The first-ever ‘Space Capstone Publication—Spacepower Doctrine for Space Forces’ released by the new United States Space Force on 10 August 2020 is not just a ‘must-read’ for anyone in military forces engaged in space activities globally, but anyone in the national security, civil or commercial segments of the global space industry, whether allies of the US or not. If you work for, operate with, sell to, deconflict from, or potentially fight against the US Space Force, you need to know the broad outline of this new publication. The US military remains the most powerful military force on Earth, and consistently, this Spacepower Doctrine publication is comprehensive – actually or prospectively encompassing the Moon and other celestial bodies, as well as Earth orbits; focussing more on the space domain itself, than on how space supports terrestrial domains; fundamentally linking military spacepower with space activities of the civil, commercial, intelligence and allied communities; and encompassing offensive, as well as defensive operations. If you have any element of your activity in the space domain, then the USSF will be operating, in some way, in the same ‘space’ (pun intended), and it will do so according to this new doctrine.

While the doctrine is heavy on ‘military-speak’ – with enigmatic phrases like ‘Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness’, new acronyms such as ‘KOT’ for ‘key orbital trajectory’ and references to a Prussian general and strategic thinker who died almost 200 years ago – the document is comprehensible and relatively easy to read, even for the lay person. It sets the conceptual foundation for the national objectives that the USSF seeks to pursue through military spacepower and how they will do so, including imbuing its people with the right knowledge, experience and skills. Understanding these conceptual foundations is essential for any commercial, governmental or allied partner working with, or just deconflicting from, the USSF. At a more pragmatic and mundane level, the lexicon adopted in this publication will inevitably permeate throughout the whole global space community and for this reason alone, it is an important publication.

The doctrine introduces several sets of inter-related concepts, that are often described, or could be described, as ‘nested’ – meaning that broad foundational concepts encompass progressively more specific or proximate concepts. The most central set of concepts are, at the broadest, most foundational level, the three cornerstone responsibilities of the USSF: to Preserve Freedom of Action, which is focussed on the space domain itself; to Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness, which is focussed on support to terrestrial warfighting; and to Provide Independent Options to the strategic level, which is focussed on the coercive value of military space capabilities. These are supported by five core competencies – that is, the division of the military space enterprise into groups of tasks: Space Security, Combat Power Projection, Space Mobility and Logistics, Information Mobility, and Space Domain Awareness. Finally, these core competencies are achieved by personnel of USSF mastering seven spacepower disciplines. There are several other sets of ‘nested’ concepts that are inter-related, so that the doctrine could be described as a concept of concepts, just as military space capabilities are described as a ‘system of systems’.

In the context of a review of the doctrine from a legal perspective, two elements bear particular mention. First, the doctrine describes space operations as involving three ‘dimensions’: physical, network, and cognitive. While the cognitive element of warfighting has been implicit in other domains, and occasionally explicit, it appears to have more emphasis in the space domain than any other domain. The USSF overtly values agile, innovative and bold thinkers as its warfighters. Secondly, and related to this, the doctrine identifies effective command and control, especially through leadership, as essential to harnessing the spacepower disciplines of its personnel to achieve its core competencies and ultimately meet its cornerstone responsibilities. And a commitment to responsible norms of behaviour in outer space, as well as being good stewards of the space environment, is said to be an overarching theme. All of that taken together suggests that the USSF will expect its warfighters to have high levels of awareness of the legal framework for military space activities, and to be able to operate within that framework with agility, innovation and boldness.

The USSF will be ubiquitous in the space domain, just as space effects are ubiquitous throughout society. The consequences its guidance as it relates to law and regulation of the space domain are, simultaneously: a little frightening, but also hopeful and exciting. The outcomes are yet to be realised, but it will affect us all. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you wish to discuss how it will affect your activities.

By Duncan Blake
Special Counsel, Space Law at IALPG

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