Star Tek-Exploiting the Final Frontier:

Counterspace Operations in 2025

AF2025 Logo

A Research Paper

Presented To

Air Force 2025


Lt Col Robert H. Zielinski
Lt Col Robert M. Worley II
Maj Douglas S. Black
Maj Scott A. Henderson
Maj David C. Johnson

August 1996


2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future. Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government.

This report contains fictional representations of future situations/scenarios. Any similarities to real people or events, other than those specifically cited, are unintentional and are for purposes of illustration only.

This publication has been reviewed by security and policy review authorities, is unclassified, and is cleared for public release.



    Executive Summary
  1. Introduction
  2. Framing The Challenge
  3. Key Technologies And System Descriptions
  4. Concept of Operations For a Counterspace Architecture
  5. Investigation Recommendations
  6. Appendix
      A - Evolving Space Doctrine in the 90s
        Space Superiority as an Air Force Core Competency
        Evolving Space Superiority Doctrine
        Offensive Counterspace
        Defensive Counterspace
        How the Air Force Does Counterspace Today






Executive Summary

Space superiority, like air superiority today, will be a vital core competency in the year 2025. US national security is already heavily leveraged in space-a trend which will increase in the future. Likewise, other countries and commercial interests will continue to seek the valuable "high ground" of space. Where space interests conflict, hostilities may soon follow. Protecting the use of space and controlling, when required, its advantage is the essence of counterspace.

This paper demonstrates the need for, and the means by which, counterspace operations will be conducted in the year 2025. A number of factors will drive the need for a robust counterspace capability in 2025. Space will be seen as a vital national interest based on its significant role in maintaining national security. In addition, the ability to operate freely in the space theater of operations will drive the United States (US) to implement capabilities to protect its vast array of space platforms as well as those of its friends and allies. Finally, the importance of space assets in achieving information dominance will force a serious examination of the requirement for developing offensive counterspace capabilities and placing nonnuclear weapons in space.

In order to field credible and effective counterspace capabilities, the US must take advantage of current leaps in computer technologies and nurture advances in other areas. Successes in miniaturization technologies, such as nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems, will spawn advances in space detecting and targeting capabilities and space stealth technologies. In turn, kinetic and directed energy weapon systems will likely constitute the backbone of future offensive and defensive counterspace capabilities. A counterspace architecture must and will integrate enemy target detection, target identification, command and control, defensive counterspace capabilities, and offensive counterspace capabilities to expand the options available to future commanders.

The focus we place today on counterspace requirements will directly impact the space forces we field in year 2025. This paper identifies the need for counterspace and provides a variety of concepts to do the job. Each concept includes a system description, a concept of operations, and a discussion of possible countermeasures. Finally, a systems analysis of counterspace concepts yields recommendations on key systems which should pay the greatest dividends in both the commercial and military arena. Offensive counterspace concepts recommended for future development are parasite microsatellites (robo-bugs), transatmospheric vehicles (TAVs), and a ground based laser system. Defensive systems include a space interdiction net capable of detecting and intercepting satellite signals and miniature satellite body guards to protect high-value space assets. These systems will form the backbone of systems which should be pursued in order to ensure US space superiority in 2025.

Chapter 1

The year is 2025. Somewhere in a low-earth orbit, a US-owned communications satellite, one of dozens, quietly and unexpectedly goes off the air. Ground controllers with their extensive computerized control systems are puzzled but surprisingly not alarmed. They should be.

Unknown to them, or to the United States (US) defense community, a consortium of rogue nation-states and organized crime cartels has just tested their new, hi-tech satellite blanker. The threat to the single satellite is formidable. The threat to US national security will be devastating when these satellite blankers can target multiple satellites simultaneously. This nightmare happens less than a year later. In an unexpectedly swift and decisive move, links to US military forces worldwide are cut, global positioning system (GPS) navigation is virtually nonexistent, and a majority of US commercial and military reconnaissance returns are nothing but static. Unfortunately, US counterspace capabilities failed in this fictional glimpse into the future.

This paper's purpose is to demonstrate the need for, and the means by which, counterspace operations will be conducted in year 2025. The future, specifically by the year 2025, will see many nations capitalizing on the vantage point of space for both commercial and military reasons. The US will continue its growing reliance on military and commercial space-based capabilities. To protect those capabilities and, when necessary, deny similar capabilities to adversaries, the US must be able to conduct counterspace operations to achieve space superiority.

In building the case for counterspace operations, we make no limiting assumptions. We expect space will be as open and accessible in 2025 as air travel is today through international airspace. The pervasive nature of space assets will foster the broad use of space by most of the nations of the world. Protecting the use of space and controlling, when required, its omnipresent potential advantages is the essence of counterspace.

This paper first frames the counterspace challenge by emphasizing the urgent and compelling need for a counterspace capability in the 2025 time frame. The discussion then turns to the road to weapons in space and the current proliferation of space capabilities today. Next, we describe counterspace system concepts that will add credibility and substance to future US counterspace operations. These concepts are organized within five technology categories:-(1) space detection and targeting, (2) miniaturization, (3) space stealth, (4) kinetic energy weapons, and, (5) directed energy weapons. Some concepts stretch the imagination but undoubtedly will lay a foundation for what the future space fleet should look like. Next, the concepts are woven into a space defense network to illustrate a system connectivity and concept of operations. Finally, the paper makes some investigative recommendations for future procurement and technology assessments.

Contents | 1 | 2 | 3a | 3b | 3c | 4 | 5 | A | Bibliography

Contact: Air Force 2025
Last updated: 11 December 1996

Back to 2025 Home Page