Updated: Aug 12, 2020
On August 10, 2020, the United States Space Force (USSF) released its first Space Capstone Publication in an attempt to establish a distinct identity and formulate strategic objectives on the last frontier. The topics discussed in the paper, including use of force, force disposition, and space ground system defense, will define American presence on the last frontier for decades to come.
In the 64-page document, General John W. Raymond, the USSF's first commander, seeks to define spacepower and explain its importance to the reader. In the paper's introduction, he correctly observes that power, by definition, allows one to control or guide events to achieve specific objectives or outcomes. In space, this same principle holds true. Spacepower, then, is the, "nation’s ability to exploit the space domain in pursuit of prosperity and security." The publication goes on to observe that, "national spacepower is comparatively assessed as the relative strength of a state’s ability to leverage the space domain for diplomatic, informational, military, and economic purposes."
Although the Space Force is the newest branch of the armed forces, this principle has been true since the beginning of the First Cold War. In 1957, the Soviet Union bested its western adversary by successfully placing a satellite into low-earth orbit (LEO). Over the next two decades, Moscow would repeatedly beat Washington in several key areas of the space race. Out of a fear that the United States was falling behind an authoritarian dictatorship in this important domain, multiple presidential administrations would increase the funding for space defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in hopes of ensuring a democracy would emerge victorious on the last frontier.
The quest for military dominance has had wide-ranging consequences for the United States, including in the economic, intelligence, and military fields. Communication has become effortless, information more accessible, and unit coordination easier, proving the idea, as Peter W. Singer once noted, that, "he who controls the heavens will control what happens in the battles of Earth."
The Importance of Space in Warfare
As The Intelligence Ledger observed in American Interstellar Strategy 2035, space has become inextricability attached to modern warfare. The First Persian Gulf War, for example, was also the first space war. With only 3,000 GPS devices available for its entire force of heavy armor, light armor, and artillery batteries, American armored units were able to cut across 200 kilometers of an uncharted and seeming unnavigable desert in less than 48 hours to encircle and defeat the Iraqi Army and Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Operation Desert Storm showed that the military's use of the final frontier allows it to preform historically unfathomable feats, including constant collection of military intelligence and the maintenance of secure lines of communication. According to the USSF's newest document, these key advantages offer the United States the opportunity to deny adversaries the option of surprising the United States tactically on the battlefield, as the Imperial Japanese Navy did infamously on December 7, 1941. Although General Raymond correctly notes that dominance cannot ensure success in every conflict, the absence of power in space undoubtedly ensures defeat. For many American strategic analysts, the USSF's commander's observation that space is equally important as any other domain is a major relief and sign that policymakers in Washington still make non-political appointments every-so-often.
The Conduct of Warfare in Space
According to the capstone paper, the final frontier allows nation-states to carry out both offensive and defensive operations. Offensive operations can target either space-based or space ground systems in an attempt to nullify enemy power in the heavens, while defensive operations seek to target hostiles through both retaliatory strikes and active-defense measures. The document highlights requirements for both offensive and defensive missions to be successful: uninterrupted logistical support, near-constant intelligence gathering, and secure command and control architectures. General Raymond has previously observed that the United States can not currently ensure these three requisites can be met, indicating that the USSF believes significant strides must be taken to ensure American dominance on the frontier by the mid-2030s.
To learn more about American strategy in space, The Intelligence Ledger recommends the following: