The United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom on Feb. 22 released a “Combined Space Operations (CSpO) Vision 2031” to encourage responsible behaviors by nations in space to counter what U.S. officials have said is a worrisome turn by China and Russia to weapons systems that can prevent the normal functioning of U.S. military and commercial space systems.
“Space has evolved into a contested and congested operational domain,” the vision says. “As space becomes more crowded, the security and stability of this critical domain are endangered. Some nations have developed capabilities designed to deny, degrade, and disrupt access to and utilization of space-based capabilities. These nations have demonstrated the ability to hold space-based capabilities at risk and to target critical assets in an effort to reduce our military effectiveness in a crisis or conflict. Further, the lack of widely accepted norms of responsible behavior and historical practice increases the possibility of misperceptions and the risks of escalation.”
Rather than pursuing an international ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, the United States has focused on developing an international consensus on responsible behaviors in space, such as activities that do not generate long-lasting orbital debris (Defense Daily, May 21, 2021).
On Dec. 7, 2020 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.”
The new allied vision establishes commitments by the signatory nations to abide by international law, including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the Law of Armed Conflict, and to work to prevent conflicts extending to or originating in space. In addition, the vision pledges the nations to an effort “to minimize the creation of long-lived space debris and contribute to the enduring sustainability of the outer space environment.” The CSpO participants are to develop and operate resilient, interoperable architectures “to enable space mission assurance and unity of effort, through identification of gaps and collaborative opportunities,” per the vision.
“Ensuring the continued function and resilience of equipment, facilities, networks, information and information systems, personnel, infrastructure, and supply chains, we seek to deny the benefit of interference and to ensure the availability of CSpO participants’ national security mission-essential functions throughout the spectrum of military operations,” the vision says.
China, for its part, suggested in its report last year to the United Nations 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.
Russia’s report to UNODA on recommended norms of behavior under U.N. A/Res/75/36 also seemed to suggest that U.S. space systems may infringe upon the peaceful use of outer space.
“We are referring to the fact that certain U.N. member states are creating a space-based anti-missile grouping (including interceptors), as well as [a] means to exert unauthorized impact on objects of orbital space infrastructure,” per Russia’s report. “Placement in orbit of a large group of small satellites also raises questions. The capability of these means being used to damage orbital objects of U.N. member states is increasing.”