Debating Space Security: Capabilities and Vulnerabilities

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The U.S. position in the debate on space security has been that (1) space-based systems could be developed and used to obtain decisive warghting superiority over an adversary, and (2) these space-based systems, because they might give such an inordinate advantage over any adversary, will be attacked. The Russians and Chinese, in contrast, claim to be threatened by U.S. aspirations in space but deny that they pose a serious threat to U.S. space-based systems. They view the development of advanced military space systems by the United States as evidence of a growing gap of military capabilities limited only by technological--not political--constraints. They argue that U.S. missile defense systems operating in coordination with advanced satellite sensors would weaken their nuclear retaliatory potential.

This dissertation argues that the positions held by both of these parties are more extreme than warranted. An analytical evaluation quickly narrows the touted capabilities and assumed vulnerabilities of space systems to a much smaller set of concerns that can be addressed by collaboration. Chapter 2: Operationally Responsive Space (ORS): Is 24/7 Warghter Support Feasible? demonstrates the infeasibility of dramatically increasing U.S. warfighting superiority by using satellites. Chapter 3: What Can be Achieved by Attacking Satellites? makes the case that although U.S. armed forces rely extensively on its satellite infrastructure, that does not immediately make them desirable targets. The functions performed by military satellites are diffused among large constellations with redundancies. Also, some of the functions performed by these satellites can be substituted for by other terrestrial and aerial systems. Chapter 4: The Limits of Chinese Anti-Satellite Missiles demonstrates that anti-satellite (ASAT) intercepts are very complex under realistic conditions and that a potential adversary with space capabilities comparable to China's has very limited capability to use ASATs in a real-world battle scenario. Finally, in order to evaluate the chief concern raised by the Russians and Chinese, chapter 5: Satellites, Missile Defense and Space Security simulates a boost-phase missile defense system cued by the advanced Space Tracking and Surveillance (STSS) sensors. It demonstrates that even under best case assumptions, the STSS sensors are not good enough for the boost-phase missile defense system to successfully intercept and destroy an ICBM.

Together, these chapters aim to narrow the contentions in the debate on space security thereby fostering the international colloboration and data sharing needed to ensure safe operations in space.