In 1914, the vanguard of battle started its slow transition from the trenches and near seas to the clouds. By mid-century, air power placed the Superpowers’ defense in the hands of their air forces. Get ready for the next revolution. The frontlines of strategic deterrence (nuclear and nonnuclear) are now gravitating away from the Earth’s surface into space where the eyes, ears, and nervous system of the world’s economy and militaries increasingly reside. Will America be able to operate effectively in this new theater with Russia and China and the world’s other spacefaring nations? What will keeping the peace and prevailing in war now entail?
NPEC commissioned Peter Garretson, an independent space consultant, formerly with the U.S. Air University Air Command and Staff College, to get the answers. His take, contained in the attached study, “What War in Space Might Look Like Circa 2030-2040?,” clarifies perhaps the most important comment made int he U.S. Space Force’s recently released Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces. That observation is that although the “entirety of economic and military space activities” is confined to space out to 24,000 miles from Earth or below (known as “geocentric regime”), America’s space investments and interests are likely to expand beyond this to include space activities near, on, and beyond the Moon.
Mr. Garretson drives home the implications of this conclusion by delineating what America’s military interests are now — anchored to activities on Earth — and what they soon enough may become — activities more independent of earthly endeavors. To be sure, this transition may sound unrealistic until you consider that Russia, China, the European Union, Japan, and India all have already conducted missions to the Moon and plan soon to return, as does the United States.
What are the military security uses and requirements for operating at or below 24,000 miles from Earth as compared to operating beyond? How might conflict arise in space closer to Earth compared to well beyond it in deep space? The short answer is that they are quite different. The trick will be knowing when and how to adjust U.S. and allied expenditures and strategies to deal with both. Towards this end, Peter’s work is a first-rate place to begin.
Aug 13, 2020
AUTHOR: Peter Garretson
What War In Space Might Look Like In The Next One To Two Decades (PDF) 906.90 KB
This essay seeks to give the reader two distinct visions of space warfare circa 2030-2040. First, a conservative view presumes wars begin on Earth (over geo-strategic interests on Earth), and extend into space to maintain the advantages of continued overhead satellite sensing. The second view is expansionist. It presumes space wars begin in space over geo-strategic interests in space and proceed with relative independence of events and military activity on Earth. Actual conflict of course might very well see a mix of both, but they are presented as extremes, or ideal-type cases to help the reader to see the outlines of different causal logics driving each. At some point, circa 2030 (and perhaps even sooner), economic development activities in deep space will create a truly unprecedented situation: nation-states will have geo-strategic interests on other planetary bodies — the moon and asteroids. The degree to which the future resembles the expansionist view will depend on how much and at what speed activities are conducted in deep space and on the Moon in particular. Those who would dismiss the expansionist scenarios as ‘too far out’ should consider that already today a number of states are talking about Lunar mining, and that the United States, China, India, Russia, Japan, and Israel are already putting precursor missions on the Moon. A wholistic view of both has implications for military doctrine, concept design, force structure design, and international governance including arms control and the law of armed conflict, as well as for legislation and policy. This suggests that 1) military doctrine must anticipate that United States geo-strategic interests will likely encompass economic activities in deep space, and develop concepts for peacetime strategic offensives to maintain positions of advantage; 2) that design of a 2030-2040 force structure requires attention to the unique navigational, maneuver, logistics, and power projection needs for deep space vehicles; 3) consideration and anticipation of conflict may enable the community of nations to arrive at consensus on certain conflicts or types of conflict they mutually wish to avoid, and 4) a role for civilian leadership to ensure the U.S. DoD is prepared through legislation and policy to specify roles and missions to protect space commerce, to specify plans, and to specify the Area of Responsibility (AOR) as encompassing the entirety of the Cis-Lunar theater.
Below I provide scenarios for crisis and conflict. The conservative view sees space war taking place close to Earth, within the Earth’s Gravity well in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or the Geostationary belt (GEO). In contrast, the expansionist view considers conflict that might occur in proximity to Earth’s Moon, approximately ten times as distant as GEO (See image 1 below). Readers curious how I arrived at these can consult the appendix.
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