Space Superiority Doctrine

Space dominance

This is a very interesting opinion piece posted on January 16:  U.S. in Space: Superiority, Not Dominance,” written by Mr. Travis C. Stalcup for The Diplomat.  I agree with his overall viewpoint about the need for a United States’ space policy.  But I’m not sure I agree with the options he presented.  He believes there are three policy options for the United States to choose from:  Do nothing; Space Dominance; and Space Superiority.  There doesn’t seem to be a great definition of what space dominance is in this post.  And his definition of space superiority seems to be VERY aggressive.  It seems to suggest intimidating the Chinese more than the US ever did with the USSR.

But the lack of a good definition for space dominance is not surprising, since the Air Force doesn’t seem to have a good definition for it either.  As for space superiority, well, it seems for the Air Force that more satellites are the answer.  Ah, well…

He also makes the mistake many other wonks make—treating space as if it were some sort of static area.  Space is dynamic.  Worse than that for those who thrive in absolutes:  For “space control” purposes, space is nearly infinite—it’s more 3-D than an expensive movie.  Nothing sits still because of the tremendous forces at play in space.  So, to treat space as a static area is to ignore the “island-hopping” lessons the US Navy used to great effect in World War II.  Rapid flexibility is a key ability we need to incorporate into US space doctrine.  We don’t have that right now, but there’s no reason, aside from money, that we can’t build up that capability.  We can’t, and shouldn’t, build a Maginot Line in space (**sigh** REALLY!!  You don’t know what a Maginot Line is?  Click on the link now or Google it.  It’s amazing, but it was futile.).

The tone of the post seems almost panicky.  It also seems shortsighted.  This is because the author does not give the emerging private space companies acknowledgment or credit for some of the amazing things going on in that sector.  Nor how they can possibly help contribute towards a perhaps healthier, flexible, broader, base on which to build space superiority.

This is a topic near and dear to my thoughts.  I will eventually write more about space power and theoretical applications.  But not today.  In the meantime, read the article, if you’re interested in space doctrine.  It’s at the very least, some exotic food for thought about space doctrine.

I tend to fall more in line with last two of Mr. James Oberg’s similar policy options for space power outlined in his book Space Power Theory:”  “More of the same old drift (do nothing); “Strong pursuit of unilateral advantage (space dominance)”; “Sponsorship of collective agreement (US-sponsored “space alliance” with Western allies to assume certain space activities); and “Expand Cold War alliances (an international federation, like the EU, for space activities).”

3 thoughts on “Space Superiority Doctrine

  1. John, I agree with you on the panicky, shortsighted tone. He’s also either ignorant of current policy or willfully ignoring it. Neither the National Space Policy nor the National Security Space Strategy mention anything about dominance. As a matter of fact, the policies they put forth are mirrored in his article, and are 2-3 years old. This author just doesn’t seem credible on the subject. There are much better discussions (as you have noted) about space doctrine, especially in light of the private sectors and its inroads into launch capabilities.


      1. The National Space Policy can be found here ( and the unclassified summary of the National Security Space Strategy can be found here ( Also recently released is the National Space Transportation Policy, found here ( You’ll notice that the focus is on sharing space, and deterring attacks. Furthermore, only AFDD 3-14 refers to the space superiority function, defining it as, “…space superiority is focused on mission assurance rather than dominating or “owning” space. The ultimate goal of achieving space superiority should be to maintain our own space capabilities when contested and ensure unhindered mission continuity through any conflict.”

        I will have to take your comment about AF definition of space superiority to task, however. It is NOT about more satellites. It’s about joint ops to achieve that state, whether that is a B-2 raid on an adversary launch facility, or a EA-6B jamming a link, to a SOF attack on a ground station, or to a cyber attack on a TT&C node. The DoD recognizes that space operations consists of three nodes; orbital, link, and ground. Neutralizing any one of those nodes can effectively neutralize a space asset or capability.


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