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March 15, 2023
A recent computer simulation by the author showed that 95 per cent of possible space attacks could be completed within 24 hours, which is before any reactions on the ground can be contemplated, approved, or executed. Thus, one of the conclusions of these outer space warfare studies is that space warfare favours the offense. Another conclusion is that, due to the remoteness of space, countries that take actions against an adversary’s satellites can do so under a cloud of secrecy, without the general population of the world becoming aware of these aggressive actions. Thus, space warfare adds new, and more subtle rungs on the conflict escalation ladder, where countries can express intent and resolve to their adversaries without necessarily inducing terrestrial conflict.
The importance of outer space satellites and their supporting systems cannot be overstated. Their use in the civil and commercial world to provide communications, weather, navigation, timing, and earth resources monitoring provides major advantages to those who employ the information generated by these systems. However, due to the global reach of these space systems, advantages are provided to both friendly and adversary militaries. Beginning with the use of space systems to support military operations during the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and in Desert Storm, both major and minor players are considering how denial of space capabilities to their adversaries will be a force multiplier on terrestrial battlefields.
Based on the author’s extensive experience in this theoretical area, he has developed essential theory, rules, doctrine, strategies and tactics by which he feels the next space war will be conducted. These are based on his unclassified analyses of past military history, and of classical Military Principles of War and Sun Tzu’s Art of War applicability to Space Warfare. Since a full-up space war has not yet occurred, all of these concepts are notional and unproven, much like air warfare doctrine was only theoretically understood prior to World War II. Nonetheless, it is very important to better understand how a future space war might be conducted to ensure favourable outcomes for the more prepared country, and for better outcomes for the world; in general, post space conflict.
The future of outer space warfare is rapidly approaching. There is significant build-up of space warfare capabilities by some major countries who rely on space systems for their defence or perceive that their potential adversaries depend too much on space capabilities to conduct terrestrial warfare. Because of the lack of significant experience by countries in this new military domain, it is difficult to fully understand what the best doctrine, strategies and tactics are to win the next space war. Based on the author’s study of military history for the past 50 years, and his direct involvement with space warfare programmes for the past 43 years, he has developed general rules and doctrine by which the next space war will be conducted. These rules, doctrine, strategies and tactics are an extrapolation of well-established Principles of War and other terrestrial military doctrine for terrestrial conflicts applied to the unique outer space environment where orbital dynamics restrict what is possible for Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon systems attack profiles.
Due to the large distances (tens of thousands of kilometers) between the earth and military satellites, it is difficult to track and fully image these systems to assess their abilities as potential threats to national security. In addition, very few countries possess the world-wide space surveillance assets to track movements of suspicious space objects that may be manoeuvring towards critical national assets. Even for those few countries that possess significant space sensor systems, it is very difficult to continuously track satellites that initiate their manoeuvres in areas with no sensor coverage (such as Antarctica). A recent computer simulation by the author showed that 95 per cent of possible space attacks could be completed within 24 hours, which is before any reactions on the ground can be contemplated, approved, or executed. Thus, one of the conclusions of these outer space warfare studies is that space warfare favours the offence. Another conclusion is that, due to the remoteness of space, countries that take actions against an adversary’s satellites can do so under a cloud of secrecy, without the general population of the world becoming aware of these aggressive actions. Thus, space warfare adds new, and more subtle rungs on the conflict escalation ladder, where countries can express intent and resolve to their adversaries without necessarily inducing terrestrial conflict.
The author has initiated analysis of the fundamental principles of terrestrial warfare as delineated by the ancient Chinese military philosopher, Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC), in his landmark treatise, “The Art of War”. Due to the author’s 43 years of experience analyzing the requirements for outer space warfare, he has been able to derive 546 basic modern space warfare strategies and tactics from these ancient concepts. However, he is only one-third of the way through conducting this analysis and proposes that support be obtained to complete this study to its logical conclusion. In addition, the ancient political / military philosopher from India, Chanakya, should also be included in these analyses.
Some Space War Examples Derived from Sun Tzu
1. Sun Tzu: “When able to attack, we must seem unable. When using our forces, we must seem inactive. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant”.
Derived Space Strategy (1): Fake the deaths of various satellites with covert, reserve space weapons missions, over a period of months and years before employing them in surprise attacks.
Derived Space Strategy (2): Develop some overt civil and commercial space systems that can also have space weapons capabilities (e.g., space maintenance robots).
2. Sun Tzu: “Feign disorder, and crush him”.
Derived Space Strategy (3): Make a series of random satellite manoeuvres to confuse the enemy as to your true intentions, and to appear confused in your responses to his attacks. Some of these supposed random manoeuvres hide real attacks with obscure intentions.
Derived Space Strategy (4): During space conflicts you may decide to trade orbital space for time – in other words, you may give up key orbits and manoeuvring room solely because it will take your adversaries some time to fill this void, or chase you down, or simply force him to use up valuable satellite fuel, while giving yourself more time to make better counter-attack preparations.
3. Sun Tzu: “You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points”.
Derived Space Strategy (5): Remember, you are not fighting an adversary’s forces and machines as much as you are fighting an adversary commander’s perceptions, biases, experiences, training, organisational structures, his upper military and political managers, intelligence, mental, and emotional strengths, weaknesses and endurances. The weakest point in a space system may be the human element, including scientists, engineers, technologists and additional supporting staff.
Derived Space Strategy (6): You do not have to attack an adversary’s critical space assets – simply preparing and appearing to attack them may be sufficient to inspire your adversaries to manoeuvr (deplete fuel and power, and limit operational effectiveness) and reveal certain space assets and sub-capabilities and war reserve modes, to be dealt with later.
4. Sun Tzu: “If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he thinks he is safe”.
Derived Space Strategy (7): Dangle out in front of your adversaries tempting space systems targets to draw out his space control resources and military plans and intents.
Derived Space Strategy (8): Instantly reveal the existence of covert space weapons covering certain orbital regimes to panic your adversaries into either moving his critical space assets (and thus, rendering them at least temporarily ineffective), or hastening to defend them. Many of these “covert” space weapons can be fake, but must be seeded with some real weapon systems if your bluff is called.
5. Sun Tzu: “Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight”.
Derived Space Strategy (9): Use multiple differing and unusual orbits that all get to the same position in space at a specific time when you want to attack an adversary target with multiple weapons and attack profile orbital approaches.
Derived Space Strategy (10): You can set up the place and time of the coming battle by funnelling your adversaries’ perceptions of yours and his status and locations of forces (correlation of forces) through psychological warfare and cyber spoofing of his sensors and command and control systems.
Military / Political Benefits
Currently, military and commercial space systems support the United States in far-flung military actions across the globe. If the United States gets defeated in space due to a pre-conflict surprise attack, then it is conceivable that it will be defeated on the ground without support from GPS, imagery and communications satellite systems. Such a possible defeat will have major political, military, and relationships, for both Blue and Red countries. Due to the infancy of space warfare planning, employing just one or two of these Sun Tzuderived space strategies may be all that it takes to win the next space war. The author estimates that there have already been five to six space wars conducted without the general public becoming aware of these exchanges of military / political resolve and intent between major power nations. I believe that a space war in 2014 over the Ukrainian conflict caused a subsequent tentative cease-fire agreement. I also believe that a subsequent space war has now panicked the United Sates government into increasing the unclassified military space budget to $5.5 billion for space warfare systems, (which is most likely a small reflection of the overall covert space weapons programme budgets) and caused the establishment of the United States Space Force, along with new military space organisations around the World.
Additional Follow-on Work
This Sun Tzu analysis is simply the start to additional work required to establish comprehensive fundamental doctrine, strategies and tactics enabling war-fighters to win the next space war. Additional future topics for development are:
1. Space Doctrine: How countries with limited space capabilities can achieve localised space dominance through superior doctrine.
2. Satellite Warfare Situation Maps: Unique visualizationtechniques to better detect, understand and respond to space attacks.
3. Principle of Space Warfare: How classical terrestrial Principles of War are still applicable to modern space warfare.
4. Space Conflict Escalation Ladder: Techniques to monitor and control conflict escalation of space warfare linked to terrestrial conflicts.
5. Space Centers of Gravity (COG): What are the unique orbital locations and commander perceptions that evolve into critical points requiring understanding and defence?
6. Example Space Course of Action (COA): Terrestrial strategies and tactics that are applicable to outer space warfare.
7. Intelligence Indicators for Future Space Attacks: What indicators may inform defence planners that a space war is imminent.
8. Fundamental Space Command Decisions: Examples of some of the decisions required to effectively execute, terminate and win space wars.
9. “Top 40 Rules” for Space Warfare: Based on the author’sextensive experience in this mission area, he presents what are the top conditions and issues that surround outer space warfare.
I would like to acknowledge the great military thinkers of the last few thousand years, from ancient Greek and Roman generals, to past Chinese military philosophers such as Sun Tzu for their continuing philosophies that inspired me to translate these concepts into theories and doctrine impacting present and future outer space warfare.