Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is directing Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command, to lead an effort to develop guidance on the tenets of responsible behavior in space, including not generating long-lived debris, maintaining safe trajectories and separation from other space vehicles, and avoiding the creation of harmful interference.
“As more actors come to space, the domain is changing, with an increased risk of collisions, as well as of miscalculations or misunderstandings,” Austin wrote in a July 7 memo that DoD released on its website on July 23. “It is incumbent on the Department to continue space leadership through demonstrating and acknowledging responsible behavior in space. Unless otherwise directed, DoD Components will conduct space operations consistent with the following Tenets of Responsible Behavior: operate in, from, to, and through space with due regard to others and in a professional manner; limit the generation of long-lived debris; avoid the creation of harmful interference; maintain safe separation and safe trajectory; communicate and make notifications to enhance the safety and stability of the domain.”
“Commander, U.S. Space Command, will collaborate with DoD stakeholders to develop and coordinate guidance regarding these tenets and associated specific behaviors for DoD operations in the space area of responsibility, and recommend them to the Secretary of Defense for approval,” per Austin’s memo. “The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy [Colin Kahl] will lead DoD activities to advance these tenets, as appropriate, within the U.S. Government and in international relations.”
Rather than pursuing an international ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, the United States is focusing on developing an international consensus on responsible behaviors in outer space, such as activities that do not generate long-lasting orbital debris (Defense Daily, May 21).
In March, interim national security strategic guidance by the Biden administration said that the U.S. “will lead in promoting shared norms and forge new agreements” on outer space.
On Dec. 7 last year, the U.N. General Assembly passed A/Res/75/36, a resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and backed by the United States, that encourages U.N. member states “to study existing and potential threats and security risks to space systems, including those arising from actions, activities or systems in outer space or on Earth, characterize actions and activities that could be considered responsible, irresponsible or threatening and their potential impact on international security, and share their ideas on the further development and implementation of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors and on the reduction of the risks of misunderstanding and miscalculations with respect to outer space.”
This fall at the convening of the 76th U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is to submit a report, which is to include the views of member states on such norms of behavior to jump start the effort.
Thus far, the European Union and 26 nations, including the United States, Russia, and China, have submitted ideas for inclusion in the report. Nine organizations, including RAND, the Secure World Foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have also provided their input.
John Hill, the acting assistant secretary of defense for space policy, told the House Armed Services Committee in May that an international ban on ASAT weapons would come with a host of problems, including the definition of an ASAT; the dual use of technologies, such as lasers; and the space situational awareness required to discern accurately that the employment of a given technology is as an ASAT weapon (Defense Daily, May 5).
U.S. defense officials have said that Russia and China are leading ASAT efforts, including China’s fielding of ground-based ASAT missiles intended to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit and ground-based ASAT lasers that U.S. officials believe are intended to blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors on lower Earth orbit satellites.
China, for its part, suggested in its report to the U.N. on recommended norms of behavior in space that the U.S. can use space systems, such as the Boeing [BA] X-37B and the L3Harris Technologies [LHX] Counter Communications System, offensively.