National Security Space Strategy Considerations

  • Published

National Security Space Strategy Considerations by Rick Larned, Cathy Swan, and Peter Swan. Lulu, 2010, 108 pp.

Just in time to accompany the February 2011 release of the National Security Space (NSS) Strategy by the Department of Defense, three former Air Force officers produced a thoughtful compendium exploring the intersection of national security space issues and strategy implementations. This monograph does not take a narrow view of NSS strategy considerations. Rather it examines a broad swath, providing a solid overview of the strategic context in which the DoD employs NSS systems. The perspectives on US national security space capabilities presented in this book clearly reflect the extensive military backgrounds of the three authors. Larned retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general, Cathy Swan retired as a colonel, and Peter Swan is a retired lieutenant colonel. General Larned’s official biography lists a diverse array of leadership positions within multiple corners of the national security space arena. Both Peter and Cathy Swan have PhDs. Clearly, this book springs from a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience within the field.

Up front, it is important to mention that the recently released National Security Space Strategy has not precluded the need for a book of this nature, nor does it detract from the quality of this specific work. But the reader must take care to read this for what it is, not for what he or she may want it to be. Whereas the official strategy focuses on reconciling ends, ways, means, and the associated risks with the strategic environment, this book looks beyond those elements to the myriad tangential concerns that shape (and are shaped by) the National Security Space Strategy. The monograph does this through recognition that any national-level strategy is a fluid and responsive living document. Understandably, this strategic discussion is a delicate ballet due to security classification issues inherent in many facets of national security space programs and projects. Therefore some of the concepts receive light treatment, with broad assertions that the uninitiated reader must take on faith and that seasoned NSS practitioners should already understand.

The central thesis is the need for a broad, robust, and updated NSS strategy. The authors offer a sequential model, starting at the current environment for strategy formulation and proceeding to the operational-level implementation of such a strategy. This model then bases the NSS strategy in the context of emerging threats, current military space doctrine, and existing space policy (though the book was presumably written and released prior to release of the 2010 National Space Policy: no mention is made of that document). From this foundation, the monograph moves briskly through the strategy model. The title undersells the range of the book; it actually covers at least one echelon in each direction beyond what is appropriate for a NSS strategy. The model and discussion segment the prospective NSS strategy into three components—acquisition, operations, and sustainment strategies—and provides recommended measures of effectiveness (MoE) related to performance in each of these areas. These MoEs are perhaps the single most valuable aspect of the monograph to the well-versed NSS advocate. The book includes a synopsis of relevant studies performed in national security space acquisition, operations and sustainment culled from the last two decades, though the research presented is not exhaustive and no discriminating factors are provided for the particular selections. The piece closes with nine “red herrings,” myths the authors wish to dispel about national security space strategy.

One major flaw of this work is that it tries to cover too much ground in too few pages. For example, it initially expands the conventional definition of “national security space” to include civil, commercial, and launch infrastructure in addition to that of the DoD and intelligence community. However, after this initial expansion, little time is devoted to the implications of including the larger national space community under the national security space umbrella, and the effects this inclusion may have on the acquisition, operations, and sustainment of NSS systems are not explored in any meaningful detail. In this way the authors have established the broadest domestic space definition possible, but they do not investigate the higher-order effects caused by competing ends and dispersed resources, nor the risks inherent in such a strategy. This exposes a shortcoming based in the authors’ extensive, but exclusively military, backgrounds—not exploring the proposed strategy’s impacts on civil or commercial space enterprises. Additionally, the conclusions reached for each strategic component (acquisition, operations, and sustainment) are largely consistent with the concepts put forth by senior DoD leaders on the topic of national security space. While the authors succeed in validating these needs, they stop short of providing novel suggestions for meeting them. It is unclear how a new strategy couched in the same elements will provide significant solutions to the problems facing national security space systems.

“National security space strategy considerations” are an ambitious undertaking, worthy of a longer and deeper treatment than this book provides. Two welcome improvements to this think piece would be to expanded discussion throughout on the included topics and a more intricate model of the strategic approach outlined. By evolving this model into a more appropriate, higher-order one that perhaps recognizes the recursive relationship between many of the concepts outlined, the authors could better present the true complexity of their endeavor. Further, this improvement would bear out the sometimes tangential nature of the monograph. This slender volume in the national security space discussion is best suited for those new to any of the NSS establishments and organizations or as a survey-level introductory piece for middle-to-senior-level leaders of all services, branches, and backgrounds who should be familiar with the military space program. Inclusion in joint professional military education curricula would be immensely beneficial to the students, though many of the traditional elements of national strategies (ends, ways, means, and risks) are not covered in great detail here.

Maj Nick Martin, USAF

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."