Space is now 'most essential' domain for US military, Pentagon says

four people, three of whom are in u.s. military uniforms, stand in front of an American flag
From left: Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Admiral Christopher W. Grady, Gen. Stephen Whiting and Gen. James Dickinson, during a change of command ceremony at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs on Jan. 10. (Image credit: DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cesar J. Navarro)

U.S. military leaders keep stressing that space is the battlefield of the future.

The latest statements that continue this orbital saber-rattling came during a change-of-command ceremony at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs on Jan. 10. During the ceremony, leadership of U.S. Space Command changed from Gen. James Dickinson to Gen. Stephen Whiting, now the third commander to oversee Space Command, which is responsible for all U.S. military operations in outer space.

During the ceremony, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks asserted that, while the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Russia are seeking to turn space into a "warfighting domain," the United States is committed to deterrence only.

"Both Russia and the PRC are evolving their military doctrines to extend into space," Hicks said. "They're both deploying capabilities that can target GPS and other vital space-based systems, and we've seen both countries conduct operations against us and our allies and partners to degrade our space advantages. Our competitors' aggressive actions seek to turn space into a warfighting domain."

Related: Space is 'more contested' than ever by world's militaries, US Space Force chief says

The United States, Hicks said, is only interested in space-based warfare capabilities to serve as a deterrent, or a warning that American orbital assets are not to be messed with. "But I want to be clear," Hicks went on, "conflict is not inevitable in space or anywhere else, and the United States of America is committed to preventing conflict through deterrence by making clear to our competitors that the costs of aggression would far outweigh any conceivable benefits."

Hicks added that the Pentagon is moving away from expensive, high-value satellites and toward constellations of smaller, lower-cost satellites in order to deter attacks on its satellite infrastructure. These constellations allow some individual satellites to be lost while maintaining capabilities through a distributed architecture. And private companies like SpaceX are helping to drive that change, Hicks said.

"America's dynamic commercial space industry enables it and also enables the United States to significantly outpace [China's] growth in space launches and payloads over the last five years," Hicks said. 

Another speaker during the ceremony — the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Christopher Grady — added that space is now the most important domain in which the U.S. military operates, brought into focus by recent conflicts in which space-based assets like communication satellites and GPS systems have played a vital role.

"Recent conflicts have starkly illustrated the indispensable role of space in our nation's defense capabilities," Grady said. "And, in my view, space has emerged as our most essential warfighting domain — integral to our national security, our coalition interoperability and our global stability."

For years, the U.S. Space Force and the Department of Defense have been making statements about the ongoing militarization of Earth orbit and the fact that future conflicts will see nations attempt to disable, disrupt or destroy one another's satellites through various means.

To counter such threats, the Space Force has been conducting training exercises in recent years to simulate "on-orbit combat" and has been expanding its capability to keep tabs on threats in space, both known and unknown

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, recently asked private companies to submit new ideas for space weapons.

All in the name of peaceful deterrence.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor,

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.