US, close allies sign ‘call to action’ in space defense

By Theresa Hitchens,
Published by Breaking Defense, 22 February 2022

The new military accord signed by Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US presages joint stance on future space norms.

WASHINGTON: In a first public statement of intent, the US and its five closest military allies today announced a shared “call to action” for future collaboration in defending their interests in outer space, including potential development efforts to fill gaps in their collective capabilities.

While containing no real surprises, the document clearly is designed as a signal to China and Russia of collective allied will to push back in the ongoing political struggle to shape international views about what is acceptable military action in space.

The “Combined Space Operations (CSpO) Vision 2031” [PDF] was signed by the US Defense Department and the allied ministries of defense Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

“Through the sharing of intelligence, information, and training with allies and partners, we can be greater than the sum of our parts in our joint pursuit for a safe and secure space domain,” said Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, director of the British Ministry of Defense’s Space Directorate, said in a press release.

The Defense Department’s statement stressed the looming threat from adversaries in the military’s most distant domain.

“CSpO is an initiative to address the overarching need to encourage responsible use of space, recognizing challenges to space sustainability, threats presented by technological advances, and the increasingly comprehensive and aggressive counterspace programs of other nation states,” DoD’s press release announcing the new accord states. The group’s last senior-level meeting was held Dec. 21.

While itself new, in many ways the document is simply putting on paper past and current allied plans.

“An interesting document, but nothing out of the ordinary,” said Kaitlyn Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “This group (the Five Eyes, plus France and Germany) were already on the path for a lot of these.”

Still, Jessica West of Canada’s Project Ploughshares, said that “from an operational military perspective, this is a pretty significant statement about the security and sustainability implications of poor governance in outer space.”

“It’s encouraging to see a ‘call to action’ on better rule-making and coordination,” she told Breaking Defense.

Cliques In Space

The CSpO is confusingly not the same as another international cooperative group, the Space Command’s Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), located at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. CSPoC, which includes only Five Eyes representatives, reports to SPACECOM’s Combined Space Force Component Command that takes care of all the day-to-day space support functions for military operators, such as managing military access to communications satellites and operating GPS satellites.

Today’s document lays out the broader vision for the larger CSpO group, which Space Force’s Gen. Jay Raymond described last month as the place where the close allies “come together as a collective body” to “do work on policy and force design, and integration, and messaging, and norms of behavior – all those types of things.”

It also provides insights into allied thinking about future rules of the road for military space activities.

First, the document pledges the allies to “foster responsible military behaviors in space to promote conditions to maintain freedom of use, access to, and sustainability of the space domain, and to discourage irresponsible behavior and avoid escalation.”

The Western allies already have been cooperating closely to align their approach under the new UN Open Ended Working Group on military space norms — although the fate of that effort is in question after Russia successfully stalled the initial Feb. 14 meeting, and stands poised for an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

“These norms are also pretty widely shared outside the CSpO group if you look at UN discussions on this, so I’m hoping that this underlines the commonality of these goals and is a stepping stone toward getting relatively broad international consensus,” Secure World Foundation’s Victoria Samson said.

Secondly, and perhaps more relevant under current circumstances, it puts a public spotlight on allied efforts to work together in the so-called gray zone of information warfare that has erupted as the US, China and Russia seek to characterize each other’s actions as threatening, and their own similar actions as upholding, peace and stability in the heavens.

To do so, the signatories will “collaborate on strategic communications efforts to set the desired conditions in the information” environment. Indeed, in 2020 the highly classified Schriever War Game — which included the vision’s signatories as well as Japan — was focused on exactly this: “strategic messaging” to increase public understanding of Russian and Chinese threats, SPACECOM’s leader Gen. James Dickinson said in November 2020.

The vision document sets out six “guiding principals” for the group in undertaking military space operations: “freedom of use of space, responsible and sustainable use of space, partnering while recognizing sovereignty, and upholding international law.”

It also lays out four specific objectives to guide national and collective activities:

  • Prevent conflicts. “By strengthening coordination, building resiliency, promoting responsible behavior in space, enhancing partnership, and communicating transparently, we improve our national and collective abilities to prevent conflict and to promote security and stability in all domains.”
  • Unity of Effort. “CSpO Participants seek to enable combined space operations by sharing information across multiple classification levels – from the strategic to the operational and tactical levels, and at a pace that is operationally relevant.”
  • Space Mission Assurance. This includes establishing “a robust, responsive, and interoperable space infrastructure” to ensure “the continued function and resilience of equipment, facilities, networks, information and information systems, personnel, infrastructure, and supply.”
  • Defense and Protection. “This may include collaboration across a range of measures, such as: developing requirements for current and future systems to counter hostile space activities and to deter, deny, or defeat attacks or interference with the space enterprise; delivering the ability for combined, agile, and adaptive command and control through resilient, secure, interoperable, and sustainable communications; sharing appropriate intelligence and information; and timely and inclusive leadership dialogues and decision-making.”

Finally, the signatories commit to six collective “lines of effort” to implement the objectives. These include: developing “resilient, interoperable architectures” by identifying capability gaps and “collaborative opportunities;” improving intelligence sharing; and enhancing command, control and communications links.

See: Original Article