Space-Operations Doctrine
The Way Ahead

Maj Todd C. Shull, USAF

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The recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated the asymmetric advantage provided by space systems and their significant contribution to the most flexible, precise, and lethal military the world has ever seen. To ensure that our “high-demand, low-density” space systems continue to provide an asymmetric advantage for us, we must employ them as efficiently and smartly as possible to meet war-fighter needs. The foundation for such employment lies in well-developed, comprehensive space-operations doctrine.

In every major conflict since Operation Desert Storm, space capabilities have provided increasing levels of support to combat operations. Command relationships continue to evolve to maximize theater commanders’ ability to integrate space effects into their campaigns. Similarly, space-operations doctrine has grown and matured by continually capturing the lessons learned and best practices discovered in each successive conflict. We are now at a point where we can evaluate our current space doctrine in light of the lessons learned in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. How should our space-operations doctrine build on these lessons? What, if any, new such doctrine is necessary? This article examines these questions and proposes a course for enhancing and expanding the body of space-operations doctrine. However, before we proceed, a short discussion on existing operational-level space doctrine is appropriate.

Current Space-Operations

The Air Force and the joint community have codified operational-level space-operations doctrine in Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-2, Space Operations, and Joint Publication (JP) 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, respectively. (A rather dated Army document—Field Manual 100-18, Space Support to Army Operations, 20 July 1995—is not discussed here.) AFDD 2-2 and JP 3-14 are similar in both scope and content. 

Current Air Force operational-level space doctrine resides in AFDD 2-2, last revised in 2001.1 This document provides significant detail in the areas of command and control (C2) of space forces as well as the planning and execution of space operations. The first chapter serves as a primer on the contribution of space operations to air and space power, examining the relevance and contribution of these operations to the principles of war, tenets of air and space power, Air Force functions, and Air Force distinctive capabilities (formerly known as core competencies). The second chapter offers guidance for the C2 of both global and theater space forces. It introduces the construct of a joint force air and space component commander (JFASCC) although this entity has not found acceptance with the other military services. The third and fourth chapters discuss planning and execution of space operations, respectively. The planning chapter covers campaign planning and highlights development of the Air Force Space Operations Plan. The execution chapter provides guidance for conducting both global and theater space operations. Of particular note are sections that cover the integration of civil, commercial, and foreign space assets into operations and development of the space tasking order. The final chapter addresses training and education for space operations in the context of developing space warriors. AFDD 2-2 provides a solid doctrinal foundation for Air Force space operations, but as we will see later, it needs updating to incorporate the lessons of Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

JP 3-14, which treats joint space-operations doctrine, finally saw publication in 2002 after undergoing development for well over 10 years.2 Even though a fairly recent document, it needed revision as soon as it appeared due to the merger of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and US Space Command (USSPACECOM). Divided into five chapters and eight appendices, JP 3-14 includes material similar to that of its service counterparts. The first chapter provides an overview of military space operations and the operational considerations for space. The second, which covers space organizations and their responsibilities, requires significant revision because of the creation of the new USSTRATCOM. The third chapter offers guidance for the C2 of space forces, focusing primarily on global space forces but including limited guidance on command and support relationships for theater space operations. The fourth discusses military space operations in the context of the principles of war and the four mission areas for space (control, force enhancement, support, and force application). The final chapter discusses deliberate and crisis-action planning for space operations. The appendices provide a tutorial on several topics, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); integrated tactical warning and attack assessment; environmental monitoring; communications; position, velocity, time, and navigation; and orbital characteristics. Although lacking detail in some areas, JP 3-14’s guidance for joint space operations serves as a good primer for familiarizing the joint community with what space brings to the fight.

The Way Ahead

Two thousand four promises to be a banner year for space-operations doctrine. AFDD 2-2.1, Counterspace Operations, currently in draft, should see publication in 2004, and a revised version of AFDD 2-2 should appear by spring 2005. Additionally, JP 3-14 may begin an out-of-cycle revision this year as well. Standup of the new USSTRATCOM and experiences from Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have provided significant rationale for updating existing Air Force and joint space-operations doctrine and have reinforced the need for additional space doctrine, particularly for counterspace operations. One should also explore any possible rationale for developing new Air Force space doctrine to cover the other space-related functions or mission areas.


The merger of USSPACECOM and USSTRATCOM to form the new USSTRATCOM necessitates many changes to both Air Force and joint space-operations doctrine. A number of these alterations are only cosmetic, requiring nothing more than a simple “find and replace” of USSTRATCOM for USSPACECOM, but others are more substantial. Of particular significance to JP 3-14 is the transition of USSPACECOM’s joint space-support teams into STRATCOM support teams, which involves more than a simple name change. Whereas the joint space-support team provided space support to joint theater operations, the STRATCOM support team works with all STRATCOM-assigned missions (space, global strike, global ISR, information operations, and integrated missile defense). One concern raises the question of how the space portion of the STRATCOM support team will interface with the designated coordinating authority for space, especially if that authority is delegated to one of the functional component commanders (e.g., the joint force air, land, or maritime component commanders), as was the case during Iraqi Freedom and several subsequent major exercises.

The USSPACECOM-USSTRATCOM merger also drove changes to the service-component structure. Army Space Command became Army Strategic Command, and Naval Space Command merged with Naval Network Warfare Command. The Air Force component to USSTRATCOM is still evolving, faced with the difficult task of presenting space, ICBM, ISR, information operations, and global strike capabilities that are distributed across two separate Air Force major commands (MAJCOM) (Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command). The likely solution will involve establishing a Warfighting Headquarters, a “STRATAF” that will draw forces from both MAJCOMs to accomplish USSTRATCOM-assigned missions. The exact structure of the STRATAF and the ways it will affect the Fourteenth Air Force air and space operations centers (AOC) remain undetermined, but we expect resolution by mid-2004. The appropriate sections of AFDD 2-2 and JP 3-14 should be updated to include these new service components. 

Space Lessons from Enduring Freedom and Iraqi

The recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq provide ample opportunity to assess the effectiveness and utility of current space-operations doctrine in the crucible of actual combat. The lessons from these conflicts fall into two areas. First, experience shows that existing space-operations doctrine, both Air Force and joint, lacks sufficient detail regarding the coordination and integration of space forces supporting theater operations.3 This is particularly true of the roles and responsibilities associated with the coordinating authority for space (JP 3-14) and the Air Force’s senior space officer (SSO) (AFDD 2-2). Second, Iraq’s use of global positioning system (GPS) jamming demonstrates a new reality of warfare: our adversaries have recognized how much US war fighters rely on space systems and will attempt to disrupt our ability to use them. This combat experience reinforces the need for dedicated Air Force counterspace-operations doctrine.4

Integration and Coordination of Theater Space Support. When Enduring Freedom began, we had no approved joint space-operations doctrine to guide the joint force (US Central Command) as it established command relationships for space forces. The joint force commander (JFC) elected to retain authority for theater space operations. The lack of doctrinal guidance led to suboptimal command relationships, resulting in confusion and duplication of effort among the JFC’s staff, theater functional components, and reachback organizations.5 The Air Force later proposed a possible solution, as codified in AFDD 2-2, that involved redesignating the JFACC as the JFASCC, taking on the roles of coordinating authority for space and supported commander for joint space operations.6 This proposal was not well received by the other services, eventually prompting the compromise wording found in JP 3-14, which states that a JFC will normally designate a single authority “to coordinate joint theater space operations and integrate space capabilities.”7 The JFC can either retain space coordinating authority or delegate it to a component commander.8 The publication includes a general list of space-authority responsibilities such as coordinating space operations, integrating space capabilities, and having primary responsibility for joint, in-theater space-operations planning.9

During Iraqi Freedom, the JFC delegated space coordinating authority to the combined force air component commander (CFACC). In that operation, as in Enduring Freedom, an SSO served on the special staff of the commander, Air Force forces (COMAFFOR)/ CFACC as an assistant/advisor on space matters. During Iraqi Freedom, this individual assisted the CFACC with execution of space coordinating authority, and, though consistent with the position stated in Air Force doctrine, some problems arose in the execution of this authority. 

Two primary causes contributed to this situation. The first resulted from the late-breaking decision, made only two days before hostilities began, to delegate responsibility for space coordinating authority to the JFACC.10 This arrangement, which differed from the one exercised prior to the conflict, required last-minute changes to coordination plans and procedures. The second contributor resulted from the lack of any real detail in joint doctrine that would identify the exact responsibilities of the space coordinating authority and a similar lack of detail in Air Force doctrine regarding the roles and responsibilities of the SSO.11 

As a result of the difficulties experienced during Iraqi Freedom, Headquarters Air Force Space Command and the Air Force Doctrine Center were directed to flesh out the SSO construct and brief the proposal at Air Force Doctrine Summit IV in November 2003. The proposed construct refined the roles and responsibilities of the SSO in situations in which the JFC retains space coordinating authority or delegates it to the JFACC or a different component. Although briefed at the doctrine summit, the SSO construct resulted in a new action item for Headquarters Air Force Space Command to develop and form a “red team” to explore an alternative director of space forces (DIRSPACEFOR) construct for presentation at Corona South in February 2004.

Red team representatives from Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Director of Space Operations and Integration, Fourteenth Air Force, Air Force Command and Control Training and Integration Group, Space Warfare Center, and Air Force Doctrine Center met in early January 2004. The proposed DIRSPACEFOR construct, consisting of a five-person unit type code attached to the COMAFFOR’s special staff, facilitates execution of space coordinating authority on behalf of the JFACC (when designated) or coordinates Air Force theater space requirements with the designated space coordinating authority. Personnel familiar with the director of air mobility operations will have a fairly accurate sense of the type and scope of responsibilities held by the DIRSPACEFOR. However, although the director of air mobility operations has the authority to direct the Air Mobility Division in the AOC, the DIRSPACEFOR has no corresponding Space Division within the AOC to direct. Therefore, the DIRSPACEFOR is a director in name only, simply acting on behalf of the COMAFFOR/JFACC.

Because attendees at Corona South 2004 decided to press ahead with the DIRSPACEFOR construct, the draft of AFDD 2-2.1 now includes information on the detailed roles and responsibilities of the DIRSPACEFOR and space coordinating authority; AFDD 2-2 and JP 3-14 must do likewise when they are revised. This updating is essential to ensuring that we employ space capabilities and establish C2 relationships as efficiently and smartly as possible to meet the needs of our war fighters.

Doctrine for Counterspace Operations. Iraq’s employment of GPS jamming in Iraqi Freedom emphasizes the need to get serious about counterspace operations. Although Iraq’s efforts proved militarily ineffective—defeated by GPS-aided munitions—they show that our adversaries recognize US dependence on space and will attempt to disrupt our ability to exploit the asymmetric advantage that space capabilities give us. Obviously, we need detailed counterspace-operations doctrine to ensure that campaign planners consider such operations and that we properly conduct them in combat. 

The Air Force’s current counterspace doctrine is inadequate for the task at hand, existing entirely as single-page descriptions in AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, and AFDD 2-2. The former defines counterspace operations as “those kinetic and nonkinetic operations conducted to attain and maintain a desired degree of space superiority by the destruction, degradation, or disruption of enemy space capability.”12 These operations have both offensive and defensive components.

Offensive counterspace (OCS) operations deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or deceive (“the five Ds”) an adversary’s space capability.13 AFDD 2-2’s more detailed discussion of OCS seems inconsistent with the one in AFDD 1 in at least one respect. As Maj John Grenier points out, AFDD 1 handles the five Ds as effects while AFDD 2-2 describes them as methods.14 The revision to AFDD 2-2 should correct this problem, emphasizing effects, as does AFDD 1. 

According to AFDD 1, defensive counterspace (DCS) operations preserve space capabilities, withstand enemy attack, restore/recover space capabilities after an attack, and reconstitute space forces.15 AFDD 2-2 adds a discussion of active and passive defenses and includes a single-paragraph introduction to space situational awareness.16 Technically, such awareness is not part of counterspace operations, but it functions as the foundation of counterspace and other space actions.17

The need for detailed, stand-alone Air Force counterspace-operations doctrine gained formal recognition when the Air Force Doctrine Working Group voted unanimously in April 2002 to approve development of AFDD 2-2.1, Counterspace Operations.18 Currently in final draft, the document likely will appear in mid-2004. On a related note, because of pressure to reduce the number of joint publications, a plan to develop JP 3-14.1, Joint Tactics Techniques and Procedures for Space Control, will probably be scrapped and the material combined with JP 3-14 when it is revised.

The draft of AFDD 2-2.1 includes six chapters. The first provides an overview of counterspace operations, threats to space systems, and space-policy considerations, as well as a discussion on the linkage between Air Force counterspace operations and the space-control mission area. This chapter alone offers greater insight into counterspace operations than do the existing references in AFDD 1 and AFDD 2-2. The second chapter devotes itself to discussion of the C2 of counterspace operations, significantly detailing command relationships, roles and responsibilities, and the C2 of theater and global counterspace operations. The new command relationships and roles/ responsibilities resulting from the standup of the new USSTRATCOM and lessons from Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom will be incorporated prior to publication. The third chapter includes a detailed discussion of the tasks and components of space situational awareness, which, as noted before, is not part of counterspace operations exclusively but is a fundamental enabler of counterspace operations. The fourth chapter greatly expands the DCS construct found in AFDD 2-2 by presenting it in terms of deterrence, defense, and recovery. The fifth chapter covers OCS, includes the five Ds (as effects, not methods), discusses OCS targets (nodes and links), and lists forces capable of contributing to OCS operations. The final chapter outlines detailed guidance for planning and executing counterspace operations. AFDD 2-2.1 should embody the guidance necessary to assure that counterspace operations effectively contribute to achieving campaign objectives in future conflicts.

Candidates for New Air Force
Space-Operations Doctrine

AFDD 2-2 is the space equivalent of AFDD 2-1, Air Warfare. The publication of AFDD 2-2.1 will give us a single subordinate doctrine document to AFDD 2-2, in contrast to the nine such documents for AFDD 2-1. Given the proliferation of air doctrine, is a similar proliferation of space doctrine likely? One should examine the possibilities for new Air Force operational-level space doctrine, keeping in mind that Air Force doctrine focuses on the desired effect rather than the platform that creates the effect or the location of the target. 

For example, some individuals believe that space-based missile defense should be a part of counterspace operations. But consider the hypothetical launch of an ICBM against a target in the United States, which a space-based system intercepts while the missile is in space. Surely this occurrence belongs in the realm of counterspace. Right? Wrong. The adversary launched the missile against a terrestrial target—defense of terrestrial targets against air or missile attack constitutes defensive counterair. If we change the scenario slightly to make the missile a direct-ascent antisatellite weapon, it now becomes a case of DCS.

Most AFDDs are associated with the 17 Air Force functions identified in AFDD 1.19 In fact, only two of the functions—space lift and navigation and positioning—do not have counterpart doctrine documents, making them candidates for new AFDDs. Navigation and positioning, though predominantly space-related functions in the form of GPS, are not exclusively provided by space systems. Additionally, the effect produced primarily enhances terrestrial operations. If we ever develop a doctrine of navigation and positioning, it would likely become a subordinate document to AFDD 2-1. The space-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures should be captured in the tactical space doctrine found in Air Force Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (AFTTP) 3-1, volume 28, Tactical Employment, Space.

The subelements of the four space-mission areas represent another possible source for new space-operations doctrine. One finds these mission areas in JP 3-14 but not in Air Force space doctrine.20 The space-control mission area and its subordinate elements of surveillance, prevention, protection, and negation are adequately covered by the counterspace doctrine publication in development. As for the space force-application mission area, existing documents include both subordinate elements—missile defense and strikes against terrestrial targets. Missile defense is an integral part of defensive counterair, and terrestrial strike would fall under strategic attack or counterland/counterair/countersea, depending upon the target. The space force-enhancement mission area has five subordinate elements: integrated tactical warning and attack assessment; communications; ISR; environmental monitoring; and positioning, navigation, and timing. These elements are not likely candidates for new space doctrine because (1) none is exclusively space related or produces primarily space effects and (2) several are associated with existing Air Force doctrine publications. Nevertheless, the relevant space-specific tactics, techniques, and procedures should be captured in AFTTP 3-1, volume 28. The space-support mission area, however, contains the subordinate elements of space lift and satellite operations, both of which are potential candidates for future stand-alone doctrine documents.

The Air Force Doctrine Center has three criteria for judging new doctrine proposals: appropriateness, distinctiveness, and sufficiency.21 As for appropriateness, the center determines whether the proposal applies to the operational level of war and whether a validated need for the new doctrine exists. It then examines the proposal for sufficient distinctiveness to warrant a stand-alone document. Finally, the center judges the proposal to ascertain the availability of sufficient material to develop a stand-alone document. It is instructive to examine how the two possible contenders might fare against the Air Force Doctrine Center’s criteria.

Space lift, which allows us to place spacecraft into orbit, is fundamentally important for space operations. However, the close linkage of current space-lift capabilities to acquisition and its schedule-driven nature make space lift’s appropriateness for operational-level doctrine questionable. Space lift is certainly a distinctive capability not easily combined with air-mobility operations. Given the nature of current space-lift operations, sufficiency of material may also pose a problem. Overall, space lift is probably not quite mature enough to justify a stand-alone doctrine document. This assessment could certainly change in the future as operationally responsive space-lift capabilities come online and launch-on-demand becomes a reality.

Satellite operations control and monitor on-orbit satellites. As with space lift, the current state of satellite operations may not pass the appropriateness test. Since our satellites are relatively nonmaneuverable, most satellite operations concern themselves with status monitoring and updates. These operations are distinctive, but sufficient operational-level material may not be available. This situation could change drastically in the future as operationally responsive satellites, microsatellites, and, potentially, space-based weapon platforms enter the Air Force inventory.

Based on the rationale above, augmenting the counterspace-operations document now in development with additional stand-alone space-operations doctrine may be 10–15 years away. In the meantime, the US military must ensure that existing space doctrine provides the best guidance possible to the war fighter and permits the proper incorporation of space equities into other Air Force or joint doctrine, as appropriate.


After establishing a baseline of what constitutes doctrine, as opposed to policy and strategy, and exploring the content and scope of current space-operations doctrine, this article examined the way ahead for that doctrine. As noted previously, 2004 promises to be a banner year for space-operations doctrine, and the standup of the new USSTRATCOM and our experience in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have given us ample justification for updating and expanding the body of that doctrine. Furthermore, although dedicated doctrines for space lift or satellite operations will not likely appear in the near future, their time will come. Our growing body of space-operations doctrine reflects the increasingly important role that space plays in US military operations. The future of space operations and space-operations doctrine is limited only by our imagination.


1. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-2, Space Operations, 27 November 2001, mil/Main.asp.

2. Joint Publication (JP) 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, 9 August 2002, jel/new_pubs/jp3_14.pdf.

3. Briefing, Headquarters Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and Air Force Doctrine Center (AFDC), subject: Air Force Doctrine Summit IV, November 2003.

4. Minutes of the Spring 2002 Air Force Doctrine Working Group, 23 April 2002, mil/Events/AFDWG/April2002.

5. Insights gained from the author’s numerous interviews/discussions with Enduring Freedom participants during the course of performing duties within Headquarters AFSPC/XPXS (Policy, Strategy, and Doctrine Branch).

6. AFDD 2-2, Space Operations, 23.

7. JP 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, III-1.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., III-3.

10. Insights gained from the author’s numerous interviews/discussions with Iraqi Freedom participants during the course of performing duties within Headquarters AFSPC/XPXS.

11. Briefing, Headquarters AFSPC and AFDC.

12. AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 17 November 2003, 52.

13. Ibid., 53.

14. Maj John Grenier, “A New Construct for Air Force Counterspace Doctrine,” Air and Space Power Journal 16, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 17–18, http://www.airpower.

15. AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 53.

16. AFDD 2-2, Space Operations, 10.

17. Ibid.

18. Minutes of the Spring 2002 Air Force Doctrine Working Group.

19. AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, 49–70.

20. JP 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space Operations, IV-5 through IV-10.

21. Air Force Doctrine Working Group Charter, 4 March 1999, Charter.asp.

Maj Todd C. Shull (BA, Colorado State University; MS, University of North Dakota) is chief of the Policy and Strategy Section, Headquarters Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), Peterson AFB, Colorado. He has previously served as chief of the Doctrine Section, Headquarters AFSPC; executive officer for the 30th Space Wing and current-operations plans officer for the 30th Operations Support Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, California; missile-warning test manager for the 721st Support Group, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado; and ICBM instructor crew commander with the 446th Missile Squadron, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. Major Shull is a graduate of Squadron Officer School.

Published in Air & Space Power Journal

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