Pentagon releases National Security Space Strategy

On Friday the Defense Department released its new National Security Space Strategy (or, to be precise, an unclassified summary of that document). The document provides a high-level overview of the goals of US national security space activities and the broad issues associated with achieving them. The strategy, said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a statement, “is a pragmatic approach to maintain the advantages we derive from space while confronting the new challenges we face.”

An initial read through the document doesn’t turn up much in the way of major new initiatives or other surprises. If you’ve been following some of the discussion and debate about national security space issues, or even read the National Space Policy released by the Obama Administration last June, much of the language here will look familiar. For example, the report emphasizes three trends often called the “Three C’s” of the modern space environment: congested (orbital debris), contested (ASATs and other activities to disrupt space systems), and competitive (the growing number of countries with space systems, and their increasing capabilities.)

A few highlights from the report:

Although there’s been reports the US is willing to sign on to the EU’s draft code of conduct for outer space activities, the strategy does not explicitly support it. It does, though, identify the need for “responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space”, including support for measures such as “best practices, transparency and confidence-building measures, and norms of behavior for responsible space operations”, similar to language in the national space policy.

The report highlights the need for a space industrial base in the US that is “robust, competitive, flexible, healthy, and delivers reliable space capabilities on time and on budget.” To achieve that, the strategy highlights a number of measures, including increased emphasis on technology development, shorter development cycles, and export control reform. “Reforming export controls will facilitate U.S. firms’ ability to compete to become providers-of-choice in the international marketplace for capabilities that are, or will soon become, widely available globally, while strengthening our ability to protect the most significant U.S. technology advantages,” the document states.

The strategy also indicates a willingness to partner with or purchase services from commercial providers. “We will rely on proven commercial capabilities to the maximum extent practicable, and we will modify commercial capabilities to meet government requirements when doing so is more cost-effective and timely for the government,” the report states. “We will develop space systems only when there is no suitable, cost-effective commercial alternative or when national security needs dictate.”

Cooperation with other countries and companies on the area of space situational awareness (SSA) is also highlighted in the report, saying that while the US is the leader in SSA, it seeks to “establish agreements with other nations and commercial firms to maintain and improve space object databases, pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures, and provide services and disseminate orbital tracking information, including predictions of space object conjunction, to enhance spaceflight safety for all parties.”


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