‘Military force’ could be directed to protect private sector orbital assets, DOD strategy says

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The Pentagon’s first-ever commercial space integration strategy said the department would take steps to “mitigate risks to commercial space actors.”

The Department of Defense released a new strategy on Tuesday outlining its intent to tie critical private sector space technologies with national security interests, including using military force when necessary to protect satellites and other orbital capabilities. 

DOD’s commercial space integration strategy — the first such document released by the department — emphasized the growing importance of commercial space solutions to the U.S. government and military, as well as the need to better safeguard these capabilities from adversaries who could target them to disrupt key services. 

“Integrating commercial solutions, as opposed to merely augmenting existing government solutions, will require a shift in approach within the department,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a letter accompanying the strategy, adding that “only by proactively integrating commercial solutions can the department be positioned to leverage them in crisis or conflict.”

The document identified four priorities for DOD when it comes to integrating commercial space technologies into its operations. These included ensuring that commercial space assets are available when needed; placing capabilities into orbit during peacetime that can be used during conflict; protecting the space domain when appropriate; and harnessing the private sector’s innovation to field emerging solutions for use by the military.

When it comes to promoting “a safe and secure operational space domain,” the strategy said efforts to protect orbital assets will include steps designed to “mitigate risks to commercial space actors.”

“The department will leverage a range of tools across all domains to deter aggression against and defeat threats to U.S. national security interest, including all space segments and, when appropriate, commercial space solutions,” the strategy said. “In appropriate circumstances, the use of military force to protect and defend commercial assets could be directed.”

Other steps to reduce risks to commercial space technologies, the document said, will include better and more timely threat information sharing with private sector partners, such as the dissemination of critical “space domain awareness and cybersecurity threat information at multiple classification levels.”

And when it comes to developing new space capabilities to remain ahead of global adversaries, the document said DOD “will use the full range of available, financial, contractual and policy tools to rapidly field and scale commercial technology.”

"The commercial space sector is driving innovation," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said in a statement. "But the impact on national security will be measured by how well the department can integrate commercial capabilities into the way we operate, both in peacetime and in conflict."