The Mission of National Security Space….its not this…

Recently at the Space Symposium, it was reported that General John Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command stated that it was the job of USSTRATCOM and American “space forces” to ensure that “war does not extend to space” but that if it does happen, to be prepared for it. Below is some thoughts on this…

To me, the above reporting say something about the viewpoint of the present space leadership in the military and more broadly. They do not seem to make much sense. When he said that “There is no such thing as space war-only war” this was an updated version of a previous comment I heard him make when he said, “There is no such thing as space war-only war that extends to space.” Lets break this apart some. “…only war that extends to space”….okay. Will you hear a USAF general (aviator) say that there is no such thing as air war only war that extends to the air? How about the Navy? Would you hear an Admiral say there is no such thing as naval warfare, only war that extends to the sea? Space is a “warfighting domain” these same space generals claim, an “offense dominant domain” and yet…war only extends to it. I think this is false. If a war can be started in a domain (air, sea, space, land) then war is not extending its occurring. This may be why (I hope) General Hyten altered his statement to include a new second half “there’s just war”, but if that’s true, then why would he say that its their job to “ensure that war does not extend to space”? Can a military leader in the other domains “ensure” war does not happen? No. They cannot. A military’s job is to prepare for war in all its possible operating domains and to be postured to DETER and if that fails, then prevail against the aggressor. What’s the problem, then?

As I have commented on before, the communications to the public from space leaders over the last several years has been mixed at best, and confusing at worst. One minute they claim that war is already occurring in space, that the threat is real and here today and must be met with readiness and capability. Then, somehow, the language retreats back to this is a future problem, one that must be prepared for and deter from occurring. Now we are hearing that not only is it not war that will start or occur in space, but we must ensure that it never happens. So it appears we went, for all you space power theorists out there, from sanctuary to space control back to sanctuary mindset again. Despite the fact that “purposeful interference”, what the space policy folks label attacks, have been occurring for years on the reversible side of the spectrum, and threats of more direct engagement have been rising with tests of co-orbital and Anti-Satellite missile systems. General Hyten’s deputy, stated something to the effect of “What we see in space is not war, but I don’t think we can call it peace either”. This is still not accurate in my view, but is more accurate than General Hyten’s assertion that war is not or can not occur there.  Let me clarify what I mean…

When he says that war extends to space, he may be taking the view of many strategic theorists (including Colin S. Gray) that all war is about politics and politics involves people. People, for the most part, live on the land mass of the Earth. Therefore all war starts and ends with the land domain. Air, space, cyber, sea….all of those are supporting and winning the wars or conflicts for whomever is living on the land and the issues of politics of the people inhabiting it. This is, in my view a fair statement of reality. However, then you add the joint-combined arms approach piece to this…when he says war extends to space, he may be articulating that given land is the center of human conflict, wars start there politically and then “extend” into the various warfighting domains of air, space, sea, and cyber. Okay, fine. BUT…war is and can be waged first in these domains and does not have to begin or expand into other domains. It can be started in space, and kept there depending on the political or military objectives. Why do I say this?

First, if you look at the strategic thinking on space coming out of places like China…they view “space warfare” as something that is “low threshold” for retaliation upon their landmass. If they were to engage in a space war with the United States (spoofing, jamming, snuggling and even kinetic operations with lasers or missiles) they believe that the US and other allied states would not retaliate upon the Chinese mainland for a few buckets of bolts and computer chips in orbit. However, if they were to send their new carrier to Guam and bombard Anderson AFB, yes they believe that a prompt retaliation upon China might be possible. So…space war is a lucrative area to invest in for the PLA as a means to a political end, via asymmetric actions in space. This does not fit with General Hyten’s view of war “extending to space”.

Just some thoughts. I will think on this some more and possibly write a piece that is more easy to read and thought out, but…all of this (understandably so) relates more to a desire than a reality in the strategic space environment and we were better off with using the rhetoric and thinking of “space control” at minimum than reverting back to a sanctuary model that has been outmoded since the 1970s. The mission of national security space is just that-the defense and preservation of our national security in space-which includes freedom of maneuver, access, and whatever else is needed to sustain our commerce, and other vital centers of gravity for our society.


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