Dear members and friends,
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite Sputnik during the Cold War, the United States faced a major challenge for leadership in space with the Soviet Union. Both superpowers vowed to be the first to land a man on the moon and the great space race had begun. The United States met that challenge and became the first country to land men on the moon on July 20, 1969, and since then has continued to operate and explore in space. Just over fifty years later, America again faces a major new challenge in space which has become contested and congested.
“[Space] is no longer a benign environment where we can operate freely. The space domain has become congested and contested.” Gen. James Dickinson, Commander of U.S. Space Command, speaking at the virtual FIRES Conference on September 30, 2020.
“It is important to note that space is a warfighting domain. Not because we want it to be, but because our adversaries have seen the advantages space has provided to our way of life and our way of war, and they constantly seek ways to hold our assets at risk.” Gen. James Dickinson, Commander of U.S. SPACECOM, speaking at the USSPACECOM Change of Command Ceremony on August 20, 2020.
In 2007, the Chinese government tested an anti-satellite weapon using a kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) to intercept one of their non-operational satellites in what was, as described by Gen Dickinson, “probably the most severe fragmentation event over the last five decades.” The test proved itself to be something with which we “will live with the effects of…for many years, as there were thousands of pieces of debris that were generated from that single event.”
In 2014, “the Russians launched what was assessed as three commercial satellites, and as we observed that, we saw a fourth object,” Gen. Dickinson further explained. “At first, we thought it might be a simple piece of debris, but then we started to see it maneuver a bit and understood that they had control over that fourth object” and then “observed it do a close proximity ops with a rocket body so we understood that they were testing some capability on orbit.” This trend continued with further testing in 2019 with Cosmos 2542, which Gen. Dickinson says “is a satellite that has what we call a ‘Russian nesting doll’ type of concept to it, where you have a satellite inside a satellite inside a satellite with the capability ultimately at the center of that satellite.”
Congested is the simplest way to describe the modern-day space domain as it grows exponentially. The domain is occupied not only by an increasing number of governments but also by a booming private civilian industry. While the once-massive space program of Russia has slowed its pace, a new competitor has emerged in China, who is rapidly closing in on the U.S. in its space capabilities and capacity. China has performed 29 launches this year, with the latest taking place on September 27, although this is less than their initially planned 40 launches for 2020. Last year, China led the world in terms of orbital launches, with 32 successful attempts compared to the United States’ 21 successful launches.
With the ongoing transition of the space domain to a warfighting domain, driven by increased competition from the near peer states, the U.S. has to defend the space domain from anti-satellite missile threats from earth and anti-satellite interceptors in space as well as to be able to discriminate, track, and intercept ballistic missiles that fly through space. In responding to this challenge, the first step is to gather, develop, and deploy sensors in space that can see missile threats from earth and from space. The second is to fuse existing sensors in space with terrestrial space sensors on land, sea, and air into one space operating picture and command under the new Space Combatant Command. The key is to achieve the vision of Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) to create information dominance. The next step is to have tools in the space domain that can negate these threats. This responsibility clearly falls under the new Space Combatant Command mission of defending the sovereignty of space and the new Space Force will be required to man, train, and equip to operate this mission.
As a result of the increasing competition and congestion in space, the U.S. has re-organized itself to operate in space. In August 2019, the U.S. formally established the U.S. Space Command, led by General John Raymond, as an operational Combatant Command to control space forces. On 20 December 2019, the United States formally established the Space Force as the sixth armed service branch. One month later, on January 14, 2020, General Raymond was sworn in as the first Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force, and on August 20, General James Dickinson was sworn in as the new Commander of U.S. SPACECOM. On March 26, 2020, the Space Force made its first launch, putting an AEHF-6 communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Space Force is continuing to grow, gaining personnel in every field, ranging from management to cybersecurity to surpass the competitors and their competition in Space with the United States.
The United States Space Force has not been alone in this space “focus.”
In 2015, the Russian Federation re-established its Space Forces following the merger of the Russian Air Force and Russian Aerospace Defense Forces.
In 2018, India established a tri-service Defense Space Agency.
In 2018, China stood up the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Service to integrate its space, electronic warfare, cyber, and SIGINT forces into one combined force.
In 2019 France established its Space Command under the Air Force.
In April of 2020, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) formally acknowledged the existence of its own Space Command.
In June of 2020 Japan officially inaugurated its first Space Operations Squadron which operates under the Japan Air Self Defense Forces.
The U.S. attempt to maintain its leadership role in space through the development of its Space Force as the sixth service and making Space a Combat Command as a warfighting domain will require persistent focus and leadership. Established situational awareness below, through, and above space is the cornerstone building block of this domain. This new development of the Space Sensor Layer through the Space Development Agency (SDA) and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is being built to consist of a combination of wide field of view (WFoV) tracking satellites and medium field of view (MFoV) heat sensor satellites that would work in collaboration with a space transport layer to move data from the space-based sensors to ground stations. The Space Sensor Layer marks a positive step in that cooperation as it serves a new relationship between the U.S. military and SpaceX.
“We’re in an era of great power competition, and the next major conflict may be won or lost in space. Space is no longer a sanctuary — it is now a warfighting domain.” – Former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaking at the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Spring, Colorado on April 9, 2019.
In many respects, our ability to execute missile defense successfully on Earth requires mastering the art and science of the Space Domain. In all respects, the United States Space Force must be prepared and capable to ‘Defend in Space‘.
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.