Title: Protecting Commercial Space Systems: A Critical National Security Issue

Subject: Growing U.S. reliance on commercial space creates vulnerabilities which an adversary could exploit to seriously impair our military capability and/or jeopardize U.S. national security. Although the economic well-being of the U.S. is becoming inextricably tied to commercial space assets, DoD should not mortgage its future military space capability until commercial industry adequately addresses the issue of protection. National space policy, joint and USAF doctrine, and projected force structure will be analyzed for consistency. DoD, particularly the USAF, has a role to play in safeguarding the sovereignty of all U.S. space systems that may be used for military purposes.

Author(s): Charles H. Cynamon; Daniel C. Blaettler (Faculty Advisor)


Abstract: Commercial space capabilities are expanding. As they expand, the capabilities will increase in their military utility. These capabilities include communications, remote sensing, navigation, and imagery. Spending in the commercial space industry between 1995 and 2010 will top $100 billion. With the rise in commercially available services and declining defense budgets, the DoD will inevitably migrate traditionally dedicated space capabilities to commercial systems (communications, remote sensing, and possibly navigation). Since their ultimate goal is profitability (and rightfully so), industry considers countermeasures costly and unnecessary against threats they deem not likely. With our economic well-being increasingly tied to space, what role should the US Government play in assuring our access? In the days of pirates, naval forces were essential to protect trade routes for friendly commerce. Naval theorists, such as Alfred Thayer Mahan, and maritime law provide thought-provoking analogies for the need to protect lines of communication, control the medium, and protecting national sovereignty. In addition, future projections of the strategic environment point to force-on-force space confrontation with peer competitors and asymmetric attack by niche competitors, hostile groups, and individuals. Therefore, protection of commercial space assets must be rooted in space law, space policy and doctrine with consideration for the aforementioned future strategic environment. Key questions will address the impact on U.S. national security due to attacks on commercial space assets. What is the 'real' impact of commercial space on the U.S. economy (not just spending)? How would loss of commercial space capabilities impact U.S. war fighting capability? What constitutes an attack on a commercial space system? How do we deter and detect an attack? How should the U.S. respond to such attacks, proportionally or massively? Finally, what policy and process changes are needed to protect our national security?

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Last updated 1999 Nov 17