The Pentagon is working with Congress on an unclassified space strategy

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s Office of Space Policy is drafting a Congressional-mandated report explaining how the US will defend satellites in orbit. DoD has a top-secret space defense strategy, but Congress wants an unclassified version that explains to the public the threats facing US satellites and what can be done in response.

“We’re going to write this unclassified report,” John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said Feb. 14 at an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Plumb said his office was responding to congressional language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023, which directs the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to “make publicly available a strategy for defending and protecting satellites in orbit.”

Although the Congressional Defense and Intelligence Committees have access to the classified strategy and have been briefed on the Department of Defense’s plans regarding space, they want a publishable version that includes some level of detail and helps advocate for space funding .

“There are ongoing discussions with staff,” Plumb added. “They are demanding the ability to speak at an unclassified level about the need for investment in space,” he said. “We’re working on it.”

Plumb said the unclassified strategy will present the threats posed by Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons. Those countries see the US military’s dependence on space and the devastating impact that disabling satellites would have on US operations, he said. The strategy will also highlight the importance of space as a “national economic engine”.

The US continues to promote “norms of responsible behavior” in space, Plumb said, but the military will also move ahead with the development of new constellations to increase the resilience of current systems. He noted that resilience is not one-dimensional and requires investments in space and ground systems. “There are many parts to it.”

“We must defend our systems if deterrence fails,” he said. The US also needs reconnaissance and space awareness capabilities to correlate hostile actions.

Role of the commercial space industry

Plumb said the Defense Department relies heavily on the private space industry but declined to comment on possible initiatives – fueled by the war in Ukraine – to compensate contractors if their satellites are destroyed or damaged during conflicts.

“We’ll leave that to the attorneys in the White House,” he said. For the Department of Defense, “this is new territory, a kind of new frontier.”

Plumb said the integration of commercial systems into military networks is “absolutely critical,” and that space force acquisitions director Frank Calvelli is leading the issue.

“We’ve had discussions with Calvelli and he’s at the helm and leading this,” Plumb said.

Space Force Strategy Guide

The Space Force Office of Strategy and Resources said in an internal guide that strategic competition in space will force the Space Force to deploy resilient constellations and also work closely with allies and commercial partners.

According to the Space Force “Strategy Note”, a copy of which was obtained SpaceNews:

  • The US Space Force must be able to fight through disruptions by enhancing defensive capabilities and expanding recovery options while supporting allies and partners to do the same.
  • Maintaining partnerships creates benefits. For example, hybrid space architectures that include US government satellites, ally, and commercial satellites—while spanning multiple orbital regimes—can help discourage an adversary’s potential attack.
  • The Space Force should also carefully consider the potential pros and cons of further integration of both military and non-military space systems and architectures, whether civilian or commercial.
  • In coordination with other U.S. departments and agencies, the Space Force must increase collaboration with the commercial space industry and leverage their technological advances and entrepreneurial spirit to enable new capabilities that support integrated deterrence.
  • Additional focus on the attribution of malicious actions within the space realm or against space architectures is needed, including how allies and trusted trading partners contribute to the attribution of irresponsible or threatening behavior.

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