New DOD Space Policy Addresses Safety, Security, Access
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2012 – The new Defense Department space policy, updated to reflect the fast-growing use and sometimes misuse of the space domain, addresses issues of safety, sustainability and security in space for the 21st century and beyond.
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Orbital debris, or space junk, is any man-made object in orbit around the Earth that no longer serves a useful purpose. This image was made from a model used to track debris in low-Earth orbit. NASA image
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The policy, signed Oct. 18, 2012, by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, follows the release in 2010 of President Barack Obama’s National Space Policy, and in 2011 of the National Security Space Strategy, the first such strategy to be cosigned by the defense secretary and the director of national intelligence.
DOD’s space policy also reflects the 2012 DOD Strategic Guidance, which acknowledged growth in the number of spacefaring nations and threats.
According to the guidance, the United States will continue to lead global efforts with allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons of space by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and maintaining interoperable military capabilities.
“Space capabilities have long provided strategic national security advantages for the United States,” Carter said in a statement.
“This updated space policy,” he added, “institutionalizes the changes the department has made in an increasingly constrained budget environment to address the complex set of space-related opportunities and challenges.”
For DOD, space systems are critical to ground navigation, smart bomb precision, and to relay unmanned aerial vehicle feeds to troops. Space also is necessary for early warnings of missile launches and for keeping the president connected to U.S. nuclear forces.
In an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Dr. John F. Plumb, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, described the policy’s main points.
“One is that the Department of Defense will deter attacks on our space systems and the systems of our allies, and [the policy] lays out some ways we’re going to do that,” Plumb said.
Methods to deter disruptions or attacks against space-based systems, according to the policy, include supporting the development of international norms of responsible behavior related to the space domain, building coalitions to enhance collective security, enhancing the resilience of the U.S. space enterprise, and being able to respond to an attack on U.S. or allied space systems using all elements of national power.
The policy also “makes a declaration of how the United States will view interference with our space systems,” the acting deputy assistant secretary said, adding that such interference would be seen as an infringement of U.S. rights and would be “irresponsible in peacetime and during a crisis could be escalatory.”
Plumb noted, “The policy states this very clearly and it’s a message we want to make sure people understand.”
One of the international norms of responsible behavior will target a growing problem for spacefaring nations — space debris.
“Today there are 60 countries operating in space [and] there are thousands of pieces of debris, pieces of [derelict] rockets or old satellites … flying around in space,” he said.
According to the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, more than 21,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 10 centimeters exist in orbit, along with 500,000 smaller pieces and more than 1 million pieces smaller than 1 centimeter.
“We need to have an international system of norms of responsible behavior for operating in space to mitigate debris,” Plumb said. “That’s something we’re working on and it’s something the strategy points toward.”
Generally, the policy identifies how DOD will promote international cooperation and commercial partnerships, drive changes within DOD space architectures and acquisition processes, and work to shape the space environment.
Saving money on expensive space assets is another goal of the department, Plumb said, and working with allies and commercial partners can help accomplish this.
The Defense Department has begun to work with commercial space companies to reduce department costs and to help energize the industrial base.
“We [also] need to make sure that U.S. companies are able to compete fairly for international contracts,” Plumb added, referring to satellites and many systems, subsystems, parts and components that are controlled by the U.S. government for security reasons but that already are being sold commercially by companies around the world.
In April, for example, officials from the Defense and State departments released a report that urged Congress to move communications and some remote-sensing satellites off the tightly controlled U.S. Munitions List and into the commercial enterprise.
The policy also directs DOD to expand international cooperation in space matters, Plumb said, which “allows you to leverage capabilities together so instead of having to build your own system you can use somebody else’s system.”
He added, “It also buys you a sense of collective security. If you’re operating as a coalition in space, you have more partners relying on the same assets. An attack on those space assets by an adversary would no longer necessarily be against you but against a coalition.”
As an example, during a trip to Perth, Australia, last week, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced that the United States would place two key space systems in Australia.
One system, an Air Force C-band space-surveillance radar, will track space assets and debris, increase the security of space-based systems and increase coverage of space objects in the Southern Hemisphere.
The other system is an advanced U.S. space surveillance telescope designed and built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In Australia, the system will help to leverage space surveillance capabilities for both nations, officials said.
DOD also must be ready to mitigate the effects of attacks on its space systems, Plumb said. One way to do that, spelled out in the policy, is to plan for resilience in space systems, he added.
“Resilience means being able to survive an attack,” the acting deputy assistant secretary said, and it means strategically distributing space capabilities among different satellites rather than putting many on one satellite.
“If that [one] satellite goes down,” he said, “whether it’s due to a solar flare or an attack or bad wiring, we don’t want to lose all these mission capabilities. These things are very expensive, so resilient architecture would be more distributed.”
The second part “of mitigating the ability of an adversary to attack us would be to make sure that we can operate effectively on the battlefield even if our space capabilities are being degraded,” Plumb added.
The growing threat to U.S. and allied space systems, he said, is real.
“Other nations and nonstate actors are developing direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, jammers and ground-based lasers, all designed to interfere with or destroy satellites,” Plumb said.
“We need to be prepared and enhance our resilience so these types of capabilities don’t prevent us from operating in space,” he added. “So we need to move forward with the way we operate in space, for future conflicts in particular. This space policy gives us a good pathway forward.”