National Security Space in the Twenty-First Century

By Teets, Peter B. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

National Security Space in the Twenty-First Century


Teets, Peter B., Air & Space Power Journal


FIFTY YEARS AGO, US defense and intelligence experts imagined the benefits possible from space-based surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, mapping, and environmental monitoring. Forty years ago, American ingenuity and industrial prowess made those possibilities a reality. Since then, space systems have brought better intelligence and stronger defenses by enabling the collection of new types of data and information; significantly increasing communications capabilities and capacities; revolutionizing precision navigation and timing; enriching science; establishing new markets; providing safer air, land, and sea transportation; and enabling faster disaster relief as well as more effective civil planning. These benefits and more were the reward of steadfast leadership, a vibrant industrial base, and the energies of talented people.

During the past 10 years, space-based systems have enabled dramatic improvement in military and intelligence operations. Thanks to those systems, our leaders have more accurate and current information on developments, issues, and crises in virtually all parts of the world. Due in large part to space systems, US military forces know more about their adversaries, see the battlefield more clearly, and can strike more quickly and precisely than any other military in history. Space systems are inextricably woven into the fabric of America's national security.

Space Power Is America's Decisive, Asymmetric Advantage

Today, space power represents a decisive, asymmetric advantage for the US government and, in particular, for military and intelligence organizations. The space systems themselves are technologically superior and, when fused with other air-, sea-, and land-based systems, provide the data and information to produce the knowledge and effects needed for successful diplomatic activities, negotiations, deterrence, or warfare.

Our unprecedented global situational awareness, global connectivity, strategic reach, and precision strike are largely enabled by our space systems. Capabilities such as those provided by global positioning system (GPS) satellites and by the military strategic and tactical relay system (MILSTAR)-our most advanced communications constellation currently in orbit-proved vitally critical to the war fighter during recent conflicts. Further, the successful application of space capabilities has enabled significantly changed concepts of power projection, decisive force, overseas presence, strategic agility, and forcible entry. For example, a combat air controller on horseback in Afghanistan used space capabilities to direct bombs on target. The successful application of space power has fundamentally changed our view of the age-old military precepts about mass, movement, fog, and friction.

However, retaining this decisive, asymmetric space advantage is becoming increasingly difficult. Yesterday's highly successful strategies resulted in space systems optimized to enhance the deterrent posture of our strategic forces by providing information about the military and economic status of a closed, hostile superpower. These systems focused on monitoring the long-term strategic posture while guaranteeing strategic warning-they were perfectly suited for knowing what was happening inside the borders of the Soviet Union.

Today's security challenges are more diverse and dispersed. We must still protect Americans and American interests from hostile armies and strategic threats, as well as from new, emerging threats from nonstate actors-particularly those posed by globally organized terrorists who may be fleeting and nearly invisible. These new threats-smaller and scattered globally-may strike anywhere, at any time.

Meanwhile, space is not solely an American domain. Countries worldwide continue vigorous civil, defense, and commercial space programs that provide highly accurate reconnaissance imaging, precision navigation and timing, and near-instantaneous global-communications capabilities.

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