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US Space Command's mission: 'Preparing for the war not yet fought'

US Space Command's mission: 'Preparing for the war not yet fought'
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Militaries are sometimes criticized for planning to fight the last war. The criticism is occasionally warranted, as might be the case in analyzing the efficacy of the World War I-inspired Maginot Line against a World War II-style Blitzkrieg, or planning for anticipated force-on-force set piece battles in Vietnam in the midst of a guerilla war. However, the criticism is often misguided.

No successful military planning occurs without considering what worked well in previous conflicts. Military planners must have a sense of what a potential adversary is thinking, the tactics and strategies they prefer, and what actions might work well against them. Intelligence gives us much of this, but a full sense of these factors in context comes primarily through an understanding gleaned from the last war.

That said, United States Space Command faces a unique dilemma in that we can’t plan for future conflicts based on how we fought previous conflicts even if we were inclined to do so. Rather, we are preparing for the war not yet fought.

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Some have suggested Desert Shield/Desert Storm was the first “space war.” To be sure, it was the first major conflict in which space-based capabilities played an integral role, particularly in position, navigation, timing, weather, communications, imagery and tactical missile warning. However, it was not a war which began in space, or a terrestrial war where hostilities extended into space. Such are the wars we must prepare now to deter and, if necessary, to fight and win.

Why do we need to prepare for such a conflict when space has traditionally been a peaceful domain, open to all for exploration, and whose benefits improve the lives of virtually every human being on Earth? As I will soon testify to Congress, the answer is because highly capable competitors realize the extraordinary military and economic advantages that space-based capabilities give to the United States and our allies.

These competitors are determined to deny our advantages in space in favor of their own. China’s space enterprise presents the pacing threat. China is building military space capabilities rapidly, including sensing and communication systems, and numerous anti-satellite weapons. Similarly, Russia’s military doctrine calls for employment of weapons to hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk. Russia has conducted numerous space-based anti-satellite weapons tests. 

Overlay this new strategic reality with the exponential growth in the commercialization of space, and it becomes clear that a once-peaceful operating environment is now competitive, congested and contested. Given our extraordinary reliance on space-based capabilities for virtually every aspect of the modern American and allied way of life — everything from mobile communications and internet connectivity to banking and finance, farming, entertainment and travel — we must protect and defend our interests in the space domain as we do in cyberspace, on land, in the air and at sea. 

This is why, in keeping with the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, the president established a new Combatant Command for space warfighting operations, United States Space Command. It also is why Congress established a new, independent branch of the Armed Forces for space, the United States Space Force, to organize, train and equip those space forces.

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Both organizations are singularly focused on their equally critical roles in the mission imperative to protect and defend U.S. and allied interests in space. The current Unified Command Plan is clear in its direction to United States Space Command: We must “conduct offensive and defensive space operations” and “protect and defend U.S. and allied, partner, and commercial space operational capabilities.” The President’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance further emphasizes the need to “ensure the safety, stability, and security of outer space activities.” We must build the appropriate space architecture along with the associated command and control structures to efficiently and effectively conduct these missions. 

To that end, our first step is to build a team of space operators who outthink and outmaneuver our adversaries, use space combat power to connect the ultimate high ground to the last tactical mile, and preserve U.S. and allied access to the benefits of space.  

My Strategic Vision for United States Space Command provides the formula for how we will win in space. It details how space enables every facet of our way of life, how space makes the superiority of America’s military possible, and how space is the backbone of our global economy. Most significantly, it details a set of key tasks necessary for that victory: Understanding our Competition; Building the Command to Compete and Win; Maintaining Key Relationships; Integrating Commercial and Interagency Organizations, and Maintaining Digital Superiority.

Efforts in pursuit of these key tasks provide the foundation of continued U.S. and allied access to the benefits of space. They give us the roadmap necessary to achieve our ultimate objective of deterring a conflict that begins in or extends into space — the war not yet fought, and the war we aim to win if called upon. They form the basis of our ability to win in the space domain should deterrence fail. The 18,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel supporting United States Space Command’s mission are determined to fulfill these key tasks and meet this new national imperative. I am proud and honored to lead and serve alongside them. 

U.S. Army Gen. James H. Dickinson became commander of the U.S. Space Command in August 2020. He previously served as the first Deputy Commander of U.S. Space Command, the military’s 11th and most recently established unified combatant command, and has held numerous command and staff assignments during his U.S. Army career. He is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Space Command's mission and strategic vision.