US Must Be Prepared to Fight War in Space

With Russia’s and China’s demonstrated abilities to attack space assets, “the US dominance in space is over,” and the nation “must be prepared to fight a limited war in space and do it better than its adversaries,” strategic scholar Elbridge Colby said July 13. Because US space systems were designed primarily for efficiency and low cost and not for protection, they have “a substantial degree of vulnerability,” Colby, a senior fellow at The Center for A New American Security, said during an AFA Mitchell Institute event. That vulnerability is particularly troubling because of the US military’s heavy reliance on space for power projection and nuclear deterrence command and control, Colby said. Attempting to protect critical satellites creates “a cost ratio unfavorable to defense,” and probably could not counter all the possible threats. Co-hosting national security payloads on commercial satellites or disaggregating them with smaller spacecraft also has limited potential, Colby suggested. He proposed attempting to negotiate with potential adversaries a set of rules on attacking national security space assets, or clearly articulating to them that attacks on space assets critical to nuclear deterrence would be considered equivalent to attacks on the strategic deterrence forces, requiring a strategic response.