Chapter 2
Required Capability

The US must ultimately control the high ground of space by attaining and maintaining space dominance through the use of space systems. A system-of-systems space-strike architecture must be developed that consists of five major components: (1) a global information network (surveillance and reconnaissance system, intelligence system), (2) a secure command and control system, (3) certain key utilities (communications, navigation, and weather), (4) a comprehensive readiness and sustainment system, and (5) a space-strike weapon system or combination of weapon systems. The architecture for a particular mission might consist of the weapon plus sensors and/or communications integrated on a single, space-based platform, or all parts of the system might be distributed across a number of platforms based in different mediums (space, air, sea, land, subsurface). The actual location of the various components should be determined by the outcome of a complicated systems analysis process that considers many cost-effectiveness and mission-effectiveness factors. Only mission-effectiveness factors will be addressed in this chapter.

Every weapon system possesses, to greater or lesser degree, the capabilities of timeliness, responsiveness, flexibility, survivability, reliability, precision, and selective lethality. The following discussion centers on these major capabilities required by a global space-strike system in 2025.


The space-based, high-resolution surveillance and reconnaissance, high-bandwidth communications, and ultraprecise navigational systems of 2025 will make it far easier to see, move, talk, and shoot. These space systems will be fully interconnected and, because of broad based commercialization, available to practically every nation and major organization on the planet. Key aspects of the interconnected system-of-systems will be common spacecraft bus modules, the use of industry (and probably international) standards, small and microsatellites (particularly as a means of improving technology insertion), and fully transparent tasking. The user will interact with information, not with discrete instruments. A real-time, redundant, seamless link will exist between space-based assets and assets operating within the earth's atmosphere.10 Tailored, near-real-time information will be readily available to war fighters and their weapon systems. Every weapon system in 2025, including the global space-strike system, must be designed to make the best use of this timely information (called in-time information in the AF 2025 white paper entitled "In-time Information Integration System").11 A more complete view of the near-real-time information system outlined above is available in various AF 2025 white papers dealing with surveillance and reconnaissance systems and information operations.12


Force application missions usually begin as contingency operations, which are rapid responses to crises. A crisis may come without any notice and produce a tremendous amount of stress to disseminate information quickly and accurately. Decision makers need complete information on the developing crisis in near real time (the actual speed depends on the time available to decide and take proper action). A near-absolute assurance of connectivity is critical for a distributed information system, because if the total system does not maintain its connections it cannot be effective-in this case, responsiveness is meaningless. The key to an effective global space-strike is, therefore, to affect a crisis or conflict decisively before it can grow out of control. The response action must occur at a rate faster than the opponent can react-"within the enemy's OODA loop" in the words of Col John Boyd.13 In the fast-paced world of 2025, the US military's "system-of-systems," and its global space-strike system, must be more responsive than anything that exists today. The United States's OODA loops may well need to "turn" in minutes or even seconds.


The fog and uncertainty of war, ancient and modern, has taught military commanders to always keep their options open. At the tactical level, this means the military commander does not commit to any one course of action, nor to any fixed allotment of forces to any task, until the proper (usually the last) moment. Even then, the effective military commander must always retain the ability to switch forces from one objective to another as the conflict unfolds.14 Surprise is an uncomfortable and unwelcome, but sadly ever-present, bedfellow for the commander.

Conflict can be characterized by the level of objective intent. The most common definition of the "spectrum of force" identifies three levels of intensity: low, medium, and high. High intensity is generally characterized by continuous engagement and an exchange of lethal blows between conventional or nuclear-capable forces with the intent of totally destroying the enemy. At the lowest end of the spectrum, the conflict involves the limited uses of force embodied in subversive, partisan, terrorist, and guerrilla tactics. Even in the slower-paced world of 1996, most military missions are at the lower and politically far more sensitive end of the spectrum. The US military must possess flexible combat systems capable of projecting force at all levels of power.

Survivability and Reliability

A system that cannot survive the outbreak of hostilities is not a useful system. A force-application system, in particular, must be "robust"-it must be available to the commander whenever it is needed. The desirable global space-strike system is one that is resistant to the enemy's attempts to render it inoperative (a survivable system) and that is relatively easy (in terms of cost and effort) to maintain and sustain (a reliable system). This is a particularly sensitive and important issue for space systems, since they are often deployed far from US support bases.

Precision and Selective Lethality

The US public recently discovered (during Operation Desert Storm) what its military has long known: the enormous value of being able to strike military targets with great precision. Precision reduces the total cost required to engage targets for two basic reasons: the total number of munitions assigned to a given target can be reduced once you are assured each attempt will probably strike, and a less active agent (explosive, pyrotechnic, etc.) is required for each munition once you can select the target's most vulnerable point for engagement. More importantly, precision attacks require fewer sorties and thereby reduce the exposure of combat personnel to the danger of injury or death.

An important corollary of precision attacks involves the potential for selective lethality. A selectively lethal attack has two attributes: it strikes the desired target and only the desired target (thereby greatly reducing collateral, generally civilian, damage) and it can be "tuned" to levels of less than lethal force. A strategic nuclear bomb can be a precise combat system (fitted with an appropriate guidance system), but it cannot be a selectively lethal combat system-the nuclear bomb can only destroy its target.

An example will make the value of selective lethality clear. Consider the case of an important communications node (e.g., a microwave tower) standing next to a children's hospital. The task at hand is to "put the communications node out of commission." This can certainly be done by successfully dropping an iron bomb directly on the tower, but only with severe risk to the nearby children's hospital. A selectively lethal combat system might accomplish the same job with greater force economy by precisely striking the tower's antenna feeds and associated electronics and over heating or melting them. The hospital is completely safe and the tower remains standing for potential postconflict use by friendly forces once the feeds and electronics have been replaced.

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Last updated: 11 December 1996

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