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Space Power Institute Think Tank

  • Published
  • By Paul S. Szymanski, President, Space Strategies Center, USA & RADM Cesare Ciocca, Italian Navy, ret.



Establish an organization that will develop advanced space warfare theory, policy, doctrine, strategies, and tactics that will propel the United States as the premier world center for understanding the methods and techniques for conducting military operations in the space environment. What is required is a new theory on space power in the same manner as classical air and sea power theorists such as Alfred Thayer Mahan, Giulio Douhet, or Billy Mitchell, or even Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz. We should also emphasize cooperation with allies and partners in this process. This institute should include all elements of the entire conflict cycle, which are also important issues to be investigated and analyzed for a comprehensive/holistic approach to security and defense in the space environment for national power: economic, diplomatic, informational, military, and moral persuasion. Policies and strategies should also consider how to deter, prevent, or reduce conflicts and establish a stable and secure situation. In addition, cooperation can enhance capabilities, not only limited to technologies, but also extended to organizational and intellectual skills.


There are many examples in military history where one military force that appeared superior on paper is defeated by a technically inferior force that is nimbler and in possession of superior doctrinal concepts on how to conduct warfare. This concern can only be amplified by the remoteness of satellites that make it very difficult to verify what attacks are being set up and by whom. In addition, this new region of warfare has yet to be proven as to what exactly are the correct doctrinal concepts for efficient execution of commander’s intents.

Example Study Topics:

  1. What are the goals for fighting a war in space, and what would adversary surrender criteria be?

  2. Are there critical “choke points” in space that require defending?

  3. If we can detect adversary maneuvers in space to occupy key choke points, does this imply he is setting up for terrestrial conflicts, and can these conflicts be prevented by delaying, frustrating, or deterring him from occupying these space choke points?

  4. Does deterrence work for space warfare, and how does space impact the terrestrial conflict escalation ladder?

  5. What are the conflict escalation “trip-wires” for actions in space?

  6. Does space provide flexible deterrent options?

  7. What are example space courses of action?

  8. What are space centers of gravity?

  9. Can classical warfare doctrine be extended to the space environment?

  10. What are the operational risks for space warfare?

  11. What are the top principles or rules for conducting space warfare?

  12. What are the political acceptability and legal regimes for employing space weapons, and how will these affect international relations post-conflict?

  13. What are the rules of engagement for space warfare, along with weapons-release authority levels?

  14. For space warfare, is offense or defense better strategically, or tactically? Are passive or active defenses better for satellites?

  15. Do future space wars favor the attacker or the defender? Is it true that whomever attacks first in space wins the space war, and does first strike provide a significant advantage to his terrestrial forces?

  16. What are the long-term effects on world relations of the current arms race in space?

  17. What are the benefits and pitfalls of developing international agreements for “traffic control” in space?

  18. Does one particular phenomenology (lasers, jammers, impact weapons, painters, grapplers, etc.) for antisatellite (ASAT) weapons work better for certain theaters, conflict duration, targeted orbits, adversary defenses, conflict phases, and so forth?

  19. Is it better to attack the satellite, the ground systems supporting the satellite, or the communications, data, and tracking, telemetry & control (TT&C) links from the ground to the satellite? Is this conflict level specific?

  20. Is it better to defend satellites in orbit or to provide rapid replacements from the ground vs. on-orbit spares vs. terrestrial means to supplement/replace mission capability?

  21. What is the international legal framework for space infrastructure, satellites, and space stations (with or without crew on board)—can they have the equivalent status as for military ships and aircraft or sea-based offshore platforms?

  22. What are the implications between space and cyber warfare? What can be the most effective combination or synergy between space and cyber warfare concepts, doctrines, and weapons?

  23. To what extent can space warfare planning, and operations be shared with allies, particularly with NATO, especially regarding classification restrictions?

  24. Does use of commercial satellite systems as part of the unmanned aerial vehicle kill chain1 make civilian satellite operators legitimate targets?

  25. Is translunar space a threat for space warfare? ASAT weapons can come screaming in from translunar space and attack geosynchronous targets with very little delta-v fuel burn. It actually takes more fuel to get to geosynchronous orbits than to orbit the Moon.

  26. Will offensive/defensive actions in space warfare cause realignments of allied nations? In other words, if the United States was attacked in space, does that automatically mean that NATO countries will come to its defense? If the United States takes offensive actions in space, would it lose allies due to negative reactions to space war from allied populations? If the United States loses a space war, and consequently loses the terrestrial battle, would some US allies leave alliances to become closer aligned to adversary nations?

Figure 1. Joint Air and Space Power Think Tank Forum. The third annual Joint Air and Space Power Think Tank Forum, which could serve as a catalyst for the proposed Space Power Institute, was conducted in Madrid, 5–7 April 2016, hosted by the Spanish Air Force. The main objective of the forum was to exchange information regarding the composition and responsibilities of think tanks, air warfare centers, air force headquarters, and military academies of the NATO nations sponsoring the Joint Air Power Competence Centre.


The purpose of this new Space Power Institute would be to develop new theories, doctrine, strategies, and tactics for space warfare. For these new concepts to be useful, they must influence the overall command and planning structures in the United States for both space and terrestrial warfare planning staffs. When the general officer steering group is selected well, they can take the finished products back to their previous commands to influence inclusion into current planning. Some suggested means to accomplish this task are:

  1. Develop models and simulations that test new space doctrinal concepts;

  2. Sponsor lectures and symposia on critical space warfare subjects;

  3. Sponsor and fund further research on these topics by commercial contractors and other government agencies;

  4. Sponsor prizes for the best research papers on space warfare;

  5. Participate in and/or fund space-related wargames, including space impacts on terrestrial wargames;

  6. Provide teaching materials for military space courses;

  7. Publish papers in military and space journals (Air & Space Power Journal; Strategic Studies Quarterly; Air University Press, Naval Institute Press; Army University Press; etc.);

  8. Fund space chairs at military schools;

  9. Sponsor student participation in space symposia;

  10. Provide analyses and briefing material for Congress;

  11. Provide advice in space industrial and procurement policies made by the Department of Defense;

  12. Support inclusion of space warfare concepts in military doctrine documents such as Joint Publication 5: Joint Operation Planning and Joint Publication 3-14: Space Operations—both are currently weak and meek on space warfare and require more decisive guidance;

  13. Become the space warfare think tank supporting the development of the new Space Force, much like Project Air Force has been supporting the Air Force since 1946 and the Arroyo Center has supported the Army since 1982; and

  14. Assure allied participation for the maximization of new ideas, especially in a joint and combined environment, such as NATO. Cooperation with Allied Command for Transformation and/or the NATO Defense College Research Division can be useful assets.


This new Space Power Institute can be small at first and only requires administration, a core group of analysts, and some modelling and simulation staff. Prominent space and military experts can be temporarily engaged as consultants and part-time advisors. These advisors can be senior retired general officers, admirals, and government administrators, such as diplomats, intelligence staff, Congressional and other political experts, and possibly allied experts for combined operations. It is recommended to include not only space experts but also nonspace personnel who have extensive experience with terrestrial combat operations and security and defense issues in general to assure the widest possible freethinking and integration with terrestrial planning. The core staff can develop new concepts and doctrine, and then the senior general officer steering group can review and extend these based on their extensive experience.

Possible Locations

It may be best to attach this Space Power Institute to some existing analysis organization for administrative and operations support services. Some possible examples of current organizations:


In the national and international community of think tanks, colleges, and research centers dealing with security and defense matters, the Space Power Institute should represent the key element to focus on the new perspectives and to produce innovative ideas, theories, and concepts in the space power domain.

Space Power requires a wide long-term strategic vision and the ability to combine fast evolving technological aspects, with the more traditional operational art and national interests and priorities in a coherent and holistic framework. Due to its nature, space power is closely linked to the concept of “full-spectrum dominance” to obtain the expected political-strategic objectives.

This challenging reality requires a very powerful tool based on creativity, cultural and methodological flexibility, extensive ability to deal with and be aware of many different issues, such as but not limited to science innovation and technological developments, and elaborate original strategic thinking. This is the fundamental role and nature of the Space Power Institute.

Paul S. Szymanski

Mr. Szymanski (BS Physics, Mathematics, and Logic ’73 & MS Experimental Physics, ’74, Carnegie-Mellon University) has been conducting military operations research analyses for 46 years for the United States Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines. The last 43 years have been exclusively in outer space program analysis, management and development of space warfare theory, policy, doctrine, strategies, tactics, and techniques. He has worked with the Air Staff at the Pentagon (Secretary of the Air Force), the Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles, California, and the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with experience in operational field testing of missile systems at China Lake, California.

He currently manages a private discussion group consisting of 14,388 hand-picked members of LinkedIn interested in space, with members including 1,383 general officers and admirals; 56 current and former Under/Assistant Secretaries of Defense (including one former Secretary of Defense); 228 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (including the current and one former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff); past and current commanders of the 4th, 5th, 6th, Pacific, and Korea Naval fleets; 559 Congressional House and Senate staffers; 136 diplomats; 262 staffers from the White House and National Security Council; and 47 astronauts, among others.

RADM Cesare Ciocca, Italian Navy, ret.

Admiral Ciocca (BS Military Strategic Studies, Italian Naval Academy; MA International Relations and National Security Studies, University of Trieste) is currently secretary general of Eurodefense ltalia, a member of the Military Commission of the ltalian Atlantic Committee in Rome, and is responsible for international education at the lstituto Studi Ricerche lnformazioni Difesa.



1 Federation of American Scientists, “Section 6 - Communication Integration and Interoperability,” Air Combat Command Concept of Operations for Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, 3 December 1996, vers. 2,

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