WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2011 — The Defense Department’s release last month of the first U.S. National Security Space Strategy underscores the importance of the domain and the need to properly develop it, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said today.
More than 60 years after the U.S.-Russian space race began, the space domain has become crowded and competitive, with at least 60 nations having objects in space, Lynn said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Security here.
Lynn was joined by Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley. John J. Hamre, CSIS president and CEO and a former deputy secretary of defense, moderated the discussion.
“Space is no longer the private preserve of the U.S. and Soviet Union,” Lynn said. Twenty-five years ago, the United States controlled two-thirds of the space market; today, that presence has slipped to below 40 percent, he said.
“We needed a strategy to protect space itself, and we needed a strategy to protect the space industrial base,” Lynn said.
Hamre noted that 37 U.S. senators signed a letter of concern to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Feb. 2 stating their concern that the European Union is developing a space “code of conduct” that could undermine the U.S. space presence and harm security.
To the contrary, Lynn said, proposals for the code are consistent with U.S. space strategy to promote freedom of access and require timely notification of problems in space. It also retains countries’ rights of self-defense in space, he added.
“We think this kind of voluntary code of conduct that promotes responsible behavior … should be viewed positively,” he said.
The military has used the space domain for decades for important missions with missiles, communications and weather, Donley said, but only recently came to appreciate the importance of surveying space itself and understanding what’s going on there.
“We need to improve our capacity to understand what’s going on in space,” Donley said. To do that, he explained, the United States has developed a “space fence” over the southern part of the country to catch space debris, and last year, the Air Force launched the first space-based surveillance system.
Cartwright outlined several ways to develop the space domain, such as requiring rules, or “norms,” on things such as how close spacecraft can be to others, and requiring notification of new spacecraft and any potential problems in space.
Countries “have been operating in space like no one knows it’s there,” the general said, suggesting that space could be governed similarly to the sea and air.
“Just like we did in the air, and just like we did in the oceans, you have to acknowledge what’s there,” he said.
Maintaining situational awareness in space is critical, Cartwright said. “Absent that, you’re in a very large state of ambiguity,” he added.
Also, the government has to help in improving the commercial space industry to allow for better equipment that delivers information more quickly, Cartwright said. “We have a good idea of what’s out there,” he said, “as long as you give us days to figure it out.”
As for defenses in space, Cartwright said the main thing to remember is that “if there’s going to be contested activity in space, it doesn’t mean we have to respond in space.” A large amount of U.S. space capabilities are run through ground systems, he explained.
The panelists agreed that the government needs to help the U.S. space industry by changing export laws and amending acquisition policies. Also, they said, the United States must partner with other countries in space.
“We still have the attitude that we’re going to go it alone,” Cartwright said. “We can’t afford it. We don’t fight as a single nation any more; we fight as multiple constructs. We’ve got to fight in a combined way, whether it’s sea, air or space.”
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