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Shuttle below station.

A Practical Guide for Spacepower Strategy

Illustrations © James Vaughan, and used by permission. More of his work can be found here:

By Brent D. Ziarnick


With the establishment of a new U.S. Space Command, the U.S. Space Force, and the space domain itself becoming a growing theater of great power competition, spacepower strategy needs to emerge from the realm of theoretical discussion to practical application. Spacepower strategy here defined is the art and science of using power to fulfill purposes relating to outer space. Space professionals from all sectors, including Space Command and Space Force personnel, civilian decision-makers, and interested citizens must develop a firm understanding of spacepower strategy at its most basic level in order to be effective in the future. This guide largely avoids specific policies and current strategies and instead describes spacepower strategy’s essential essence and its practical application often through its “absolutist” use by a “spacepower state.”

The establishment of a new United States Space Command and the United States Space Force requires space professionals to engage with spacepower strategy in a more concerted way than has been addressed in the past. Spacepower strategy is the art and science of using power to fulfill purposes relating to outer space.[1] All space professionals (i.e., military, engineering, scientific, legal, business, and political advocate) must comprehend spacepower strategy at its most basic level as well as its practical application in order to confront great power competition in space. This paper presents the fundamental concepts of spacepower strategy, often in an absolutist form, independent of other strategic concerns, in order to describe its purpose, rationale, and insights with clarity. Readers may consider a “spacepower state,” a state that chooses to secure the economic and strategic advantages of space control to act as a great power through a deliberately developed spacepower culture and identity, in order to better comprehend this paper’s assumed strategic context.[2]


Definition of Spacepower

In spacepower strategy, spacepower is simply the ability to do anything in space.[3] More complex definitions artificially limit space professionals’ horizon and harm their professional sense. The sole utility of spacepower to the state is to expand the general power available to the state through space activity. Space activity can enhance the power of the state across all instruments of national power: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME). Therefore, space professionals are concerned with all manifestations of spacepower. While space professionals must normally specialize in a particular application (such as military applications by Space Force Guardians), applications specific to one instrument of power are overwhelmingly tactical or perhaps, in a few minor instances, operational in nature and virtually never rise to the level of comprehensive spacepower strategy.[4]

End and Nature of Spacepower Strategy

Spacepower strategy has for its end, equally applicable in peace as in war, to found, support, and increase the spacepower of the state.[5] Spacepower strategy is a “genre” of grand strategy, and is both subordinate to and informs national aims.[6] Spacepower strategy animates the conduct of space activity to improve the power of the state to secure national aims (its subordinate role), but spacepower strategy can drive a nation’s aims, and spacepower states may completely define their grand strategies based on spacepower strategy.

To understand this paradoxical relationship, consider an analogy with personal finance. The end of personal finance is for the subject to live as satisfying a life as possible. Money is not an end for a satisfying life, but it is a critical means to provide increased options for living a satisfying life. Success in personal finance itself often leads to increased satisfaction. Personal finance offers two major ways to achieve its end, containing a powerful feedback loop:

1. Increase cash flow and personal stock of savings, and

2. Live within one’s financial means.

Way one is an active way that is dynamic, expansive and takes the bulk of one’s efforts to conduct. Way two serves as a passive check to one’s actions at any given time. The feedback loop exists because success in way one expands the subject’s ability to accomplish way two. By choosing actions within way two to achieve way one, satisfying both ways can get progressively easier over time, leading to a much more satisfying life.

Spacepower strategy is mostly agnostic concerning a nation’s ultimate ends. Spacepower strategy generally improves the state as way one improves personal finance. It intends to maximize a state’s flow and stock of national power through the means of space activity. However, like personal finance, it is not completely agnostic. If a nation does not cultivate its spacepower as a significant end in itself, its national power from space will never grow and could collapse entirely, making the nation weaker as a result. A nation must develop its spacepower feedback loop, which will be described later, while it is pursuing its other aims that spacepower helps it accrue.[7]

Grammar and Logic: The Elements of Spacepower Strategy.

Spacepower is developed through both spacepower’s grammar (the means – equipment – of spacepower) and logic (the ways spacepower can be applied for national power purposes).[8] Spacepower is built through its grammar, the collection and linkage of three elements – Production, Shipping, and Colonies, that when combined produce strategic access to space where operations can take place.[9] Production is the creation of goods from space that can be traded and converted to wealth. Shipping describes space transportation systems that can transfer these goods across space from where they are produced to where they are needed. Colonies are best understood as outposts in space (satellites and eventually true settlements) that produce space goods and provide shelter and safety for shipping when necessary.[10] Access provides the ability for space operations to produce spacepower for the state, which in order of greatest to least importance, are economic, political (e.g., diplomatic and informational), and military power.[11] Production, shipping, and colonies comprise the grammar of spacepower, the elements in which spacepower is built. Economic, political, and military power are the types of national power into which spacepower can be converted.

Spacepower Grammar: The Means of Spacepower

Spacepower grammar is the realm of the scientist, engineer, and builder. The elements of grammar are combined in order to build the systems that generate power from space. These elements combine multiplicatively, not additively. If any element of spacepower is left out, no spacepower will be generated, just as any number multiplied by zero is zero.[12]

Production (tradable goods) originating from space is the currency of spacepower. Production is the reason spacepower is important. Early space production was in the form of information such as pictures, scientific measurements, and other data. Physical commodities such as advanced pharmaceuticals, materials, and exotic or abundant resources will likely soon follow as the “deep space economy” begins to emerge.[13] These commodities will help enrich the nations who recover them. Production is key to spacepower strategy because it is the material that is converted into national wealth.

Shipping is necessary to transport space products from their place of origin to the market they serve. The electromagnetic spectrum formed the first shipping elements as information produced in space was transmitted back to Earth. Physical commodities will need to travel through space via physical shipping, necessitating the development of transport spacecraft.[14]

The space professional understands that physical shipping is not only commercial spacecraft. A nation’s spaceborne shipping is its total of Space Force, commercial, intelligence, and civil (NASA) spacecraft that provide transportation throughout space. The Space Force, NASA, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and American commercial entities like SpaceX and Blue Origin – just as the navy and merchant marine are for the sea – are all “joint apostles” of American spacepower.[15] Generally, civil shipping conducts exploration activities to prospect for new resources and potentially space lines of communication. Commercial shipping establishes these lines of communication and can serve as an auxiliary reserve of personnel and vehicles for military shipping. Finally, military shipping (space forces) protect these lines of communication from both adversary aggression and the natural hazards of the domain.

Colonies are the outposts in space that harvest space production. Production has historically occurred in satellites, but settlements on celestial bodies will become increasingly important as physical space production increases. Though current international law prohibits claims of national sovereignty on celestial bodies, colonies will have national jurisdictions over operations. Some colonies will focus on science and exploration (such as NASA moon bases), some on economic production (such as propellant production facilities on the Lunar poles with abundant water), and still others on political expansion (such as Martian colonies). These colonies and their production are connected to their home nation via lines of communication provided by shipping.[16]

These lines of communication linking production, shipping, and colonies, represent a nation’s strategic access to space. Without lines of communication, spacepower cannot exist. Lines of communication allow production to arrive at the host nation to be converted to wealth and comprise the avenues by which the Space Force can apply military power. With expanded strategic access, the nation’s spacepower – its ability to do anything in space, increases. Gaining access to the most strategically significant points in space (for military, commercial, or scientific purposes) will be the primary endeavor of spacepower strategy, especially in times of peace. Expanded strategic access allows for greater spacepower that can be applied to achieve national aims.[17]

Spacepower Logic: Transforming Spacepower to National Power

The raw ability developed from spacepower’s grammar must be transformed into applied national power to further national goals. To do so, spacepower can transformed into economic, political (diplomatic and informational), and military power.

Economic power is derived from spacepower primarily through developing and executing business plans capable of producing healthy and sustainable businesses harnessing the resources of space. Establishing successful companies that mine ice on the lunar poles, produce power with large scale solar power satellites, or develop on-orbit propellant transfer depots would be advances in spacepower that would far outstrip any technological innovation in importance. It is the business plans, profitably executed, that generate wealth from space, the lifeblood of a spacepower state. Space professionals must always be looking for ways to expand national space-based business.[18]

Political power from space is also critical. Political power in the form of presence in space allows nations to help shape the international space regime to suit their interests. Space is particularly valuable as a source of soft power. If a NASA mission to Mars, Europa, or another space destination found conclusive proof of extraterrestrial life, the soft power benefits to the United States in the form of prestige and informal space leadership would be substantial. Scientific knowledge also strengthens the informational instrument of power. International cooperation in space can also bolster national goals. However, space professionals must always mind the feedback loop and ensure such cooperation benefits the nation’s spacepower goals as well as grand strategic goals, and that cooperation does not become its own end.[19]

Military concepts of operation transform spacepower to military power. These are simply plans to use spacepower in a national defense. Developing military applications for the SpaceX Starship, for instance, would fundamentally transform the Starship from a provider of economic power (inexpensive and reusable space transport) into a potential force provider. Military spacepower can be employed to assist terrestrial forces as a Joint Force partner, or directly to the space domain to gain space control. The fundamental purpose of the Space Force is to win, maintain, and expand space control.[20]

Space Control in Spacepower Strategy

Spacepower strategy seeks to subdue both the space domain’s natural impediments as well as the ability of other actors in the domain to harm his nation’s interests and wealth generation from space. This space mastery against two foes requires a broader understanding of space control than is commonly understood in military strategy.[21]

Space control has three major components. These are:

1. Scientific Control (knowledge necessary to operate in the domain)

2. Economic Control (superior wealth generated from space)

3. Military Control (ability to remove an adversary from operating in the space domain while protecting your own)

Each major component of space control generally corresponds to elements of national power in the DIME model. Scientific control is information (I) power and is grown through exploration, science, and research and development programs designed to become more familiar with the space domain (charting and prospecting) and how to exploit the domain safely and efficiently. An especially important element of scientific control is the ability to maneuver in space. A primary characteristic of space is the nearly unimaginable distance often between objects, and overcoming distance both quickly and effectively is of critical importance. Space transportation and propulsion is among the most important manifestations of scientific control for a strategic will to master space. The ability to keep human life safe, in terms of life support, radiation mitigation, and other associated knowledge, represents other critical elements of scientific space control. Scientific space control is generally measured against the space domain itself – can a nation effectively operate the way it must to maximize wealth generation from space with its given level of scientific control or not – but also can be measured against rival nations as a competitive measure. A nation thus benefits from having greater scientific understanding of space in an absolute sense. It also benefits if it has greater scientific space control than its competitor nations because scientific space control also underpins economic and military space control.

Economic space control concerns the amount of wealth the nation generates from space. As an absolute measure, more wealth from space is generally better. However, its relative measure against potential adversaries is far more important to spacepower strategy. Economic control is not simply space commercial activity, but has both an economic profit (E) and a diplomatic (D) component. Wealth generation also requires a greater level of power relative to other spacefaring states to form and influence the international order that allows space wealth. Examples of diplomatic spacepower in economic space control is the so-called “Artemis Accords,” which the Trump Administration has successfully implemented with partner nations to govern space resource mining and other economic activities in space.[22] Scientific and economic space control are essential at all times, but spacepower strategy seeks their greatest expansion in peacetime because they form the foundation of spacepower’s critical wartime application, military space control.

Military space control is the classical definition of control – a nation’s ability to operate in space without significant interference while simultaneously denying the ability of an adversary to do so. In war, nations use their military space control to “sweep the stars” of their adversary and cut their ability to generate wealth from space and use space to terrestrial military advantage to the level the operational plan for the armed conflict requires. In peacetime, military space control capabilities are used to deter adversary predations on a nation’s space commerce and protects its citizens from the dangers of the space environment as well. It is critical to note that Space Force resources should be used to expand all levels of space control when advantageous to do so. Artificially limiting the operations of national space assets to preconceived bins of “legitimacy,” such as unduly restricting interagency cooperation between a nation’s civil and military space components, should be considered inappropriate.

The Strategic Will to Master Space

Spacepower strategy is fully supportable by U.S. joint doctrine, even if spacepower strategy encompasses more than joint doctrine normally addresses. Joint Doctrine Note 1-19 Competition Continuum provides the framework necessary to translate spacepower strategy into joint terminology. It develops the concept of the competition continuum, a “world of enduring competition conducted through a mixture of cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and armed conflict.”[23] To confront this continuum, the Joint community suggests integrated campaigning; “…the skillful combination of cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and, when appropriate, armed conflict in conjunction with diplomatic, informational, military, and economic efforts to achieve and sustain strategic objectives.”[24]

The nation that wishes to control space must always be on the attack![25] That is, it must always be on the strategic offensive to expand all forms of space control throughout the competition continuum, in peace (scientific and economic forms) and at war (military form). In short, the nation must always strive to master space.

As an example, assume that the U.S. Space Force is America’s custodian of space mastery. Space warfighting prowess is an important facet of military space control but it is inadequate to account for all of spacepower strategy. In order to fully incorporate spacepower strategy, the Space Force must internalize the three forms of space control to act as America’s premier space campaigners. While the Space Force should not be the lead agency in every American space endeavor, it must always support as many as possible. The animating and unifying spirit of all space professionals, civilian and military, should be the strategic will to master space.

Adapting Admiral Wolfgang Wegener’s naval warfare model to space, a nation’s ability to apply political and military spacepower is comprised of two critical components: its fielded forces (shipping) and its competitive position (colonies).[26] In space, strategy and tactics are two completely separate entities. Fielded forces are the realm of the tactical and their primary utility in war is fighting, their full expression in armed conflict.[27] A nation’s competitive position in space, on the other hand, is the realm of the strategic.[28]

Actions to increase nation’s competitive position primarily take place during times of peace – during periods of cooperation and competition below armed conflict. Competitive position is comprised of many national factors to include geographic locations of their space colonies, technology, alliances, scientific understanding, and commercial strength that improve the effectiveness of the fielded forces to produce spacepower, the ability to influence adversaries in, from, and through space activity.

The glue that binds the tactical fielded forces to the strategic competitive position is strategic will. The strategic will is nothing more than the will to power turned to the space domain.[29] Strategic will breathes life into the fielded forces as strategic instruments in war. Strategic will energizes a nation to take the tactical actions necessary to develop a superior competitive position while at peace. The strategic will must always be operating throughout any great power competition lest the nation be in peril.

The space professional, especially Space Force Guardians, must embrace a strategic will to master space. This strategic will is the drive to advance American space control in all its forms at all times. It is a primal force that animates the spaceward quest and drives space professionals to ensure America is the best spacefaring nation – and then strive to become ever better. Space Force personnel must embrace this “fire in the belly” to advance the cause of American spacepower.

The strategic will to master space must always be active in peace and war. It must be the Space Force’s “North Star,” pointing the direction where the service must go. The dynamo of space mastery, the engine of spacepower growth, and the fundamental object of spacepower strategy, is the Space Virtuous Cycle.

The Space Virtuous Cycle

The foundational expression of the strategic will to master space is to commit at all times to developing, nurturing, and continuing a “virtuous cycle” in the space domain. Identified as early as Thucydides when describing the ascendance of Athenian seapower before the Peloponnesian War, a similar virtuous cycle exists in the space domain. Prosecuted to good effect, spacepower strategy aimed at cultivating strategic access sets in motion a virtuous cycle: the Space Force safeguards access, helping space commerce thrive, and commerce in turn yields the tax revenue needed for the upkeep of a great Space Force.[30]

The Space Virtuous Cycle (Cycle) is a mutually reinforcing mechanism possible among the civil, commercial, and military space sectors with appropriate national leadership and enlightened policy. Properly nurtured, the Space Force provides the means to establish space mastery over both the environment (for safety) and adversaries (for protection). With sufficient security against nature and adversary assured, national space commerce can flourish. The commercial space sector can then recover space resources unmolested. Those economic resources then provide wealth to the nation, which can then reinvest a portion of that wealth to improve the Space Force (see Figure 1). There is undoubtedly enough wealth available from space to fuel the Cycle. Current revenue from global space activity reached $415 billion in 2018.[31] Estimates for the total revenue of the space economy is expected to be between $2.7 and $10 trillion in by 2050.[32] Known quantities of resources on the Moon and in near Earth space asteroids can support 400 billion people at “a general level of affluence” for billions of years.[33]


Figure 1. The basic Space Virtuous Cycle.

The elements of spacepower – production, shipping, and colonies – form the framework that allows the Cycle to work (see Figure 2). Production manifests in Space Resources and wealth, shipping in Space Force Strength and Space Supremacy, means and security, and colonies allow Space Commerce and recovery of Space Resources. However, the elements are never exclusive to any aspect of the Cycle.

All individual space activities should conform to the needs of perpetuating the Cycle. A Space Force not designed with the strategic purpose to enhance the Cycle – such as those with a myopic and destructive warfighting purpose – pose grave risk to the Cycle. Commercial and civil space operations that ignore or damage the Cycle’s operations must be equally discouraged. Alternatively, acquisition of competitive positions and other activities that keep the maintenance and expansion of the Cycle as motivating principles will keep American spacepower strong.

National leaders, Space Force commanders, and the public must perpetuate the Space Virtuous Cycle indefinitely in order to secure the strength and access necessary to achieve national objectives through space activity. Spacepower strategy is, at its most basic level, keeping the Space Virtuous Cycle engaged in producing national power.

Figure 2. The Space Virtuous Cycle nested in the Elements of Space Power

The Space Virtuous Cycle is derived from the maritime virtuous cycle, with one significant difference. Classical seapower strategy in the Mahanian age emphasized seeking out foreign markets for excess domestic production.[34] It sought trade, converting excess production into something the nation needed, usually in the form of money or trade goods. Because spacepower is very young, there are no great trading metropolises with which a nation can connect via space shipping. Therefore, the Space Virtuous Cycle emphasizes space production. Only through robust space production will a space merchant shipping to transport it, and a space force to protect it, rise to support space commerce. This is an important distinction. The majority of the anticipated space economic expansion will be based on emerging technologies and markets such as lunar and asteroid mining, space-based solar power, and other high technology industries. Spacepower strategy encourages national interest in these endeavors, such as President Trump’s Executive Order of April 2020 on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources.[35]

Spacepower Fungibility: Why the Space Virtuous Cycle Works

Since spacepower is anything that can be done in space, space professionals should be wary of placing too high a distinction or firewall between military and civilian space equipment. Space equipment and its utility must be considered holistically because spacepower grammar is fungible: equipment developed for commercial or civil space use can be used as substitutes for purpose-built military craft, and vice versa. Examples abound. The military GPS satellite constellation has enabled commercial industries that have generated $1.4 trillion in economic benefit to the United States since it was first launched.[36] Likewise, the SpaceX Starship will undoubtedly have numerous military applications.[37] Spacepower grammar is a common fount that can supply all national space endeavors. No matter which sector generates new equipment, the Cycle can distribute it so every sector benefits.

However, just as spacepower strategy favors wealth generation, it also acknowledges that commercial space technology is most important because it is generally the best suited for multiple applications. Military equipment is not often adopted by commercial enterprises beyond sharing basic technologies. The atomic powered merchant ship SS Savannah, which attempted to use Navy nuclear propulsion technology for commercial use, was too expensive to operate profitably.[38] Airpower theorist Giulio Douhet’s vision of using military bombers as civilian transports during peacetime was found to be deficient. Pan American Airlines CEO Juan Trippe had to explain to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that he could not use the new Air Force C-5A Galaxy for passenger travel because it was too expensive to operate before he was able to obtain government approval to develop the Boeing 747.[39]

Economist Joseph Schumpeter identified the difference between technological and economic logic.[40] Today this difference is understood as effectiveness versus efficiency. Even though a steel chain would be a safer method for moving a piano to the top of a large building, more often a rope is used because it is normally sufficient for the job and much cheaper to obtain and use. Military and government equipment is often built like a steel chain, able to perform its desired mission with the highest operational performance and resilience as possible. Military equipment tends to use the most effective equipment to accomplish missions, regardless of cost. Commercially developed equipment, alternatively, is meant to fulfill a desired need in the most economically efficient way possible, stressing the cheapest operational cost capable of performing the mission.

This is why military equipment is not often adopted by commercial enterprises. Commercial interests need to operate economically efficient equipment. While commerce often benefits from military research, it is usually only when the industry creates cost efficient versions of military-derived component technology (such as jet engines). They cannot often use entire systems themselves.

However, militaries can easily make relatively minor modifications to commercial systems to form effective military systems because the military benefits from low operations costs as well, so long as the mission can be done. Many military aircraft are modified civilian aircraft designs for missions such as VIP transport and aerial refueling.[41] In like manner, the SpaceX Starship promises to offer large payload and rapid reusability advantages in addition to an extremely cheap operational cost. The Starship, once operational, will probably be able to perform many military missions and it may become a mainstay in the Space Force operational arsenal and space “merchant marine” for decades to come.

Therefore, spacepower strategy favors commercial research and development projects over military projects in times of austerity for all but the most sensitive military needs. Economically efficient space equipment can serve most types of national need better than expensive yet effective military equipment, even for most military missions. Technological development strategy is a key component for great power competition in space and fungibility must always be respected by space professionals.

Strategic Cautionary Tale #1: Wealth versus Trade

Space professionals must always be cognizant that, in spacepower strategy, space wealth is not equivalent to space trade. The pitfalls of confusing space commerce with economic space control can be described with a maritime analogy. In his otherwise uniformly excellent Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy, James Holmes makes a critical error by claiming, “Mahanian sea power is nothing more than a saltwater global supply chain equipped with its own guardian in the form of a navy.”[42] In fact, Mahan would have been horrified at the state of American sea trade today. Not only is there no American merchant marine to speak of, but trade deficits have actively impoverished the United States for decades, hollowed out the nation’s industrial base, and directly led to the meteoric rise of America’s greatest geopolitical rival, China.[43] Furthermore, the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has highlighted the dangers of elevating commercial concerns (such as continued air flights to China during the Chinese period of pandemic) over national interests (over two hundred thousand dead). Lastly, the pandemic displayed the strategic folly of allowing financial interests to offshore critically important industries, such as pharmaceuticals, from the United States to geopolitical rivals.[44] America’s seapower strategists have confused free trade and financial sector interests with strategically advantageous trade and industrial sector interests. In short, they have confused narrow financial interest for national economic interest.[45] As a result, seapower strategy has failed by allowing seaborne trade to gut economically the nation the US Navy was supposed to protect.

Spacepower strategy recognizes that economic space control and space wealth is not synonymous with financial interests or even commercial space interests. Space professionals promote enlightened industrial policy to protect American industry from many forms of foreign predation: foreign direct investment from adversary nations; securing American intellectual property from foreign theft or purchase; retaining space industries in America to promote jobs and domestic human capital advancement; and expanding American access to sources of strategic materials from space using domestic American corporations.[46] Financial profit is important only as far as it supports American strategic economic, military, and civil space interests.

Strategic Cautionary Tale #2: The Battle of Jutland

The United States does not yet practice spacepower strategy through a holistic understanding of space control. U.S. Space Command champions a “singular focus” on combat, eschewing the many military contributions to strategy beyond fighting.[47] The U.S. Space Force’s leading subculture is comprised of graduates of the United States Air Force Weapons School’s space division, which prides itself for having a tactical “warfighting” mentality based on the fighter pilot, an air-centric mindset ill-suited to the space environment. In both the operational and administrative chains of command, military space personnel cultivate how to fight in space, but not an understanding of why.

Admiral Wolfgang Wegener offers a cautionary tale of a military force myopically focused on combat from the naval battle of Jutland in 1916. It was the largest naval battle of World War I with 250 total ships engaged. The German High Seas Fleet was outnumbered by the British Royal Navy by 50% in ships and 75% in modern battleships. Yet, it sank three Royal Navy battlecruisers and armored cruisers for each one Germany lost in each class, and suffered only 62,000 tons sunk to Britain’s 113,300 tons.[48] Jutland was a great German tactical victory. However, the High Seas Fleet never again sailed out from its home port in Helgoland, allowing the Royal Navy to continue to blockade German seaborne trade. Eventually, Jutland would prove a massive British strategy victory. Britain’s sea blockade eventually brought Germany to surrender, a feat that the Allied armies could not accomplish even at the cost of millions of lives.

How did Germany turn a tactical victory into devastating strategic defeat? Wegener argued that the High Seas Fleet never understood that “the task in every naval war is the fight for sea control, that is, for the trade routes” and perpetuating a maritime virtuous cycle.[49] The High Seas Fleet thought acting as a fleet-in-being to pin the Royal Navy in the North Sea and tactically winning in battle was sufficient. They neglected the fact that by remaining in port, the High Seas Fleet was performing the Royal Navy’s strategic mission of protecting its sea lines of communication and denying Germany the use of its own! The Germans fought, and fought well, but did not turn their tactical victory into strategic success because they focused solely on battle. Wegener called the German’s flawed understanding a “strategic defensive, tactical offensive” mindset. The Germans sought battle and performed well tactically, but ignored and ultimately failed at the strategic level – protecting their sea lines of communication.

The U.S. Space Force especially must consider the possibility that it has also adopted a “strategic defensive, tactical offensive” mindset. Spacepower strategy is not well understood among Guardians and national policy is only now beginning to reflect its insights.[50] However, Space Force leaders continually claim, “space is a warfighting domain,” press to develop a warfighting culture, and discount or ignore spacepower activities in the civilian world. Neither the U.S. Space Command nor the U.S. Space Force is being developed with spacepower strategy in mind, to play their roles to ensure the Space Virtuous Cycle is always engaged. This effort must always be ongoing in peace and war. Since the military space establishment has not made perpetuating spacepower strategy a priority, instead emphasizing tactical space combat, the United States is running the same risk the German Navy did in the Great War. Both Space Command and the Space Force may champion fighting for fighting’s sake and, even if they win a tactical victory, they may still bumble into a massive strategic defeat for lack of understanding what spacepower is truly about.

According to spacepower strategy, America requires a Space Force built not to defeat Russia or China, but to control space.[51] These are very different goals. One reflects the tactical offensive spirit cloaking an erroneous strategic defensive spirit. The other places the strategic offensive spirit ahead of tactical concerns. The space professional must always make the correct decision.

Spacepower Strategy and Space Professional Decision Making

Space professionals must do more than simply master the nuances of spacepower strategy. In order to perform his public duty to the nation, the space professional must consider any decisions he must make in his day-to-day business based on considerations of spacepower strategy. Virtually all decisions have spacepower strategy implications and impact national power. The space professional should ask the following questions every time he is confronted with a decision.

  1. Where does my decision fit in the logic and grammar of spacepower strategy?
  2. Does my decision support the advancement of the Space Virtuous Cycle?
  3. Does my decision have ramifications to the other applications of spacepower?
  4. Does my decision have positive or negative spillover effects to other spacepower endeavors?
  5. How does my decision advance or degrade our measure of space control in its economic, scientific, and military dimensions?
  6. If my decision does harm to the Space Virtuous Cycle, is it a critical national interest? If so, does my calculation include a complete cost analysis of the harm to spacepower?

With a firm understanding of the basic mechanics of spacepower strategy and its practical applications, space professionals will be better at their job for both their organization and to better the society in which they belongs.[52] By being a servant of the public good, the space professional will be a proud and productive member of the larger community of professionals that make our lives better every day.

Spacepower Strategy is every Space Professional’s Responsibility

It is the job of space professionals, in the roles of statesmen, commanders, and citizens, to perpetuate spacepower strategy and the Space Virtuous Cycle into the indefinite future. Only thus can the nation reap the gains from spacefaring endeavors.[53] Expanding the nation’s power through the Cycle is the end of spacepower strategy and goals of every American space professional regardless of their military or civilian, public or private, technical or nontechnical, backgrounds. Any space professional can be faced with a decision that has implications for spacepower strategy and national spacepower. It is critical that all space professionals understand their role and duty to advancing national power through spacepower strategy in addition to their own organization’s or private concerns. A firm appreciation and devotion to spacepower strategy is the mark of a true space professional.

Lieutenant Colonel Brent D. Ziarnick, Ph.D., USAF Reserve, is the Director of Operations, 310th Operations Support Squadron, 310th Space Wing, Schriever AFB, CO. Dr. Ziarnick is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Spacepower and the founder of the Schriever Space Scholars concentration at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, AL. This paper represents solely the author’s views and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any Department or Agency of the U.S. Government. If you have a different perspective, we’d like to hear from you.



  1. Adapted from James R. Holmes, A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019), 1.
  2. The term “spacepower state” is modeled after Andrew Lambert’s conception of the seapower state as described in Andrew Lambert, Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict that Made the Modern World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 4.
  3. Brent Ziarnick, Developing National Power in Space: A Theoretical Model (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 12 and William Mitchell, Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power – Economic and Military (REPRINT Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2009 original 1925), xii.
  4. For a summary of the levels of warfare, see Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (23 March 2013 incorporating Change 1, 12 July 2017), I-7 to I-8.
  5. Adapted from Mahan “Naval strategy has indeed for its end to found, support, and increase, as well in peace as in war, the sea power of a country.” RADM Alfred T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History:1660-1783 (New York, NY: Dover, 1987), 23.
  6. Adapted from Holmes, Maritime Strategy, x.
  7. As opposed to arguments that claim spacepower’s primary utility is as a political bargaining chip without a complete accounting of its possibilities. See Joan Johnson-Freese, Space as a Strategic Asset (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007) and James Clay Moltz, The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests, 3rd Ed (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019)
  8. Ziarnick, Developing National Power, 14.
  9. These ideas are derived from Mahan, who said “In these three things – production, with the necessity of exchanging products, shipping, whereby the exchange is carried on, and colonies, which facilitate and enlarge the operations of shipping and tend to protect it by multiplying points of safety – is to be found the key to much of the history, as well as the policy, of nations bordering upon the sea,” Mahan, Influence, 28.
  10. See Ziarnick, Developing National Power, 20-22 for a more detailed description of the Grammar of Space Power.
  11. “This order is that of actual relative importance to the nation of the three elements – commercial, political, military.” Alfred Thayer Mahan, Retrospect and Prospect (Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co., 1902), 246.
  12. Holmes, Maritime Strategy, 23.
  13. Rod Pyle, Space 2.0: How Private Spaceflight, a Resurgent NASA, and International Partners are Creating a New Space Age (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2019), 206-7.
  14. For an excellent discussion on both electromagnetic and physical lines of communication in space strategy, especially space warfare, see John Klein, Space Warfare: Strategy, Principles and Policy (London, UK: Routledge, 2012).
  15. See Robert Wilson Shufeldt, “The Relation of the Navy to the Commerce of the United States,” Letter to the Honorable Leopold Morse, 1878, pg. 8. “I believe that our merchant marine and our Navy are joint apostles, destined to carry all over the world the creed upon which its institutions are founded, and under which its marvelous growth in a century of existence has been assured.”
  16. Ziarnick, Developing National Power, 21.
  17. Ibid, 23.
  18. Ibid, 28-9.
  19. Ibid, 57.
  20. Ibid, 30.
  21. Mastering both the domain and its actors is well understood by maritime strategists. See Jason W. Smith, To Master the Boundless Sea: The U.S. Navy, the Maritime Environment, and the Cartography of Empire (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 209.
  22. Taylor Dinerman and Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Trump Opens Outer Space for Business,” New York Times April 19, 2020. Accessed 3 May 2020.
  23. Joint Doctrine Note 19-1, Competition Continuum (3 June 2019), v.
  24. Competition Continuum, v.
  25. Adapted from Admiral George Monk, Duke of Albemarle, Royal Navy, “The nation that aspires to command the seas must always attack!” Quoted in Wolfgang Wegener, Naval Strategy of the World War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, reprint 1989), 104.
  26. Wegener, Naval Strategy or the World War, 97.
  27. Ibid, 96-7.
  28. Ibid, 97.
  29. Ibid, 107.
  30. Adapted from Holmes, Naval Strategy, 22.
  31. “Remarks by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at A New Space Race: Getting to the Trillion-Dollar Space Economy World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, 20 January 2020,” Accessed 4 May 2020.
  32. Michael Sheets, “The space industry will be worth nearly $3 trillion in 30 years, Bank of America predicts,”, October 31, 2017. Accessed 4 May 2020. and Cao Siqi, “China mulls $10 trillion Earth-moon economic zone” Global Times (China), November 1 2019. Accessed 4 May 2020.
  33. John S. Lewis, Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy (Deep Space Industries, 2015), 100.
  34. Shufeldt, “Relation of the Navy to Commerce,” 1.
  35. President of the United States, “Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” April 6, 2020. Accessed 4 May 2020.
  36. Alan C. O’Connor et al. Economic Benefits of the Global Positioning System (GPS), June 2019. RTI International. Accessed 4 May 2020, 14-1.
  37. Accessed 4 May 2020.
  38. Accessed 18 January 2021.
  39. Robert Daley, An American Saga: Juan Trippe and his Pan Am Empire (New York NY: Random House, 1980), 435.
  40. Joseph Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (REPRINT, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1983 originally published 1911), 14-5.
  41. Examples include the KC-135 (Boeing 367-80 and 707), KC-10 (DC-10), C-21A (Learjet 35), and others.
  42. Holmes, Naval Strategy, 51.
  43. The United States ranks 22nd in the world on merchant marine gross tonnage. ( . Accessed 19 January 2021.) Also, the standard macroeconomic equation for gross domestic product (GDP = C+I+G+NX) treats a trade deficit (-NX) as a direct loss to GDP. The US trade deficit to China in 2019 was $345.6 billion ( Accessed 19 January 2021).
  44. Ana Swanson, “Coronavirus Spurs U.S. Efforts to End China’s Chokehold on Drugs,” New York Times. March 11, 2020. Accessed 4 May 2020.
  45. Holmes, Naval Strategy, 3.
  46. See Thomas Cooley, Eric Felt, and Steven Butow, “State of the Space Industrial Base: Threats, Challenges, and Actions. Air Force Research Laboratory. 30 May 2019. Accessed 4 May 2020.
  47. Accessed 11 November 2020.
  48. William Schleihauf, Jutland: The Naval Staff Appreciation (Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing, 2016), 228.
  49. Wegener, Naval Strategy of the World War, 82.
  50. National Space Policy of the United States of America (9 December 2020), Accessed 19 January 2021. The new policy highlights lines of communication and the economic impact of space activity.
  51. Adapted from Brevet Lt Col R.H. Beadon, British Army “The Sea Power of Germany and the Teaching of Mahan” quoted in Wegener, Naval Strategy of the World War, 100.
  52. Spacepower strategy can be assessed through measures of performance (MOPs) and measures of effectiveness (MOEs). MOPs assess whether a strategy’s activities are being performed well. Did the spacecraft successfully get to Mars? Was the launch successful? MOE’s determine whether the strategy itself if generating the desired effects for the nation. The fundamental MOE to assess spacepower strategy is whether the nation’s space control is improving. partial list of potential MOE’s to assess spacepower strategy may include:Scientific Control (Informational IOP)MOE 1.1: Is the nation’s scientific understanding of space as a domain (physical principles, prospecting, charting) increasing absolutely? Relative to adversaries?MOE 1.2: Is the nation’s space shipping (commercial, civil, and military) ability to move, maneuver, operate, and communicate in space effectively and efficiently increasing absolutely? Relative to adversaries?MOE 1.3: Are the nation’s space activities becoming safer, more effective, and more efficient absolutely? Relative to adversaries?Economic Control (Diplomatic and Economic IOP)MOE 2.1: Is the nation generating increasing wealth from space absolutely? Relative to adversaries?MOE 2.2: Are commercial lines of communication (access) expanding to higher quality, more, more difficult strategic locations in space absolutely? Relative to adversaries?MOE 2.3: Is the nation increasing its ability to shape the international regime that impacts international space activities absolutely? Relative to adversaries?Military Control (Military IOP)

    MOE 3.1: Is the Space Force’s ability to project power to/from/and through space increasing absolutely? Relative to adversaries?

    MOE 3.2: Is the Space Force increasing its strategic access to space destinations absolutely? Relative to adversaries?

    MOE 3.3: Is the Space Force increasing its ability to prevail in an armed conflict in space relative to its adversaries?

    This is only a partial list, but the method to assess spacepower strategy is clear – a successful spacepower strategy is constantly improving its nation’s level of space control. Unfortunately, there are many pitfalls to avoid in spacepower strategy as well. Two cautionary tales help explore the nuances that space professionals must understand in order to construct powerful spacepower strategy.

  53. Holmes, Naval Strategy, 22.


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