The US Space Force is gaining strength

The last few weeks have seen several announcements from the Pentagon and the American government in the direction of the 4th dimension: Space. This gesticulation is not trivial. It reflects the implementation of the American “Space Command” and the strategic, doctrinal and technical issues relating to it.

The militarization of space has continued to increase since the end of the Cold War and the Second Gulf War (1991). It is located at the crossroads of the geostrategic breakdown resulting from the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the irruption of NICTs in the conduct of so-called “network-centric” or “info-centric” warfare. Fundamental force multiplier, keystone of C4ISR systems but limited to a support function, the use of Space for military purposes was in the 1990s the work of a very closed club of nations (EU, Russia, France…). This situation has largely evolved through the progressive trivialization of access to the fourth dimension (around sixty countries today) and the emergence of new institutional players (China, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, etc.). We also note the appearance of “New Space”. An ecosystem of private players who are no longer content to be operators but also designers, developers, builders and above all launchers.

Some are today on the verge of contesting the pre-eminence of certain hitherto predominant players [efn_note]The Space X renewable launcher is a very serious competitor for Arianne VI from Airbus/Arianespace. France is seriously asking itself the question of the long-term desire for a denial of our sovereign access to Space[/efn_note]. Favored since the 2000s by the American administration and leading to a significant drop in costs and miniaturization of parts, “New Space” is giving rise to an increasingly mature ecosystem and global space market. In this way, he also participates in changing the nature of the strategic understanding of this 4th dimension.

From militarized space to the weaponized 4th dimension

The combination of competition, particularly military competition, between states, the strategic marker character of Space and the trivialization of its access make it mutate from a support dimension to an additional combat dimension. In other words, the militarization of space continues its progression towards weaponization. In the 1990s, the military uses of Space concerned three main “components”:

  • Observation (ROIM) and Elint [efn_note]Electronic Intelligence [/efn_note] (ROEM) in low orbit (less than 2000km), using so-called “scrolling” satellites
  • Geo-positioning (GPS, Galileo) in medium orbit (between 2000 km and 5000 km)
  • Telecommunications, data transmissions and early [ballistic] warning[efn_note] Early warning systems also use low orbit[/efn_note] in “geosynchronous” orbit (stationary satellites at 36km)

These components gave Space the status of keystone of the C4ISTAR architectures of Western armies establishing their technological and informational superiority. Without space, there is no targeting process and limited electronic intelligence capabilities (eavesdropping, jamming, intoxication, etc.); no high-speed data transmissions in real time, within C2 architectures, no guidance of HALE and MALE drones, no geolocation of vectors in theater (necessary for their networking) or GPS guidance of munitions (Cruise , Ballistics…), etc…. These capabilities are expected to be strengthened through the use of AI in the transmission and fusion of data at exponential volume, the systematization of collaborative joint combat, the multiplication of microsatellite orbits or the evolution of warning systems. advanced designed to take into account the threat of hypersonic ballistic missiles…. So many technological advances made possible, among other things, by the “New Space”

MQ 4C Triton USN Defense Analyzes | ASAT | Communication and Defense Networks
The MALE and HALE drones are dependent on a satellite link with the control center

On the other hand, the emergence of new spatial actors today implies an increase in conflict in a dimension that is now vital for any country claiming to increase or maintain its influence and power. Western general staffs are therefore now forced to anticipate new risks in space. Because any denial of access or neutralization/destruction of capabilities would cripplingly harm Western armies in their ability to enter first into semi- and non-permissive environments or even simply use the majority of their systems. Troops deployed in theaters of operation would become blind and units isolated[efn_note] Even within the framework of degraded environment doctrines which anticipate this type of scenario.[/efn_note] .

The growing radicalization of international balance of power now poses various threats, whether cyber (piracy of software on the ground or in orbit), electromagnetic (jamming of SatCom or geolocation data), sabotage/capture/movement of satellites, even kinetic threats such as anti-satellite missiles (fired from the surface or the air or even one day Space-to-Space) or the programming of “killer satellites”. We note in passing that a large part of the threats concern space vectors capable of neutralizing or destroying other vectors. Knowledge of the space environment is therefore fundamental. The “Space surveillance” capability has already been a strategic issue for 20 years. The increasing densification of space traffic combined with the increase in conflict makes it essential[efn_note]It is also very important regarding debris management[/efn_note]. It is still today the work of a tight club of nations (EU, Russia, France, China, soon Japan, etc.). The technical challenge characterizing it is its evolution towards the surveillance of Space from Space in order to complement ground radar systems.

The United States is trying to clearly assert its leadership in tomorrow's space

This strategic context leads to an inflation of doctrines, architectures and production of vectors within the main Western headquarters. It was the United States which was the first, faced with Russian and Chinese space gesticulations in particular, to undertake the creation of a “Space Command” at the end of 2018. Recent declarations and projects undertaken demonstrate that it is not did not act as an announcement effect. This announcement is the logical outcome of 15 years of foresight on the weaponization of Space. International tensions and global rearmament increasingly materialize this perspective forcing space powers to react. The months of August and September 2019 were very rich in announcements from the Pentagon and the government regarding Space. In two months were confirmed:

  •  The increase in SatCom bandwidths for troops deployed in theater,
  • The imminent arrival of the new generation early warning system,
  • A billion dollars have been released for the hypersonic DAMB[efn_note]Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense[/efn_note]
  •  The upcoming establishment of a deep space surveillance system in order to anticipate conventional threats beyond Geosynchronous orbit.

Deep space surveillance is perhaps the most interesting from a strategic and prospective point of view. Both in terms of technological and doctrinal innovation and geopolitical implication. Indeed, by foreseeing threats beyond the Geosynchronous orbit, the American army mechanically moves the “terrestrial” geostrategic horizon towards the vicinity of the Moon. Giving credibility to the threats of conventional confrontations in space in the medium term.

Satellite Analyzes Defense | ASAT | Communication and Defense Networks
The acquisition of intelligence, whether electromagnetic or optical, is one of the main missions entrusted to military satellites.

As a result, the EU is also counting on the need to create a new area of ​​intelligence dedicated to Space[efn_note]A Space Origin Intelligence (ROES) of some kind [/efn_note] and to the use of Space which would potentially lead to the creation of a [space] intelligence center independent of the US Air Force and consequently doctrines and intelligence architecture specific to the 4th dimension.
The situation testifies to significant voluntarism which materializes Americans' awareness of the vital issues they face. This new spatial reading grid seems to have quickly caught on…

France wants to maintain its rank as a major space power

As an old military and space nation, France has gradually become aware of the gradual change in the nature of the 4th dimension. However, the recent doctrinal effort seems to have been provoked by two shocks: President Trump's announcement of the creation of the US Space Command in 2018 and the media coverage of the affair of the Russian satellite having approached the telecommunications satellite Franco-Italian Athena-Fidus in September 2018. This is how at the end of 2018, President Emmanuel Macron and Defense Minister Florence Parly publicized the new French space strategy materializing in the document “Defense Space Strategy” completed, summarily , by “Imagining beyond: Defense innovation guidance document” in 2019.

It appears regrettable in terms of prospective that France is putting itself in such a “reactive” posture or even following the doctrinal trail of the United States[efn_note]Which would be quite unprecedented since the end of the 1990s, a period from which the France begins to develop more original employment concepts and doctrines after the “trauma” of the second Gulf War and the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia [/efn_note]. However, France has demonstrated its intellectual vigor in “War studies” and has the important ReTex of its numerous external operations over the past 30 years. We can assume that the “triggering” events described above consisted more of mediatized pretexts in order to obtain a greater international publicity effect. The fact remains that France is the second Western, or even global, nation to officially adopt a space strategy.

Galileo satellites Defense analyzes | ASAT | Communication and Defense Networks
The Galileo satellites allow Europeans to have a positioning system independently of the American GPS system.

The latter is focused on preserving its existing optical intelligence (Hélios II, Pléiade, CSO), telecommunications (Syracuse, Athena-Fidus), geo-positioning (Galileo) and electromagnetic intelligence (Céres). It also seems to want to develop its radar and early warning capabilities which are currently sketchy or even non-existent. All of these elements are necessary to preserve its operational support capabilities. 

The heart of the new space defense strategy is, however, largely focused on the active and passive defense of its satellites against all cyber, electromagnetic threats (especially jamming), denial of service in orbit (docking, hijacking, capture, sabotage, etc.) but also other more conventional threats: kinetic actions (Asat missiles, degradation of ground segments, etc.). Space surveillance is not neglected, providing for the replacement of the GRAVES system and the accretion of capabilities in this area. Finally, a very large part is given to technological innovation via cybersecurity and the growing use of Artificial Intelligence, operational solutions offered by “microsatellites” as well as the development of “dual”, civil-military technologies. The latter are supposed to improve, among other things, the redundancy of the vectors and thereby the capacity depth.

We note certain limits, such as the consideration of space in the hypersonic DAMB which remains vague. Furthermore, France chooses to adopt an active but defensive strategy when the United States has already announced that it will eventually equip its “Space Command” with lethal weapons systems. Finally, we still note concrete measures with the allocation of a budget of 3,6 billion Euros granted within the framework of the LPM 2019-2024 and the creation of the beginning of a unified space command under the leadership of the air force now called the Air and Space Force. If the threats are well identified, the space defense strategy remains a general roadmap without directly executive effects. The months and years to come will be decisive in measuring French voluntarism in the concrete defense capabilities with which we have chosen to equip ourselves, like the United States.


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