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U.S. national security space strategy emphasizes resilient systems, responsible behavior

‘We have to be resilient because the adversary is coming for us’
In a previous Commentary article entitled "Today's Youth Key to Sustaining Human Space Exploration for the Long Term " [Jan. 8, page 19], we reported on the results of a workshop organized by the Center for Aerospace Policy Research at George Mason University. The workshop, which involved students and young professionals as well as space community veterans, addressed issues related to building and maintaining the constituency to support space exploration activities spanning decades.

WASHINGTON — A recently completed U.S. space strategy stresses the need to deploy resilient constellations that can operate under attack, and supports norms for responsible behavior in space, a senior Pentagon official said Dec. 14.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said the strategic space review is a classified document and will not be publicly released. In general, “it’s about our overall space posture and where we should be headed from a national security standpoint,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a fireside chat with CSIS senior fellow Kari Bingen.

The review, directed by the White House National Security Adviser, was conducted jointly by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence.

Plumb said the substance of the review is “very consistent with previous administration’s and current administration guidance,” and reflects the space policy priorities the White House released in December 2021.

The guidance to DoD is “to protect and defend our national security interests” against counterspace capabilities used by adversaries, he said. Other priorities are to “build a resilient national security space architecture” and “lead in the responsible and peaceful use of space,” including practices that minimize the creation of space debris.

Plumb said DoD is working “to address all these problems.” With regard to resiliency, DoD is making investments in modern satellite constellations in low Earth orbit that are more survivable against attacks than traditional geostationary satellites.

“Resilience is in every single conversation about future space architectures that I’m part of,” he said. ‘And that’s not just the space piece. It’s also the ground piece, and the user equipment piece.”

DoD is making a “fundamental shift in how we think about things,” Plumb insisted. “We have to be resilient because the adversary is coming for us. And so what we need is a constellation that allows me to take a punch, fight through … absorb a blow and kind of degrade the ability of an adversary to take a shot.”

Plumb said his office’s top three priorities are: space control, space cooperation and space classification.

Space control is about ensuring the U.S. military has access to space and is able to use its satellites, while denying an adversary its use of space. Cooperation and joint efforts with allies are a key piece of the plan, he noted. 

The classification of military space programs and policy documents is an issue that is constantly being debated, he said, particularly because it gets in the way of sharing information with allies.

“I’m really working in my office and with the intelligence community on reducing some of those classification issues,” said Plumb.

Congress also has become concerned about what some see as excessive classification in the national security space business. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act draft bill approved by the House and expected to soon be approved by the Senate directs DoD to examine all Space Force programs to determine if the level of classification of any of these programs could be changed to a lower level or declassified entirely.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...