DoD Updates its Space Policy

At the end of August, the U.S. Department of Defense released the last update of its Space Policy. It constitutes the first update since 2016 and conforms to organizational changes in American defense space activities in recent years, such as the birth of the U.S. Space Force. 

In comparison with the previous versions, the main novelty is the incorporation of five responsible behavior tenets aimed at space sustainability. There is an explicit call for the U.S. military to carry out space operations, limiting the generation of long-lived debris, avoiding the creation of harmful interference, maintaining safe trajectories and orbits, and notifying partners and competitors to assure the safety of operation. 

Another significant characteristic of this update is the new framework of cooperation between the National Reconnaissance Office and the USSPACECOM under the “protect and defend” strategic framework. The document states, “in crisis or conflict, the NRO will execute direction from Commander, USSPACECOM, to protect and defend U.S. space capabilities.” 

An interesting aspect of this document is language. The terms are cautious and rarely mention any offensive activities in orbit, but we focus on defending vital interests from any hostile uses of space. The need to develop combat capabilities, coordinate the different agencies’ forces, and build relationships with allies and business partners is described from a defensive perspective.

It can be said that the document has not presented any particular novelty with respect to the direction of American space policy of the last period but follows a process of rationalization of the U.S. defensive strategy in space.