Houston, We Have a Problem: A Space Force Must First be a Cyber Force

The proposal to create a U.S. Space Force has been a matter of debate since President Donald Trump first announced the idea in October of 2018. (Trump 2018). In doing so, the President implicitly declared that the new space race is on. Detractors of the newly proposed Space Force were quick to cite a burgeoning bureaucracy, high costs, and the political insensitivity as obvious reasons to denounce the idea and its proposed funding and implementation. Supporters of the Space Force proclaimed the necessity of space-based technologies within modern society: the use of the Global Position System (GPS) for navigation of autonomous systems, automobiles, planes, and precision-guided munitions are easy examples. Furthermore, the concern that other nation-states are advancing within this domain implies a sense of urgency to ensure US superiority. The presumption implicit within the debate is that dominance in space, regardless of the form, is about organizational hierarchies and operational efficiencies and inevitably must matter to all states on the global stage.

This article asserts that the current debate is a moot one. Without the ability to first secure cyberspace, no amount of operational or organizational changes will enable dominance in external space. Cyberspace is the ecosystem that binds the five battlespaces into one contiguous platform, making the military’s seabed to space strategy a reality. This equates to national security moving forward through the 21st century and beyond. In short, to secure cyberspace is the most efficient long-term way to win actual space. In the modern age, any kinetic war, in any physical domain, cannot be fought without cyber systems that are firmly and operationally under control of the state. As such, cybersecurity and cyber intelligence professionals are the future warriors that need to serve on the front line of any future space force. Most discussions of the latter currently ignore this essentiality.

The Strategic Significance

In the modern context, without the effective use and control of space-based resources, command and control functions would be hindered and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities would be in shambles. In other words, military forces would be blinded if space and cyberspace were not efficiently unified. According to the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, adversarial nations will continue to expand their space-based capabilities. (Coats 2019). As the focus on space domination continues to mount, so does the dependence on the infrastructure that supports it.

It is no surprise that securing the national critical infrastructure is addressed in both the Worldwide Threat Assessment and the National Cyber Strategy. (Coats 2019; Trump 2019). The national critical infrastructure has been under increasing scrutiny as it is considered by security experts as a “known vulnerable” upon which the U.S. relies. The resources for space are a part of the national critical infrastructure, although there is no specific sector designated exclusively for space. Space traverses other sectors such as Communications, Defense Industrial Base, and Transportation.  

The U.S. military recognizes five battlespaces – land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace – from which to conduct military operations. As the world has grown increasingly entangled, traditional concepts that have defined military objectives, such as terrain and borders, have become increasingly blurred and ambiguous. In this age of hyper-technological connectivity, the military needs a strategy to achieve superiority across these battlespaces. The Navy’s “seabed to space” strategy clearly depicts the concept, albeit through the lens of information warfare (IW). (SPAWAR 2018).Regardless of this limited view of warfare, the ability to seamlessly engage across battlespaces is paramount to military success. Furthermore, this integration is the only means to efficiently deploy the “12 new principles of warfare” as espoused by Avery, specifically speed, concentration of effects, economy of effects, and pervasive awareness. (Avery 2017).


“The Outer Space Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in resolution 2222(XXI) after being considered by the Legal Subcommittee in 1966. The Treaty stipulates that exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries, and it shall be the province of mankind.” (NTI 2017). Strictly speaking, conventional weapons, i.e., non-nuclear, are legal according to the treaty, although it can be argued that they are outside its intent. This legal loophole has enabled countries to pursue offensive and counter-offensive space-based weapons. To this extent both Russia and China “…are training and equipping their military space forces and fielding antisatellite (ASAT) weapons to hold US and allied space services at risk, even as they push for international agreements on the non-weaponization of space.” (Coats 2019).

Threats are often defined by potential impact, such as the ability to compromise WiFi access points or devices that constitute the Internet of Things (IoT). Similarly, as the footprint in space and the reliance upon it increase, weapons like Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), ASAT, and Directed Energy Lasers, are no longer the “flying cars” of weaponization but a clear and present danger to space systems. Russia and China are two states that have clearly demonstrated the desire and ability to directly engage with satellites in orbit.

The threat emanating from Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors on behalf of nation-states is significant.“These APT attacks appear to be aimed at the navigation and mapping of information and control systems upon which critical infrastructures like electric grids, nuclear power stations, and financial networks depend. By infecting control systems, such attacks can provide the means to copy or steal information about design and operating technologies. Moreover, they can be programmed to damage or destroy the infrastructure at some future date, perhaps in a time of crisis or war.” (Rudner 2013).

In the context of space programs, the Inspector General for NASA, in his 2012 statement, asserted: “In FY 2011, NASA reported it was the victim of 47 APT attacks, 13 of which successfully compromised Agency computers.” Further between 2010 and 2011, “NASA reported 5,408 computer security incidents that resulted in the installation of malicious software on or unauthorized access to its systems.” (Martin 2012). Ostensibly, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, the United States is the most victimized country in the world through cyber means. (CSIS 2018).

The Role of Cyber

If it is true that the next war will begin with a space component, then it is equally true that the trigger mechanism will be carried out through cyberspace. Cyberspace is the battlefield from which all battlespaces are amplified. As stated in the National Cyber Strategy: “America’s prosperity and security depend on how we respond to the opportunities and challenges in cyberspace. Critical infrastructure, national defense, and the daily lives of Americans rely on computer-driven and interconnected information technologies. As all facets of American life have become more dependent on a secure cyberspace, new vulnerabilities have been revealed and new threats continue to emerge.” (Trump 2018). Cyberwarriors are the cyber intelligence and cybersecurity professionals whom enable the protection and exploitation of cyberspace in defense of the country.


Whether the creation of a U.S. Space Force is the right choice for America or not is a moot point. Without the ability to first secure cyberspace, no amount of operational or organizational changes will enable American dominance within space. To win in space is first to win cyberspace. As such, cybersecurity and cyber intelligence professionals are the front line of any future space force. These cyberwarriors are tasked with controlling and securing the very fabric of the modern battlefield. There are no longer battlespaces that operate independently, or more to the point, independent of cyberspace. As a result, the debate should not center on whether to have a Space Force, or which organizational hierarchy is best, but on how to secure and integrate cyberspace throughout the military’s seabed to space strategy.

Al Lewis
Al Lewis
Al Lewis is currently a doctoral candidate in Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. He currently oversees the Cybersecurity Operations Center of Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace and defense company. Before that he served the United States of America as a Special Agent in the Secret Service.