A new Pentagon strategy for integrating commercial and military space capabilities calls for greater protection for private sector satellites targeted by hostile nations, noting that the U.S. could use force to defend those systems.

The Commercial Space Integration Strategy, released April 2, calls for improved norms and standards to make space safer for private sector operators, threat information sharing and financial protection for companies that support military space missions.

“The Department will leverage a range of tools across all domains to deter aggression against and defeat threats to U.S. national security space interests, including all space segments and, where appropriate, commercial space solutions,” according to the strategy, published April 2. “In appropriate circumstances, the use of military force to protect and defend commercial assets could be directed.”

The document, which lays out the Defense Department’s priorities for leveraging commercial space systems and services, doesn’t detail what scenarios might call for a military response.

The Space Force, set to release its own commercial strategy in the coming days, has upped its engagement with industry in recent years. Officials have called for the acquisition workforce to consider opportunities to buy services and systems from industry — rather than build a bespoke government satellite — wherever possible. And last year, it established a Commercial Space Office aimed at helping it better integrate these capabilities across its mission areas.

That engagement has also focused on establishing a Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve aimed at scaling up the service’s use of private sector capabilities during a crisis or conflict. As part of that work, the Space Force has met with industry to determine options for defending commercial space assets during wartime.

While some companies, concerned about choosing a side, may opt not to have the U.S. defend their systems, others want assurance that their satellites will be prioritized.

The Pentagon strategy recognizes this concern and notes the department is taking steps to give firms better access to information about threats in orbit.

“The department will work to mitigate barriers including overclassification, clearance processes and cleared facility access to establish scalable procedures for unclassified communications with the commercial space sector,” according to the strategy.

The Pentagon also commits to working with the State Department and the international community to craft norms of responsible behavior in space. It is also taking steps to determine what financial protections commercial companies should have access to should their satellites and ground systems be destroyed or damaged.

Today, companies who support military operations in the air and at sea have access to government insurance, but that financial protection is not available for space firms.

“The department will evaluate gaps in protection from commercial insurance providers, the conditions under which U.S. government-provided insurance would be needed for the space domain, and whether those conditions have been met,” the document states.

Mission categories

The department’s strategy also stresses the need for the military to integrate commercial space capabilities before conflict arises. That means involving companies in wargames and training exercises and creating open lines of communication about what systems and technologies DOD needs and how those requirements align with work that industry is already doing.

Along those lines, the strategy offers some clarity about which space mission areas the department views as primarily government efforts, which are mostly commercial and which offer opportunity for a hybrid commercial-government approach.

Missions that will be performed mostly by the government include command and control; electronic warfare; missile warning; positioning, navigation and timing; combat power; and nuclear protection.

Opportunities for hybrid architectures include cyber and spacecraft operations; satellite communications; space domain awareness; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities.

The only mission identified as primarily commercial is space mobility and logistics, which includes refueling, repairing and manufacturing spacecraft in orbit.

“Mission areas may shift between categories over time as commercial space capabilities mature and military requirements and capability needs evolve,” the strategy states.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

More In Space