Power and Prestige in the Space Domain

Photo: Center for Strategic and International Studies

The following article was originally published as the foreword to Space Threat Assessment 2018, a report assessing the counterspace capabilities from potential adversaries around the world.  

AS THE WORLD’S LEADING SPACEFARING NATION, the United States has grown accustomed to relying on space capabilities as a cornerstone of our scientific endeavors, information age economy, and national security. Space is a key element of our national power and prestige, and decades of investment have yielded important warfighting and intelligence collection advantages for the United States and our allies and partners. Space capabilities make it possible for U.S. policymakers to know critical things about our world and adversaries that they would otherwise not know. Space capabilities enable the American way of warfare by making it possible for U.S. military commanders and forces to see the battlespace more clearly, communicate with certainty, navigate with accuracy, and strike with precision. Acknowledging this importance and consistent with prior administrations of both political parties, the current National Security Strategy recognizes that unimpeded access to and use of space is a vital national interest.

Our adversaries and potential adversaries have noted these significant advantages and have moved aggressively to field forces that can challenge our space capabilities from the ground, in space, and through cyberspace. From simple (and widely available and affordable) jammers to highly sophisticated antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, today the U.S. is facing serious threats in a domain that is increasingly an arena for conflict. Denying U.S. space capabilities is a central tenet of adversary strategies designed to diminish our prestige and raise the risks and costs of intervention in regional affairs.

This is not the first time the U.S. has had to consider challenges to our space capabilities. During the Cold War, we expected and planned for the Soviet Union to employ its significant capabilities to disrupt or destroy our space assets. However, today’s problem is far more complex and potentially far greater in impact than the Cold War scenario. Given our dependence and that of our allies and partners on space, the loss of critical assets today could prove decisive to our ability to monitor critical events like missile launches or nuclear tests, or to successfully prosecute a military campaign.

Urgent action is needed. Countering this new reality requires a clear understanding of the threats and an approach highlighted by renewed national commitment and increased investment. On the pages that follow, you will find an excellent description of the threats. Compiled from open sources by CSIS, this paper provides a ready reference for all those desiring to know more about or charged with dealing with this significant national security problem.Aerospace