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Space Handbook

Chapter 2


Space Law, Policy, and Doctrine

Space policy and doctrine define the overarching goals and principles of the US space program. International and domestic laws and regulations, national interests, and security objectives shape the US space program. Furthermore, fiscal considerations both shape and constrain space policy. Space policy formulation is a critical element of the US national planning process because it provides the framework for future system requirements.1

This chapter examines the international and domestic legal parameters within which the US must conduct its space programs and outlines the basic tenets of US policy and doctrine. The chapter details Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force space policies, which are derived from national space policy, and concludes with an analysis of the doctrinal principles that guide the conduct of military space activities.2

The term space law refers to a body of law drawn from a variety of sources and consisting of two basic types of law: international and domestic. The former refers to rights and obligations the US has agreed to through multilateral or bilateral international treaties and agreements. The latter refers to domestic legislation by Congress and regulations promulgated by executive agencies of the US government.3

International Space Law

Table 1 summarizes key international treaties and agreements that affect the scope and character of US military space activities. Listed below are some of the more important basic principles and rules.

Table 1

International Agreements that Limit
Military Activities in Space



United Nations Charter (1947)

Made applicable to space by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Prohibits states from threatening to use, or actually using, force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state (Article 2(4)).

Recognizes a state's inherent right to act in individual or collective self- defense when attacked. Customary international law recognizes a broader right to self-defense, one that does not require a state to wait until it is actually attacked before responding. This right to act preemptively is known as the right of anticipatory self-defense (Article 51).

Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963)

Bans nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater.

States may not conduct nuclear weapon tests or other nuclear explosions (i.e., peaceful nuclear explosions) in outer space or assist or encourage others to conduct such tests or explosions (Article 1).

Outer Space Treaty (1967)

Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is free for use by all states (Article I).

Outer space and celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, use, occupation, or other means (Article II).

Space activities shall be conducted in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter (Article III).

The Moon and other celestial bodies are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes (Article IV).

Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (such as chemical and biological weapons) may not be placed in orbit, installed on celestial bodies, or stationed in space in any other manner (Article IV).

A state may not conduct military maneuvers; establish military bases, fortifications, or installations; or test any type of weapon on celestial bodies. Use of military personnel for scientific research or other peaceful purpose is permitted (Article IV).

States are responsible for governmental and private space activities, and must supervise and regulate private activities (Article IV).

States are internationally liable for damage to another state (and its citizens) caused by its space objects (including privately owned ones) (Article VII).

States retain jurisdiction and control over space objects while they are in space or on celestial bodies (Article VII).

States must conduct international consultations before proceeding with activities that would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other parties (Article IX).

States must carry out their use and exploration of space in such a way as to avoid harmful contamination of outer space, the Moon, and other celestial bodies, as well as to avoid the introduction of extraterrestrial matter that could adversely affect the environment of the Earth (Article IX).

Stations, installations, equipment, and space vehicles on the Moon and other celestial bodies are open to inspection by other countries on a basis of reciprocity (Article XII).

Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Between the US and USSR. Treaty (1972) -- Prohibits development, testing, or deployment of space-based ABM systems or components (Article V).

Prohibits deployment of ABM systems or components except as authorized in the treaty (Article I).

Prohibits interference with the national technical means a party uses to verify compliance with the treaty (Article XII).

Liability Convention (1972)

A launching site is absolutely liable for damage by its space object to people or property on the Earth or in its atmosphere (Article II).

Liability for damage caused by a space object, to persons or property on board such a space object, is determined by fault (Article III).

Convention on Registration (1974)

Requires a party to maintain a registry of objects it launches into Earth orbit or beyond (Article II).

Information of each registered object must be furnished to the UN as soon as practical, including basic orbital parameters and general function of the object (Article IV).

Environmental Modification Convention (1980)
Prohibits military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques as a means of destruction, damage, or injury to any other state if such use has widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects (Article 1).

Source: Adapted from Air Command and Staff College, Space Handbook (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, January 1985), 15-2 through 15-3.

The US adheres to the premise in international law that any act not specifically prohibited is permitted. Thus, even though the list (see table 1) of prohibited acts is sizable, overall there are few legal restrictions on the use of space for nonaggressive military purposes. As a result, international law implicitly permits the performance of such traditional military functions as surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorology, and communications. It permits the deployment of military space stations; the testing and deployment in Earth orbit of nonnuclear, non-ABM weapon systems, including antisatellite weapons and space-to-ground conventional weapons; and the use of space for individual and collective self-defense as well as virtually any conceivable activity not specifically prohibited or otherwise constrained.

Another widely accepted premise is that treaties usually regulate activities between signatories only during peacetime. This rule holds true unless a treaty expressly states that its provisions apply or become operative during hostilities, or the signatories can deduce this from the nature of the treaty itself. In other words, countries presume that armed conflict will result in the suspension or termination of a treaty' s provisions. Good examples are treaties whose purpose is to disarm or limit quantities of arms maintained by the signatories. Therefore, during hostilities, the scope of permissible military space activities may broaden significantly.

Finally, it is important to understand that historically the former Soviet Union has been the most important space power next to the US. Most of the space-related treaties to which the US has agreed were signed by the Soviet Union, and some are bilateral agreements exclusively with that nation. As the USSR dissolved, the US adopted a policy of continuing to observe the requirements of all treaties and to apply their provisions to the independent states that have emerged. Nevertheless, a degree of legal uncertainty is likely to exist for a period of years until precedent establishes policy more firmly or formal agreements are concluded with the new states. Although uncertainty applies on both sides, the obligations of the US under the new conditions are clear because the state of US sovereignty has not changed, and the spirit of the original agreements still exists for the most part. It is less clear that the emerging states of the former Soviet Union will feel obligated to observe past agreements, but there are indications at this writing that they will do so.

Domestic Space Law

Domestic law has always shaped military space activities through the spending authorization and budget appropriation process.5 A perfect example occurred in the mid-1980s when Congress deleted funding for further testing of the USAF's direct ascent ASAT weapon--effectively cancelling the program. In addition, a number of laws not designed solely to address space have a space aspect. For instance, under the Communications Act of 1934, the president has the authority to gain control of private communications assets owned by US corporations during times of crisis. Since the l 960s, this authority has included both the ground and space segments of domestically owned communications satellites. Space-specific legislation (beyond the annual National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] authorization) is a relatively recent activity.

The Reagan administration placed emphasis on the creation of a third sector of space activity--that of commercial space--in addition to the traditional military and civil sectors. To facilitate the development of a commercial launch industry in the US, for example, Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984. From a DOD perspective, the importance of this legislation lies in its authorization for commercial customers to use DOD launch facilities on a reimbursable basis. Thus, the DOD is now in the business of overseeing commercial operations from its facilities and placing commercial payloads in the launch queue. While a recent development, this trend towards intertwining the commercial space industry and the DOD space program is increasing.

National Space Policy

A nation' s space policy is extremely important, especially as it relates to space law and space doctrine. If we are to understand present US space policy and try to predict its future, we should start with a look at its evolution.6 We must be mindful that while policy provides space goals and a national framework, it is itself shaped by national interests and national security objectives. This framework leads us towards building and meeting future US requirements and subsequent national space strategies.

Early Policy

The launch of Sputnik I on 4 October 1957 had an immediate and dramatic impact on the formulation of US space policy. Although the military had expressed an interest in space technology as early as the mid-1940s, a viable program failed to emerge for several reasons. These include intense interservice rivalry; military preoccupation with the development of ballistic missiles that prevented a sufficiently high funding priority from being assigned to proposed space systems; and, perhaps most importantly, national leadership that did not initially appreciate the strategic and international implications of emerging satellite technology, and when it did, was committed to an open and purely scientific space program.

Sputnik I changed all that. Besides clearly demonstrating that the Soviets had the missile technology to deliver payloads at global ranges, sputnik led to much wider appreciation of orbital possibilities. The result was the first official US government statement that space indeed was of military significance. This statement was issued on 26 March 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower's science advisory committee and said that the development of space technology and the maintenance of national prestige were important for the defense of the United States. Congress also quickly recognized that space activities were potentially vital to the national security.

The first official national space policy was the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. This act declared that the policy of the United States was to devote space activities to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind. It mandated separate civilian and national security space programs and created a new agency, NASA, to direct and control all US space activities except those "peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States."7 The Department of Defense was to be responsible for these latter activities.

A legislative basis for DOD responsibilities in space was thereby provided early in the space age. The act established a mechanism for coordinating and integrating military and civilian research and development, encouraged significant international cooperation in space, and called for preserving the role of the US as a leader in space technology and its application.

The policy framework for a viable space program was thus in place. In fact, the principles enunciated by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which included peaceful focus on the use of space, separation of civilian and military space activities, emphasis on international cooperation, and preservation of a space role, have become basic tenets of the US space program. All presidential space directives issued since 1958 have reaffirmed these basic tenets.

What was missing, however, was a space program of substance. The Eisenhower administration's approach to implementing the new space policy can be characterized as conservative, cautious, and constrained. Early DOD and NASA plans for manned space flight programs were disapproved consistently. Instead the administration preferred to concentrate on unmanned, largely scientific missions and to proceed with those missions at a measured pace. It was left to subsequent administrations to give the policy substance.8

Intervening Years

Two presidential announcements--one by John F. Kennedy on 25 March 1961 and the second by Richard M. Nixon on 7 March 1970--were instrumental in providing the needed focus for America' s space program. The Kennedy statement came during a period of intense national introspection. The Soviet Union launched and successfully recovered the world's first cosmonaut. Though Yuri Gagarin spent just 89 minutes in orbit, his accomplishment electrified the world and caused the US to question its scientific and engineering skills and its entire educational system. The American response--articulated by President Kennedy as a national challenge to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth--defined US space goals for the remainder of the decade.

Prestige and international leadership were clearly the main objectives of the Kennedy space program. However, the generous funding that accompanied the Apollo program had important collateral benefits as well. lt permitted the buildup of US space technology and the establishment of an across-the-board space capability that included planetary exploration, scientific endeavors, commercial applications, and military support systems.9

As the decade of the 1960s drew to a close, a combination of factors, including domestic unrest, an unpopular foreign war, and inflationary pressures forced the nation to reassess the importance of the space program compared to other national needs. Against this backdrop, President Nixon made his long-awaited space policy announcement in March 1970. His announcement was a carefully considered and worded statement that was clearly aware of political realities and the mood of Congress and the public. It stated in part:

Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities.... What we do in space from here on in must become a normal and regular part of our national life and must therefore be planned in conjunction with all of the other undertakings which are also important to us. 10

Though spectacular lunar and planetary voyages continued until 1975, largely as a result of budgetary decisions made during the 1960s, it was clear that the Nixon administration considered the space program of intermediate priority and could not justify increased investment or the initiation of large new projects. It viewed space as a medium for exploiting and extending the technological and scientific gains that had already been realized. The emphasis was on practical space applications to benefit American society in a variety of ways.11

Within the DOD, this emphasis on practicality translated into reduced emphasis on manned spaceflight, but led to the initial operating capability for many of the space missions performed today. For example, initial versions of the systems now known as the Defense Satellite Communications System, the Defense Support Program, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, and the Navy's Transit navigation satellite program (later to evolve to the Global Positioning System) were all developed and fielded during this period.

One major new space initiative undertaken during the 1970s eventually had far greater impact on the nation' s space program than planners had originally envisioned--the space transportation system (STS), or space shuttle. The shuttle's goal was routine, low-cost access to orbit for both civil and military sectors. As development progressed, however, the program experienced large cost and schedule overruns. These problems caused the US space program to lose much of its early momentum as it became apparent that the high costs would adversely affect other space development efforts--both civil and military--and that schedule slippage meant a complete absence of American astronauts in space for the remainder of the decade.12

Carter Administration Space Policy

President Jimmy Carter's administration conducted a series of interdepartmental studies to address the malaise that had befallen the nation's space effort. The studies addressed apparent fragmentation and possible redundancy among civil and national security sectors of the US space program and sought to develop a coherent recommendation for a new national space policy. These efforts resulted in two 1978 presidential directives (PD): PD-37 on national space policy and PD-42 on civil space policy.13

PD-37 reaffirmed the basic policy principles contained in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, and for the first time, spelled out in coherent fashion the broad objectives of the US space program and the specific guidelines governing civil and national security space activities.14

PD-37 was important from a military perspective because it contained the initial, tentative indications that a shift was occurring in the national security establishment's view on space. Traditionally, the military had seen space as a force enhancer; that is, as a medium in which to deploy systems to increase the effectiveness of ]and, sea, and air forces. Although the focus of the Carter policy was clearly on restricting the use of weapons in space, PD-37 reflected an appreciation of the importance of space systems to national survival, a recognition of the Soviet threat to those systems, and a willingness to push ahead with development of an antisatellite capability in the absence of verifiable and comprehensive international agreements restricting such systems. In other words, the administration was beginning to view space as a potential war-fighting medium.15

PD-42, directed exclusively at the civil space sector, set the direction of US efforts over the next decade. However, it was devoid of any long-term space goals, preferring instead to state that the nation would pursue a balanced evolutionary strategy of space applications, space science, and exploration activities. The absence of a more visionary policy reflected clearly the continuing developmental problems with the shuttle and the resulting commitment of larger than expected resources.16

Reagan Administration Space Policy

President Ronald Reagan's administration published comprehensive space policy statements in 1982 and 1988. The first, pronounced on 4 July 1982 and embodied in National Security Decision Directive 42 (NSDD-42), reaffirmed the basic tenets of previous (Carter) US space policy and placed considerable emphasis on the STS as the primary space launch system for both national security and civil government missions. In addition, it introduced the basic goal of promoting and expanding the investment and involvement of the private sector in space and space-related activities as a third element of US space operations, complementing the national security and civil sectors.17

The single statement of national policy from this period that could most influence military space activities and that clearly reflects transition to a potential space war-fighting framework is NSDD-85, dated 25 March 1983. In this document, President Reagan stated as a long-term objective, elimination of the threat of nuclear armed ballistic missiles through the creation of strategic defensive forces. This NSDD coincided with the establishment of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) and represented a significant step in the evolution of US space policy. Since 1958, the US had for a variety of reasons refrained from crossing an imaginary line from space systems designed to operate as force enhancers to establishing a war-fighting capability in space. The antisatellite (ASAT) initiative of the Carter administration was a narrow response to a specific Soviet threat. The SDI program on the other hand, represented a significant expansion in the DOD's assigned role in the space arena.18

The Reagan administration's second comprehensive national space policy in early 1988 incorporated the results of a number of developments that had occurred since 1982, notably the US commitment in 1984 to build a space station and the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

For the first time, the national space program treated commercial space as an equal of the traditional national security and civil space sectors, and addressed it in some detail. Importantly, the new policy retreated dramatically from dependence on the STS and injected new life into expendable launch vehicle programs. In the national security sector, this program was the first to address space control and force application at length, further developing the transition to war-fighting capabilities in space.

In 1988, the last year of the Reagan presidency, Congress passed a law allowing creation of a National Space Council (NSpC)--a cabinet-level organization designed to coordinate national policy among the three space sectors. The incoming George Bush's administration would officially establish and very effectively use the National Space Council.19

Bush Administration Space Policy

Released in November 1989 as National Security Directive 30 (NSD-30), and updated in a 5 September 1990 supplement, the Bush administration's national space policy retained the goals and emphasis of the final Reagan administration policy. The Bush policy resulted from an NSpC review to clarify, strengthen, and streamline space policy, and has been further enhanced by a series of national space policy directives (NSPD) on various topics. Areas most affected by the body of Bush policy documentation include civil and commercial remote sensing, space transportation, space debris, federal subsidies of commercial space activities, and space station Freedom.

The policy reaffirms the organization of US space activities into three complementary sectors: civil, national security, and commercial. The three sectors coordinate their activities closely to ensure maximum information exchange and minimum duplication of effort.

Space leadership is a fundamental objective guiding US space activities. The policy recognizes that leadership does not require preeminence in all areas and disciplines of space operations but does require US preeminence in those key areas critical to achieving space goals.20 Those goals are:

These general goals are not much changed from the goals articulated in 1978 by President Carter, and their heritage goes back as far as the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act. The major changes are increasing detail in policy objectives and implementation guidelines, the introduction and expansion of emphasis on commercial space activities, and, underlying it all, a maturing recognition that space, like land, sea, and air, is a potential war-fighting medium. Space can be used in many different ways to strengthen the security of the United States. To accomplish these goals, US space activities will be conducted in accordance with the following principles:

The Bush policy goes on to detail specific policy. It implements guidelines and actions for each of the three space sectors and for intersector activities.23

The civil sector will engage in all manner of space-related scientific research, develop space-related technologies for government and commercial applications, and establish a permanent manned presence in space. NASA is the lead civil space agency.

Commercial policy centers around government activities to promote and encourage commercial space-related endeavors. These efforts seek to secure the economic and other benefits to the nation that a healthy and vigorous commercial space industry would bring. NASA and the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation work cooperatively with the commercial sector and make government facilities and hardware available on a reimbursable basis.

The US will conduct those activities in space that are necessary to national defense. Such activities contribute to security objectives by (1) deterring or, if necessary, defending against enemy attack; (2) assuring that enemy forces cannot prevent our use of space; (3) negating, if necessary, hostile space systems; and (4) enhancing operations of US and allied forces. To do these things, DOD develops, operates, and maintains a robust space force structure capable of satisfying the mission requirements of space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application.

Primarily directed at the civil and national security sectors, several policy requirements apply across sector divisions. These include such things as continuing the technology development and operational capabilities of remote-sensing systems, space transportation systems, and space-based communications systems, and the need to minimize space debris.

In summary, US national space policy has, for the most part, kept pace with the growth of its US space program and is now one of the most well-documented areas of government policy. It clearly articulates goals that are both challenging and within the realm of possibility. We can expect a continuation of the Bush administration's series of NSPDs to further clarify and implement specific areas of US national space programs.

Department of Defense Space Policy

The most recent statement of comprehensive DOD space policy occurred on 4 February 1987. Though released prior to the current national space policy, the DOD policy is consistent with and supports NSD-30. In many instances, the DOD policy served as a model for principles incorporated into later national policy statements regarding the national security sector.24

The significance of the DOD policy is the degree to which the department has recognized the utility of space in accomplishing national security objectives and the extent to which it has embraced the space role given to it by law and national policy. That foresight was directly responsible for the development and deployment of the space forces that were so important to US and allied success in Operation Desert Storm.

One of the most important drivers of the 1987 policy was President Reagan's announcement in December 1986 which rescinded earlier direction that the space shuttle would be the primary launch vehicle for all military and civil payloads. By that time, the Challenger accident had occurred, confirming the flaws in a policy that the DOD (and the Air Force) had long opposed. DOD embarked on a long-term launch recovery program and took care to formalize the strategy in the new space policy. "DOD will develop and maintain the capability to execute space missions regardless of failures of single elements of the space support infrastructure."25 Other important elements of the DOD policy, besides the general purpose of supporting and amplifying US national space policy, are that it:

Air Force Space Policy

The earliest recorded statement of Air Force policy regarding space occurred on 15 January 1948, when Gen Hoyt S. Vandenberg stated, "The USAF, as the service dealing primarily with air weapons--especially strategic--has logical responsibility for the satellite." As reflected in General Vandenberg's statement, Air Force leaders have traditionally viewed space as a medium in which the Air Force would have principle mission responsibilities. This view was perhaps best articulated by former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Thomas D. White, when he coined the term aerospace during testimony before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics in February 1959.27

Since there is no dividing line, no natural barrier separating these two areas (air and space), there can be no operational boundary between them. Thus air and space comprise a single continuous operational field in which the Air Force must continue to function. The area is aerospace.28

As a result of this early positioning, the Air Force assumed the predominate space role within the DOD, and the Air Force space policy evolved as that role grew. Until 1988, however, that policy was never formally documented. In late 1987 and early 1988, the Air Force convened the Blue Ribbon Panel on the future of the Air Force in space--a senior-level working group composed of both space and aviation professionals, that considered whether the service should continue to seek the leadership role for DOD space activities and, if so, how best to proceed.

The panel strongly affirmed the desirability of operating in space to accomplish Air Force missions and achieve wider national security objectives, and it developed a list of recommendations for making most effective use of the space arena in future Air Force operations. On 2 December 1988, the Air Force formally adopted the Blue Ribbon Panel's fundamental assumptions and codified them in a new space policy document. With only minor modification to accommodate organizational change within the service, this document remains the current statement of comprehensive Air Force space policy. The tenets of that policy are:

The US, DOD, and Air Force all have a policy for the military space mission areas of space control, force application, force enhancement, and space support and have implementation guidelines for each area. Allowing for slight differences in their dates of issue, each policy is consistent with the other two. This section describes the policy for these mission areas since Air Force space policy offers the most direct and concise guidance available and is the policy that Air Force agencies are directly responsible for implementing.

For aerospace control, the Air Force will acquire and operate antisatellite capabilities. The Air Force will provide battle management/command, control, and communications (C3) for US space control operations and will perform the integration of ASAT and surveillance capabilities developed for space control operations. When technology permits cost-effective deployment, the Air Force will acquire and operate space-based antisatellite capabilities.

For force application, if the US should make a ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployment decision, the Air Force will acquire and operate space-based ballistic missile defense assets, will provide battle management/C3 for BMD, and will integrate BMD forces. The Air Force will acquire and operate space-based weapons when they become a feasible and necessary element of the US force structure.

For force enhancement, the Air Force will continue to acquire and operate space-based systems for navigation, meteorology, tactical warning and attack assessment, nuclear detonation detection, and multiuser communications. The Air Force will continue to support the multiservice approach to conducting space surveillance and for providing mission-unique, space-based communications. The Air Force will acquire and operate a space-based wide-area surveillance, tracking, and targeting capability and will provide space-based means for space surveillance.

For space support, the Air Force will continue its long-standing role to provide DOD launch support. Additionally, the Air Force will continue to provide common-user, on-orbit satellite systems support.

Finally, the policy states that the Air Force will continue to be the major provider of space forces for the nation's defense. Together, national, DOD, and Air Force space policy provides a solid and long-standing basis for military space activities. As the US space program has matured, and as the global security environment has changed, there has been a clearly identifiable trend towards expanding the Air Force's role in space beyond its early focus on force enhancement and space support into the mission areas associated directly with combat operations--space control and force application.

Like earlier military expansions into the undersea environment and into the air, America' s decades-long expansion into space has not increased our predisposition to wage war. Rather, it has enhanced our ability to maintain the peace by increasing the options available to US civilian leadership. US military space policy promotes nonaggressive use of space across the spectrum of conflict in support of America's national security goals and objectives, and in compliance with domestic and international law.

Space Doctrine

Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines doctrine as "fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application." A shorter and perhaps more workable definition espoused by Professor I. B. Holley, Jr., of Duke University is: "Military doctrine is what is officially believed and taught about the best way to conduct military affairs."29

Accordingly, military space doctrine articulates what is officially believed and taught about the best way to conduct military space affairs. This section examines joint space doctrine and Air Force space doctrine.

Joint Space Doctrine

At this writing, there is no documented DOD-level space doctrine, although DOD is working on such a project. Good doctrine is founded on military experience, tempered where experience is lacking by military theory, and appreciates how advancements in technology, strategy, and operational tactics will change the nature of warfare. Actual conflict experience with space forces is still extremely limited and, prior to Operation Desert Storm, was practically nonexistent. Along with the rapid evolution of space forces and operations, this has resulted in a situation where the lessons of military experience are only now becoming clear. The previous heavy reliance on theory was insufficient to gain interservice agreement on the best way to conduct military space affairs.

Prior attempts to gain such agreement and to articulate a joint space doctrine have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. In the aftermath of Desert Storm, and as a result of the Air Force pressing ahead with the development of service doctrine for space, there is wider recognition within DOD of the need for published space doctrine and wider acceptance of those fundamental principles of space operations which proved to be effective in time of war.

Although doctrine specifically for space operations has lagged, the incorporation of space capabilities--particularly force enhancement capabilities--into the wider body of joint air, sea, and land doctrine is proceeding well. This is one method by which the Air Force accomplishes its policy goal of institutionalizing space throughout DOD.

Air Force Space Doctrine

The Air Force did not have a space doctrine until October 1982 when it published Air Force Manual (AFM) 1-6, Military Space Doctrine. AFM 1-6 clearly reflected the changing emphasis on the military use of space. It recognized the inherent benefits to be gained by any nation that chooses to exploit the military advantages of space and chartered the Air Force "to provide forces for controlling space operations and gaining and maintaining space superiority."30

The manual also sought to establish the Air Force as the premier service with regard to space. It stated that

the Air Force was responsible for developing space forces, operational concepts, and employment tactics for the unified and specified commands [this was three years before the establishment of a separate unified command for space, US Space Command], for the management of space operations including launch, command and control, and on-orbit sustainment of military space assets for the DOD, NASA, and other government agencies and branches, and for promoting advanced technologies in order to develop the space force structure of the future.31

AFM 1-6 never gained the wide acceptance necessary to institutionalize space doctrine, primarily because it failed to incorporate the historical experience gained in other military environments which might be relevant to space. What resulted was a doctrine that was highly constrained by the policy of the time, rather than a clear articulation of "the best way to conduct military affairs" in space.32 The manual was rescinded in September 1990, in conjunction with a complete update of the hierarchy and content of all Air Force doctrine. During the eight years of its existence, however, it was successful in increasing the awareness of space operations and the potential of space throughout the Air Force.33

Current Air Force practice is to fully incorporate space into a single basic doctrinal manual for both air and space, AFM 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, and to promote detailed space doctrine through AFM 2-25, Space Operations. The purpose is to recognize space forces as an immature but ultimately equal partner with air forces in the efficient employment of aerospace power. Together, these two manuals articulate space doctrine at the strategic and operational levels of war. The Air Force published AFM 1-1 in March 1992. At this writing, AFM 2-25 is in draft.

Air Force space doctrine rests on four fundamental premises:

Air Force space doctrine builds on these premises, along with the characteristics of space forces and the space environment, and the general mission areas space forces fulfill--space control, force application, force enhancement, and space support--to develop operational-level employment principles for those forces. Air Force doctrine recognizes and articulates both the similarities and the differences between air and space forces. As the Air Force moves towards the concept of integrated aerospace power, a clear grasp of the differences between the two becomes more important. Some of the employment principles for space forces are similar to those for air forces, but others are quite different. Among the employment principles for space forces are:

Space doctrine is concerned with the preparation as well as the employment of space forces, and proper training and equipping of forces is a subject of both AFMs 1-1 and 2-25. AFM 2-25 provides space doctrine down to the level of the space campaign, giving guidance for each of the space mission areas, in turn, from the perspective of the operational space forces commander. The overall effect of the two manuals together is to describe in some detail how the Air Force can use space systems and the space environment effectively to perform or support all of its missions and tasks.36

The responsibilities of the Air Force in space include a large and growing number of functions that contribute to the defense of the United States. Space operations are important elements of a credible deterrent to armed conflict--they have proven their value in helping to resolve conflicts on terms acceptable to the United States by providing various kinds of information and support to military forces and national decision makers. In the future, space systems will provide the decisive edge in countering threats to US national interests.

The Air Force regards military operations in space as being among its prime national security responsibilities and conducts these operations according to the letter and spirit of existing treaties and international law. In response to national direction, the Air Force ensures freedom of access to space for peaceful pursuits and uses space systems to perform unique, economical, and effective functions to enhance the nation's land, sea, and air forces. As the Air Force space program has matured over a period of nearly four decades, Air Force policy and doctrine have reflected ever-increasing roles and responsibilities and have particularly expanded their emphasis on space as a war-fighting medium wherein the full spectrum of military conflict may, and eventually will, take place.


1. Air Command and Staff College, Space Handbook (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, January 1985), 15-1.

2. Ibid.

3. Maj Kevin Spradling, "Space Law, International Law and Domestic Space Law" (Unpublished paper, Air Force Space Command, 1991), 1-5.

4. Ibid., 3.

5. Ibid., 5.

6. Air Command and Staff College, 15-4.

7. Ibid., 15-5.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., 15-6.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., 15-7.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., 15-8.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid., 15-10 through 15-11.

20. White House Fact Sheet, "US National Space Policy," Washington, D.C., Office of the White House Press Secretary, 16 November 1989, 1.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., 1-2.

23. Ibid., 2-14.

24. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Space Policy (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 10 March 1987, l-2.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Air Command and Staff College, 15-9.

28. Ibid.

29. Quoted in Lt Col David E. Lupton, On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, June 1988), 3.

30. White House Fact Sheet, "Commercial Space Launch Policy," Washington, D.C., Office of the White House Press Secretary, 5 September 1990, 1.

31. AFM 1-6, Military Space Doctrine, 15 October 1982, 7-8.

32. Lupton, 3.

33. Capt James R. Wolf, "Toward Operational-Level Doctrine for Space: A Progress Report," Airpower Journal 5, no. 2 (Summer 1991): 29.

34. Ibid., 33-34.

35. Ibid., 39.

36. Ibid., 39-40.

To Chapter 3