes — can help disincentivize an adversary’s potential attack.
- The Space Force should also carefully evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks from further entangling both military and non-military space systems and architectures, whether civil or commercial.
- In coordination with other U.S. departments and agencies, the Space Force must increase collaboration with the commercial space industry, leveraging its technological advancements and entrepreneurial spirit to enable new capabilities that support integrated deterrence.
- Additional focus on attribution of malicious actions within the space domain or against space architectures is needed, including how allies and trusted commercial partners contribute to attributing irresponsible or threatening behavior.