On March 31, 2023, the White House National Science and Technology Council released National Low Earth Orbit Research and Development Strategy.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is a space between a hundred and two thousand kilometers from Earth, where civil, military, and commercial satellites of various nations are located. It is especially important for reconnaissance, because it is the satellites in LEO that make it possible to transmit accurate information about various objects quickly.
The document’s summary makes the claim, in the spirit of superiority and exceptionality, that “The United States holds the preeminent global position in space research due to its long-term, steadfast investments in space research and technology development and its strategic partnerships and collaborations. As the United States leads the world in the exploration of the Moon and Mars, maintaining U.S. preeminence in space research is important as the use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) grows and the development of space enters a new era. This Strategy presents a vision for U.S. leadership in future research and development (R&D) in LEO that will advance science and technology; strengthen U.S. Government collaborations; promote market sustainability; expand international partnerships; engage the public; and support the continued development of the U.S. space workforce”.
Other nations that have either been exploring the Moon and other planets of the solar system since the last century or are currently doing so are not mentioned.
The strategy outlines five macro-level “strategic policy objectives” split into 13 specific assignments for interagency work – most of them led by NASA, but two are assigned to the Department of Defense. The five macro goals are:
– Advance groundbreaking science and technology
– Strengthen U.S. Government collaboration and partnerships
– Promote market opportunities, innovation, and sustainability
– Expand international cooperation
– Stimulate education and workforce development
The Department of Defense and the State Department are leading the implementation of task 2.3 “Prioritize sustainable access to LEO for scientific research” with the support of the Department of Commerce, NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Pentagon has also taken over leadership of interagency efforts under task 5.3 “Build capacity in U.S. post-secondary learning institutions for space science and technology” with the support of the Department of Education, NASA, the Department of Defense and the NSF.
The interest in future specialists is outlined very clearly, for example, the need to involve even pre-Kindergarten students interested in space in educational programs.
As for concrete actions, it is planned to create a “LEO National Laboratory”, which would combine disparate research activities in federal agencies, including the Ministries of Defense, energy and trade.
“A future LEO National Laboratory would encompass orbital and suborbital platforms as well as existing and new terrestrial facilities, including DOE’s national laboratories, NASA’s space flight and research centers, DOD’s service research laboratories, U.S. universities, and private-sector partners. To make strides in standards for future space situational awareness (SSA) technologies and in cybersecurity for satellites, the Laboratory would continue to collaborate on cutting-edge research with DOC. The Laboratory would educate the public on the use and importance of space-based research,” the strategy explains.
The new strategy explicitly states the increased importance of LEO for national security.
“Where appropriate, and in concert with civil agencies, the national security departments and agencies will also support the growing demand for space research and infrastructure for national security purposes, and the increase in commercial space activity. It will promote a market for space-based research by public and private U.S. entities due to the increasing need for reliable and more affordable access through innovative launch vehicles, and frequent spaceflights.… These efforts require infrastructure such as ground systems, satellite systems, potentially in-space assembly, and reusable vehicles. The national security departments and agencies will also expand opportunities for non-traditional researchers.” The last phrase, apparently, is intended for the LGBT community.
Obviously, this document is a theoretical basis for the further deployment of combat systems in space in order to establish global dominance.
By the way, at the end of last year, the U.S. Space Command conducted the first large-scale Exercise Space Flag in space involving its foreign partners. The headquarters was located at the U.S. Space Force Base in Colorado, but the area of attention was Europe. In addition to representatives of the National Intelligence Community and the U.S. Air Force, partner nations also participated, such as: Canada, Australia, and Great Britain.
As noted in the briefing, “we had the opportunity to practice our orbital warfare techniques, our electronic warfare techniques, our space domain awareness techniques, and intelligence command. We didn’t just do that with the U.S. forces, we had an opportunity to do that with the coalition, as well.”
It was explicitly stated that “Russia poses the greatest threat in any European scenario”.
Therefore, it was decided that in 2023, the U.S. Space Forces would create a European component, corresponding to units created under U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command.
Incidentally, the British have recently become more active in helping their patron in Washington. In October 2022, the defense committee of the British Parliament presented a voluminous report “Defence Space: through adversity to the stars?”, where it was evident from the document that most of the budget allocated to space defense is spent on intelligence and surveillance (970 million pounds), and on other needs, such as control, command, satellite communications – a total of just over 400 million pounds).
The section on threats says that Russia, China, and the U.S. have anti-satellite capabilities and Britain does not. It is clear, however, that Britain does not see the U.S. as a threat. But about the other two countries, it goes on to say the following: “We are seeing many more grey zone types of aggression around the world from Russia and China, where they are taking actions that they believe fall below the threshold of overt conflict. We are seeing that in space, and space is a prime ground for that type of grey zone aggression, with reversible forms of attack, non-destructive forms of attack, and forms of attack where attribution can be difficult. We are seeing that happen more and more”.
And then there is more detail about the United States, but in the context of cooperation.
The report acknowledges that “The UK has only limited sovereign defence space capabilities, the most notable of which is Skynet, a network of military communications satellites providing near-universal global coverage. Consequently, UK space defence capabilities and operations are dependent on and highly integrated with allies. The UK participates in several alliances across the defence space sphere, most notably NATO, and the US-UK relationship is of particular importance for the UK. Intelligence sharing relating to space takes place through the Five Eyes network. The UK assigns personnel to the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) in California, and UK personnel also participate in the US-led Operation Olympic Defender, an initiative intended to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors
in space and reduce the spread of debris in orbit”.
As the icing on the cake, the document ends by stating that “In March 2022 Russia impounded 36 OneWeb satellites that had been due to be launched from its Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, after demanding assurances that they would not be used for military purposes… The CEO of OneWeb has since described the impounded satellites as being “essentially lost” and the episode is reported to have cost the taxpayer-backed company £199 million”.
The evidence of military-space cooperation of NATO countries is not only rhetorical statements and joint maneuvers, but also assistance to the Ukrainian side in intelligence gathering and even aggressive actions against Russian satellites.
On April 5, 2023, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that “the Kiev regime is trying to influence Russian civilian communication satellites with the help of “specialists from a number of foreign countries”. This is an outrageous violation of international law. Russian side has the right to respond appropriately. We have all the necessary opportunities for this”.
Most likely it was an antisatellite complex “Contact” based on the MiG-31 heavy fighter-interceptor; the A60 “Sokol-Eshelon” combat laser system based on the IL-76 transport aircraft and the “Peresvet” combat laser system. According to the latest data, “upon completion of tests on the basis of the IL-76 military transport aircraft, it will be possible to install a combat laser on a space platform. Powered by a space nuclear reactor, it would be able to destroy satellites”.
It is likely that if the West continues to misbehave in space, the fears of NATO experts about the use of anti-satellite weapons will become a reality.