An Investment Strategy for National Security Space

Today’s space systems fulfill five purposes: (1) environmental monitoring; (2) communications; (3) position, navigation, and timing; (4) integrated tactical warning and attack assessment; and (5) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. These missions are integral to a new American way of warfare. Direct and indirect challenges to American power in space are growing. Other nations are expanding their capabilities to interdict or deny U.S. access to space. Mounting fiscal pressures will likely necessitate changes in national “security space” force structures and acquisition approaches. This Special Report explores the implications of these challenges on U.S. national security space programs and policies. It sets the context for future decision making, providing insight into the myriad issues—from allied capability and intentions to extant arms control proposals—that will likely influence these decisions.The United States is approaching a critical juncture on its investments in national security space capabilities. This juncture is imminent due to the convergence of three forces: (1) a fundamental shift in U.S. defense and diplomatic strategy from the western to the eastern Eurasian landmass—the so-called pivot toward the Asia-Pacific; (2) a large number of the national security space capabilities upon which the United States and its allies critically rely are now legacy systems in need of upgrades and replacement; and (3) severe fiscal pressures on Department of Defense and intelligence community budgets. As the strategic context shifts, the military’s dependence on space systems becomes ever more acute. Since the 1990s, military use of space has grown exponentially, but new strategic demands, bolstered by the accumulating demands of technology, require development of entirely new national security space systems if the United States is to meet future national security challenges with plausible preparedness.

This Special Report sets out a framework that guides policymakers on how to invest in national security space capabilities over the next decade. The framework is, by necessity, holistic, as many of the individual national security space programs in question are classified. The overall purpose is not to provide hard figures for specific programs, though the study does use such data, when available, in order to support broader assertions. Rather, the framework sets the context for future decision making, states the critical questions that policymakers must ask when making budgeting decisions for national security space investments, and provides insight into the myriad issues—from allied capability and intentions to extant arms control proposals—that will likely influence these decisions. Ultimately, it is within this framework that national security space investment decisions should be made, not just by policymakers in the executive branch, but also by legislators and industry leaders. This Special Report is also intended to inform interested citizens about the germane issues pertaining to how their tax dollars will likely be spent on national security space capabilities in the coming decade.

The report is organized into three parts. Part One covers the current and future contexts for U.S. national security space, and includes an overview of how these capabilities are employed today and how they are likely to be employed in the coming decade. Part One concludes with a brief analysis of alternatives to national security space systems, such as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and a comparison of their strategic utilities and limitations is provided.

Part Two identifies three broad areas that will likely impact the proposed framework of the study in adverse and unpredictable ways and which will inevitably provide challenges for policymakers, legislators, and industry executives. The three broad areas of concern are the continuing dissemination and proliferation of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons systems capable of blunting, even denying, critical U.S. capabilities, such as national security space capabilities; extant space arms control; and other diplomatic instruments that have the potential to constrain U.S. efforts to secure asymmetric advantages in national security space capabilities, and perhaps even impair the ability of the U.S. to reliably access space at all. Finally, Part Two examines the impact of domestic political imperatives, national security space organizational arrangements, and ongoing austerity measures.

Part Three analyzes the capabilities necessary to fulfill U.S. space needs. In this section, the study identifies national security space capabilities that are absolutely critical to U.S. national security, as identified by measuring them against a set of core criteria. Any capability that does not fulfill all of the criteria set out is then eligible for possible provision to the military and intelligence community by commercial or allied entities. Finally, Part Three examines allied national security space capabilities (or, at least, highly capable dual-use space capabilities) that can either supplement the U.S. core military/intelligence community or commercially provided national security space capabilities, and even provide niche capabilities that the United States is unable to provide on its own.

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