A Naval Concepts-Based Vision for Space

By Commander Randall G. Bowdish, U.S. Navy, and Commander Bruce Woodyard, U.S. Navy

Some of this dependence on space evolved ad hoc and some by design. It is time to reflect upon the implications of our reliance upon space as it pertains to present and future naval operations. Potential adversaries certainly recognize our dependence on space as a critical vulnerability central to our combat capability. Consequently, our space-based capabilities must be not only rugged, but also well-defended.

Space and the Navy's Role in National Security

That space will play an increasingly important role in the accomplishment of national security objectives is a given. In 1996, for example, commercial space revenues exceeded government space expenditures for the first time. The United States currently has more than $100 billion invested in space. More than 1,000 satellites are expected to be launched in the next decade, representing an investment of more than one-half trillion dollars. As much of our economy becomes information-based, and as a large segment of information assets migrate to earth orbit, our nation's prosperity will become inextricably linked with space capabilities.

The National Military Strategy emphasizes the importance of information links between our globally dispersed forces. In short, access to and use of information enhances all aspects of military operations—and this information increasingly will be collected from and disseminated through space.

As flexible, mobile instruments of foreign policy, naval forces historically have been used to shape the international environment. The Navy also enhances economic prosperity by ensuring freedom of navigation for the world's commerce and promoting stability in key areas. These enduring naval functions are relevant today and will remain relevant in the next century.

Though a maritime service, the Navy has not been limited to operations at sea. Sea control must take priority when there is a blue-water threat, but when such a threat does not exist—or when sea control has been established locally—the Navy can turn its attention to other functions, such as projecting power inland from the sea or supporting land operations.

This integrated, cross-dimensional, multifunction approach has been applied throughout the course of our naval history to incorporate new technologies, resulting in advanced capabilities. When the Navy adopted aviation, it did not form a separate entity, such as the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm or the U.S. Army Air Corps. Rather, it integrated aviation into fleet operations to enhance and fulfill traditional naval roles, whether gunfire spotting, attacking enemy warships or providing support for troops ashore. Witness today's fleet. Surface combatants and submarines now are strike platforms, by virtue of their Tomahawk-launching capability. The future of military units is not narrow specialization, but multimission capability that can be used across the spectrum of conflict in and through all media. The Navy-Marine Corps team, the original joint force, is the only combined-arms, multimedia service that can bring full force to bear from every dimension.

Space is yet another medium in the warfighting continuum. Naval forces inherently understand how to conduct sustained, expeditionary operations in and from vast, inhospitable environments, be they the ocean of earth or the ocean of space. Spacefaring nations will use space as seafaring nations historically have used the sea—as an international arena for unrestricted economic and military activity. This view is consistent with current naval doctrine of using the sea as a maneuver and basing environment to influence events in the littorals, where the bulk of human activity, economy, and conflict takes place. Given this understanding, it is clear that the Navy should use space as it uses the sea.


Peter Drucker, considered by many as the "Godfather of Modern Management," points out that the next information revolution will be a revolution in concepts:

So far, the information revolution has centered on data—their collection, storage, transmission, analysis, and presentation. It has centered on the 'T' in IT. The next information revolution asks: What is the MEANING of information, and what is its PURPOSE? And this is leading rapidly to redefining the tasks to be done with the help of information, and with it, redefining the institutions that do these tasks.

While Drucker discusses the next information revolution in terms of business, his point applies to the military. In many respects, the military is leading the way in redefining how it will secure national security objectives in terms of warfighting concepts. The National Military Strategy lists four strategic concepts: strategic agility, overseas presence, power projection, and decisive force. Joint Vision 2010 is "a conceptual template for how we will channel the vitality of our people and leverage technological opportunities to achieve new levels of effectiveness in joint warfighting." The Marine Corps is committed to the warfighting concept of Operational Maneuver From the Sea and is marching smartly toward implementation.

In turn, a globally dispersed and engaged Navy relies on space systems to enable its strategic concepts—forward presence, deterrence, power projection, and sea and area control—by providing:

  • Warning and communication for deployed nuclear forces
  • Coordinating presence operations to stabilize key regions
  • Bringing the right force to bear in response to crises
  • Linking sensors and weapons together to effect control of a theater

If the Navy is to achieve a network-centric force in the coming years, it is imperative that the fleet be supported by space-based capabilities derived from a coherent set of space concepts linked comprehensively to strategic concepts. We believe the Navy's vision for space in the 21st century should be founded on three concepts:

  • Warfighter support
  • Space control
  • Force on demand

Warfighter support and space control together constitute naval space operational concepts. Combined with force on demand, they complement naval strategic concepts as they pertain to naval forces.

Underlying these concepts is the use of Network Centric Warfare to harness the power of information in an architecture largely dependent on space systems. Particularly important in this context will be giving on-scene commanders uninhibited access to any type of required information, which, in turn, depends upon connectivity.

Naval Space Concepts

Warfighter support . Enhancing the operations of our combat forces in the conduct of their missions is the primary purpose for naval use of space. Naval forces are the most critically dependent on space-based information simply because they are the forces that have no other option. Ships cannot remain tied to cable networks or rely on fixed antennae. Whether for communications, intelligence, navigation, or meteorological and oceanographic data, naval forces will continue to require supporting information derived from and passed through space. These support functions largely have migrated to space. In some cases, the requirement for these services can be satisfied only by space-based assets. Given the loss of many land-based communication and navigation facilities in recent years, the requirement for self-contained, long-haul space support has increased.

Space control . We must ensure our freedom of operations in space and, if necessary, deny that freedom to adversaries. Access, protection, surveillance, negation, and prevention are required to ensure critical support reaches combat forces anytime, anywhere. Space control is not an end in itself, rather, it is carried out to support operations on earth.

Because freedom of the seas is an essential principle of seafaring nations, unhindered access to space will be essential to space faring nations. This means assured, on-call launch, recovery, repair, reconstitution, and on-orbit operations of space assets. Though the Navy does not itself maintain a launch capability—indeed, all Defense Department space launch is largely outsourced—secure and reliable launch and reconstitution must remain ahead of foreign government and commercial capabilities.

Space surveillance, the tracking of all man-made objects in orbit, is a prerequisite for space control. More than 9,000 man-made objects are in orbit, and up to 1,700 satellites are expected to launch in the next decade. Given that commercial systems now exceed all government programs worldwide, it is clear that surveillance is a prerequisite for deconfliction. It also supports vulnerability warning, communications antenna pointing, geolocation of ground emitters, plus launch and satellite operations. These efforts support not only the Pentagon, but also the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the commercial sector.

Protection ensures the reliability, availability, and integrity of information that goes to the combat forces. Not only our satellites but the entire space system—launch facilities, ground relay stations, and data links—are vulnerable to disruption by conventional attack or sabotage, information operations, and even natural disasters. Access, surveillance, and protection absolutely require joint, interagency cooperation to ensure that our operations are assured, our systems are safe, and information to the end user is secure and reliable.

Prevention and negation are crucial to denying adversaries the use of space. Prevention consists of those measures taken to preclude an adversary's hostile use of space systems and services, including active, passive, or diplomatic means to ensure that adversaries do not have access to space-based command-and-control or communications links, sensors, imagery, or payload and mission data. This includes products from third-party governments and commercial sources.

Negation defines those measures taken to disrupt, deny, degrade, deceive, or destroy an adversary's use of space systems and services. Hostile space systems will be engaged at all levels, including control and launch facilities, data links, and orbital assets. Information operations as well as methods that inflict physical damage can be used to support theater commanders or effect control of space.

Force on demand . This naval space concept places a power-projection capability in space, deployed on demand as conditions warrant. Although we do not presently possess this ability—and fielding such assets is against present national policy—the need may still arise. Space-to-earth weaponization is not consistent with national policy, but the objective is to plan for the future by developing the required capability should the need materialize.

Our vision for space endorses development of systems that can be deployed on demand (rather than permanent basing) if:

  • Imminent threats arise
  • International security conditions warrant
  • National policy allows

No nation wants another's power-projection capability orbiting overhead. While many see the obvious benefits of being able to apply force from space, the unintended consequences may prove disadvantageous—perhaps even dangerous. A backlash is likely, with a space weapons race probable. To understand this line of reasoning, one need ponder only a moment what the U.S. response would be if a potential adversary fielded such a capability first. On the other hand, if the United States is the first to put weapons in space it would likely hold the initial advantage—but for how long and at what cost? In addition, who would have more to lose? A potential adversary with only one simple space-based weapon aimed at Washington, D.C., New York, or Los Angeles might still hold the advantage over a more sophisticated U.S. capability.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the issue. It is the responsibility of the military to ensure that the nation is not caught flat-footed on national security issues. Deployment on demand of space-based weapon systems would ensure U.S. dominance in space and secure our interests on the planet without creating the inevitable instability associated with permanently-based orbiting weapons.

What do these concepts mean for naval capabilities? It does not necessarily mean that the Navy will conduct warfare in or from space, but neither does it limit us in future developments. While the near-term focus should remain on supporting warriors on earth, it is not difficult to imagine ships or aircraft with space-surveillance radar, antisatellite, or orbital launch capability, or lasers that can dazzle hostile satellites. Just as space power supports naval forces, naval assets must support all aspects of space operations.

Naval forces need a concepts-based vision for space. It must be clear, shared, and serve as a template for the naval use of space. With the proliferation of space systems throughout the military and commercial sectors, clearly defined operational concepts must guide our developing capabilities. We must commit to a naval space vision, ensuring that we stay true to it in our acquisition, training and fielding of our 21st-century naval forces.

The proposed concepts are the correct ones, which will enable us to control the ocean of space to support the warfighter on earth. As Colin Gray reminds us, whatever road the Navy takes, "If we lack a vision of what naval power and space power can mean for each other, the agenda of U.S. military space development will be set by people and organizations not oriented primarily toward the advancement of maritime excellence."

Commander Bowdish and Commander Woodyard are both Strategic Planners in the Strategy and Concepts Branch, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.


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