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Space Jam

Is the Pentagon's plan for outer-space dominance as muddled as it seems?

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
May 6, 2014


In my last column, I wrote about Gravity and the threat of thousands of shards of space debris ripping through America's orbiting satellites -- and the global governance challenge that poses. This column considers the more prosaic, though important, matter of how U.S. civilian and military officials think about national security space issues. Indeed, one common concern that I have heard from government space officials and staffers is that senior civilian officials rarely think about the domain at all. When they do, it is primarily about "stars and the space shuttle," as one State Department official described it, or that space is an unfettered celestial extension of the blue skies above them.

U.S. government officials' perception of space as an uncontested domain free for exploration and observation is starkly at odds with both reality and current U.S. space policy. Based on my recent conversations with space officials and experts, six aspects of current U.S. government thinking about space are worth considering.

1. Either someone in the intelligence community is lying, or they're on a totally different page.

It's difficult to know how to characterize the threat environment in space, in terms of the scope or intensity of threats, because intelligence officials offer widely contrasting viewpoints. In January, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, warned: "Threats to US space services will increase during 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities." Then, in April, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, noted: "I think we're in really good shape with space.... I'm more confident today than I was a year ago with where we are going with our knowledge of space activities."

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