The Space Force has released a 64-page military doctrine, explaining why the United States needs to flex its muscles in space and how the nascent military branch will seek to maintain dominance in a domain so far untouched by warfare.
Humans have fought on land and water for millennia and in the air for over a century. As for fighting in space, that’s the exclusive domain of science fiction. The U.S. Space Force (USSF), launched less than a year ago, will need to learn much of this space-stuff on the fly, given the total lack of precedent. To get things moving along, the sixth military branch of the U.S. military (though technically still a part of the Air Force) has released its first military doctrine, titled “Spacepower.”
Oooh, not “space power,” but “spacepower.” With this strategic snubbing of the space bar, America will have its enemies shaking in their boots.
Superfluous neologisms aside, this document will serve as a preliminary guidebook for the USSF, presenting the U.S. military’s “first articulation of an independent theory of spacepower,” as General John Raymond, USSF chief of space operations, wrote in his introduction to the new doctrine. The document, he says, shows how spacepower is “vital for our Nation, how military spacepower is employed, who military space forces are, and what military space forces value.”
A military branch devoted to space is needed to address the “present reality that our adversaries have made space a warfighting domain,” according to a USSF press release. This is an obvious reference to China and Russia, but it’s also America’s way of saying, Hey, don’t look at us—they started it. The final frontier remains virgin territory for combat, but it’s unclear how long that’ll last. China is already capable of shooting down missiles in space, and Russia is reportedly working on a laser system to knock out satellites. The militarization of space appears to be moving full speed ahead, with the U.S. now joining the party.
A central tenet of the new doctrine is to protect America’s national interests in space, which can include vital assets like communications and surveillance satellites but also the ongoing affairs of the nation. As the new document notes, space is both a “source and conduit through which a nation can generate and apply diplomatic, informational, military and economic power,” and, like any source of military power, the U.S. “must cultivate, develop, and advance spacepower in order to ensure national prosperity and security.”
The doctrine also recognizes space as a unique warfighting domain, one that will require spacepower to be “inherently global.” What’s more, space is a vulnerable place to conduct operations, as a successful attack in space, on Earth’s surface, or in the areas between can “neutralize a space capability,” according to the doctrine. The document states that, for spacepower to achieve its greatest potential, it must be successfully integrated with other forms of military power.
The doctrine outlines three key responsibilities for the USSF to uphold: preserving freedom of action in space, the enabling of “joint lethality and effectiveness,” and providing multiple options for U.S. leaders to assist with their national objectives. This subsequently “shapes our identity as equals with the other warfighters responsible for military power in the air, maritime, land, and cyber domains,” according to the document. In other words, the USSF is just as important as the other guys, or soon will be.
Several core competencies, such as space security, space mobility and logistics, and space domain awareness will help to uphold these responsibilities, according to the doctrine. What’s more, spacepower will require explorers, diplomats, entrepreneurs, scientists, and developers, along with expertise in things like orbital warfare and cyber operations.
This doctrine will likely change over time, given the nascent state of so-called spacepower. But space, as the new document makes abundantly clear, is now officially a place to conduct the business of war.
Very sad that it has come to this, but where humans go, so too does conflict. The decades-long effort to maintain space as an un-militarized domain appears to be over.