First Space Force Doctrine Lays Foundation for Future Ops

The Space Force on Aug. 10 rolled out its inaugural policy document that will govern how it organizes, trains, and equips service members for military space operations.

The new doctrine solidifies the interdependence of civil, military, intelligence, and commercial players as the U.S. tries to return to the moon and push farther to Mars, as well as protect its satellites and other spacecraft from attack and support a growing number of private-sector ventures past the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Preserving freedom of action in space is the essence of military space power and must be the first priority of military space forces,” said the Space Capstone Publication, the product of a year’s worth of work.

Congress created the Space Force in December 2019 to put space power on par with other means of military dominance. Its five core missions are to create a safe environment for the U.S. and its partners on orbit, enable combat operations around the world through GPS and communications, move resources around space in new ways, transfer data more easily, and keep track of debris and other happenings in space.

Doctrine now argues the Space Force needs seven kinds of experts to achieve those missions. They include:

  • Orbital warfare, or moving systems on orbit as well as firing weapons for offense and defense
  • Electromagnetic warfare
  • Cyber
  • Intelligence
  • Battle management
  • Space access and systems sustainment
  • Engineering and acquisition.

“Given the development and maturation of space power, and what we’re facing from a strategic environment, operational environment, it’s really starting to force us to have to look to build more depth,” Col. Casey M. Beard, commander of the Space Delta 9 operations organization at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., told reporters Aug. 10.

The document indicates that the Space Force could begin to pull together teams of personnel who deal with high-value assets, offensive and defensive ops, intelligence and surveillance, and cybersecurity. Those force packages could be more responsive and creative than how the military currently handles daily space operations.

The Space Force has to better understand, “What are the skill sets that are needed? What are the qualification standards that are required to be able to conduct those? How do they interact with one another?” Beard said.

Space poses several unique considerations for the Pentagon. It is connected to every other domain in that attacking a satellite can have far-reaching consequences for air, land, and sea security, and attacking ground controls can disable a satellite’s ability to pass information to other parts of the force. If an adversary tries to shoot or jam a spacecraft, the U.S. could retaliate with another part of its arsenal.

“The United States Space Force must be joint-smart from its inception and it must help produce a space-smart joint force,” the doctrinal paper said.

Unlike typical combat operations down below that favor kinetic attacks like missile strikes, conditions in space are suited more for electronic warfare to interrupt signals and invade networks. 

“Because of the prevalence of remote operations, the [electromagnetic spectrum] is the primary conduit through which the control and exploitation of the space domain is achieved,” the policy document said.

Cameras on orbit have unfettered access to the Earth below, unlike land, sea, and air surveillance methods that don’t have such a broad range and face more restrictions in what they can photograph. Space is harder to reach and return from, and requires immense energy to move around on orbit.

It’s harder to hide in the cosmos, too.

“There is no forward edge of the battle area behind which military spacecraft can reconstitute and recover,” according to the doctrine. “Spacecraft remain in orbit through peace and war where they are potentially at risk from adversary counterspace capabilities and the hostile space environment.”

While the paper frames space as an increasingly hostile, potentially violent place, the doctrine also calls on the military to be responsible stewards of the final frontier. That means setting an example for the safe and open use of space even as service members study military writers like Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz.

“Just like all forms of warfare, the prosecution of space warfare and the potential generation of collateral damage is judged against the principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality,” the publication said. “Military space forces balance our responsibilities for operational readiness with the safety and sustainability of the space environment for use by future generations.”

Space Force officials plan to publish other doctrinal documents to outline more specific operational goals and tactics. Work will begin on the operational-level publication within the next year, and the military will review and update the final products every few years.

“Agility, innovation, and boldness have always been the cornerstone traits of military space forces,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond said in a release. “We must continue to harness these traits as we build our new service and a new professional body of knowledge.”