Strategy is the bridge between military power and political purpose. Its state of repair is highly variable. Moreover, although it is a bridge that must allow two-way traffic between tasking from policy and evidence on military feasibility, it is the former that must dominate. When policy fails to command it finds itself the servant of warfare, the reverse of the only legitimate terms of the relationship.

Colin S. Gray, Strategy and History: Essays on theory and practice (Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2006), p. 1.

Welcome to my blog – a forum for occasional thoughts, papers, and articles on all things connected to national security, geopolitics and strategy.

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UAE to go to Mars

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) formally announced on May 6, 2015, its intention to launch an an indigenously built probe to Mars by July 2010 and have it in orbit around the Red Planet by 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

This is more than just a prestige space mission – though it will have plenty of that for the UAE since, if successful, the probe will be the first Arab and Islamic spacecraft launched for space exploration. More importantly, however, the probe will actually contribute to scientific knowledge about Mars by collecting data on the Martian climate. The science from the UAE mission to Mars will be shared freely with scientists around the world.

This mission is also important because it is demonstrative of the rapid changes occurring in the space sector around the world. The UAE is on the cusp of graduating from an emerging space power – of which there are at least 50 around the world – to an established (and hopefully accomplished) space power. There are geopolitical implications too. The UAE is likely to emerge as the space hub for both the Middle East and for Africa, and will therefore accrue global influence. In fact, the UAE Space Agency has already established a cooperative relationship with the French space agency, CNES, and is engaged in government-to-government space dialogues with a number of other countries, including the United States.

The slick video posted above is a great overview of the UAE mission to Mars. Some might be tempted to dismiss the UAE’s space ambitions, and certainly they face a great number of technological and other challenges. But don’t write these guys off – I’ve met a number of them and they are professional, serious, and have the engineering, scientific, and financial capacity and resources to pull this off.

They’re serious, and everyone I speak with in U.S. and European space circles take them very seriously.

I’m rooting for them, and I hope they achieve – and exceed – their dreams and ambitions in space.

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In Defense of Space Control


The issue of space control is back, and I wrote the following piece that was published on the Real Clear Defense website on Monday, April 20, 2015:


In Defense of Space Control

Speaking on April 15 about the growing threat from China, Russia, and others against U.S. military satellites at the 31st National Space Symposium, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work told his audience that, “[w]hile we rely heavily on space capabilities, in both peace and war, we must continue to emphasize space control as challenges arise.”
Judging by the heated reaction to Deputy Secretary Work’s use of the term ‘space control,’ one could be forgiven for thinking that he had just made up U.S. policy on the fly — and that preparations are finally underway to build the Death Star. For example, Theresa Hitchens, a scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies and the former director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, told Breaking Defense that space control “has a connotation regarding offensive activities.” Further, Ms. Hitchens asserts that there seems to be more “aggressive attitudes on threat response” within the U.S. national security space community. Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation claims that the mention of space control primes “the pump…for a more active counter space program for the United States.”

Yet Deputy Secretary Work was hardly speaking off the cuff, nor is he the first to mention the term “space control” in recent months – that honor goes to the commander of the 14th Air Force, Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, in testimony he gave to Congress in late March. The fact is that space control – the ability in peace, crisis and war to assure access to and use of space – has been an enduring feature of U.S. national space policy for several decades. The need to train, equip and prepare to exercise space control, should it be required, has been a continuing and consistent facet of national space policy since at least the Eisenhower administration, and is mentioned explicitly in the space policies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, all of which are publicly available.

Therefore, when Deputy Secretary Work mentioned space control to his audience in Colorado Springs, he did not do so from a policy and contextual vacuum. Over the past two years there has been an increasing concern within the Obama administration about the growing threats against U.S. military and intelligence space systems. These threats emanate largely from China and Russia, but also from countries such as Iran. The threats themselves range from capabilities that can jam the signals from satellites, to using lasers to dazzle the cameras on U.S. reconnaissance satellites. Additionally, a growing cyber threat against space systems as well as the ongoing testing and development of hit-to-kill antisatellite (ASAT) weapons that can physically destroy satellites in orbit pose increasing threats to U.S. national security.

Further, U.S. concerns over growing threats to satellites are hardly confined to a handful of senior officers at Air Force Space Command or officials in the Pentagon. Instead, officials in the State Department, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and the president himself have expressed concerns about these threats and the vulnerabilities of U.S. space assets. Just as importantly, the growing threat to space systems is not just a preoccupation of Washington, DC. Officials in Brussels, New Delhi and Tokyo, among others, are also increasingly concerned about the evolving threat environment in space, and they see China and Russia as the primary sources of these threats.

Since the United States and its allies are dependent on these satellites for everything from maintaining and operating critical infrastructure and the everyday functioning of modern society, through to the American way of war itself, these growing threats to satellites can not be ignored by policymakers. Fortunately, since the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. has crafted and evolved a remarkably enduring space policy. The fundamentals of which have scarcely changed over the decades, yet is more than capable of dealing with the growing threat environment in space.

That policy, last updated in 2010, is enabling government officials to carry out several initiatives designed to enable mission assurance by space systems in an increasingly hostile space domain. These include measures to physically protect satellites against threats such as jamming and laser dazzling, as well as creating a new satellite architecture emphasizing resilience and redundancy to mitigate threats such as ASATs. These initiatives are part of the space control mission and do not involve things such as ‘space weapons’ and other exotic or controversial capabilities. If offensive force is ever required to assure U.S. access to its space systems, it will take place in the traditional domains of the land, sea, and air, as well as through the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) and cyberspace – a contingency that will only come into effect in a time of actual war.

The current and proposed budgets support the claim that offensive force for space control will take place in terrestrial domains, since there is no U.S. plan to deploy (or even develop) weapons in orbit. Conventional weapons and capabilities based in the traditional domains of land, sea and air, as well as the EMS and cyberspace, can achieve the space control mission without even entering space by targeting, and if necessary attacking, adversary jammers and lasers, ASAT launch sites and other capabilities that might threaten friendly satellites. In this regard space control is no different conceptually from the sea and air control that navies and air forces have been employing effectively for a very long time. Rather than implying or suggesting that we are on the cusp of some form of disturbing development in military technology, as critics assert, the actual practice of space control – should it come to that – will be viewed as prosaic when compared to the misinformed hype of its critics. There is nothing in the space control concept that mandates space-based weapons or other exotic capabilities.

Certainly the United States will continue to pursue diplomatic solutions to mitigate the risks posed by the counter-space capabilities being developed by the likes of China and Russia. However, diplomatic success is far from guaranteed due to China’s refusal to engage in direct government-to-government talks on space security, and the breakdown in relations with Russia over its annexation of the Crimea and continued interference in Ukraine. Geopolitics, far from stopping at the edge of space, will always extend to the orbits of Earth, and the United States should not be restrained in its ability to defend its vital interests there — as well as assure access to its own systems, especially in crisis and war.

Space control is a vital element to U.S. space policy, but it is too often naively or disingenuously maligned by critics who seem unable to offer any viable alternative. They are too ready to criticize the United States for its desire to protect its assets in space rather than condemn those who are determined to extend warfare into space by threatening American satellites. The Obama administration deserves credit for taking the threat seriously, and we should all hope that its measures are not only timely but are also sufficient to ensure continued access to space in the coming years.

John B. Sheldon, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the George C. Marshall Institute.

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Maritime Domain Awareness Visualization

I came across this video from 2012 that offers a cool visualization of the maritime domain awareness (MDA) tools provided by FleetMon, a German company that provides automatic identification system (AIS) services.


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Geopolitics and Cyberpower: Why Geography Still Matters

AFPI Journal

I have a new article, “Geopolitics and Cyberpower: Why Geography Still Matters,” published in the latest issue of American Foreign Policy Interests, the journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York City.

It’s an imperfect first attempt at an issue that is of enduring interest to me, so expect more on this from me down the road. That said, all comments and critiques are welcome. I hope you enjoy it: 10803920%2E2014%2E969174

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Changes: The George C. Marshall Institute

GeorgeC.Marshall logo 

As Monty Python would say, “And now for something completely different.”

I am delighted to announce that I have been appointed as the Executive Director of the George C. Marshall Institute, in Arlington, Virginia. I have big shoes to fill. The current president, Jeff Kueter, has ran the Institute for over 12 years now, and has garnered it a strong reputation. I hope to be able to continue Jeff’s good work, as well as add my own imprint on the Institute’s work in the coming months and years.

This is an opportunity that presented itself in a very short period of time, but I have been affiliated with the Marshall Institute for six years as a Fellow, and so I am very familiar and supportive of its work and ethos. As many of you know, I own and operate the Torridon Group LLC consulting company, which is doing very well, and I shall be continuing that venture as before.

Whether it be with the Marshall Institute or with the Torridon Group – or both – I look forward to working with many of you in the future!




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When is a space race not a space race?

 The Economist’s Graphic Detail blog posted a chart (see above) on February 18, 2014, on the spending by emerging space powers. It’s a cool chart and very informative.
Less informative is the usual media guff about a so-called space race. The Economist piece is titled “Ye Olde Space Race” while not mentioning who is racing who. Why? Because it is far from obvious that any race is happening between any of the countries cited.
I would say that we should expect better from The Economist, but unfortunately they are among the worst offenders of this nonsense.
Unless, of course, one really believes that when more than two countries develop an interest in acquiring satellites this immediately constitutes a space race…

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Global Space News for Friday, February 14, 2014

Today’s selection of space news from around the world:

1. “GPS pioneer warns on network’s security,” Financial Times (London).

2. “Azerbaijan and Japan to cooperate in production and export of innovative products,” APA News (Baku).

3. “US-French deal gives green light to UAE observation satellites,” Space News (Alexandria, VA).

4. “Global spending on space programs dips,” NBCNews.com (New York City).

5. “US Space Wars: Military space plane aims for 2017 lift off,” The Voice of Russia (Moscow).

6. “Defunct Soviet reconnaissance satellite may hit Earth,” RIA Novosti (Moscow).

7. “China’s Jade Rabbit rover comes ‘back to life’: reports,” The Straits Times (Singapore).

8. “Yutu’s fate unclear as China’s space program rises,” China Digital Times (Berkeley, CA).

9. “Geoimage + Skybox Imaging – FMV + High Resolution Agreement,” SatNews Publishers (Sonoma, CA).

10. “HAL delivers crew module for space program to ISRO,” Outlook (New Delhi).

11. “Scientists use satellites to track whales,” Business Standard (Mumbai).

12. “ISS launches low-cost earth-imaging micro-satellites,” Gizmodo Australia (Sydney).

13. “Turkey’s fifth communications satellite to be launched Friday,” WorldBulletin.net (Istanbul).

14. “Iran satellite case in NY takes complex turn,” The Times of Israel (Jerusalem).

15. “Report: NASA needs agency-wide rules for foreign access to centers,” Space News (Alexandria, VA).

1. “GPS pioneer warns on network’s security,” Financial Times (London):



The Global Positioning System helps power everything from in-car satnavs and smart bombs to bank security and flight control, but its founder has warned that it is more vulnerable to sabotage or disruption than ever before – and politicians and security chiefs are ignoring the risk.

Impairment of the system by hostile foreign governments, cyber criminals – or even regular citizens – has become “a matter of national security”, according to Colonel Bradford Parkinson, who is hailed as the architect of modern navigation.

“If we don’t watch out and we aren’t prepared,” then countries could be denied everything from ‘navigation’ to ‘precision weapon delivery’, Mr Parkinson warned.

2. “Azerbaijan and Japan to cooperate in production and export of innovative products,” APA News (Baku):


Azerbaijan intends to cooperate with Japan in production and export of innovative products, as well as in satellite technology, the Minister of Communication and Information Technologies Ali Abbasov told journalists.

Today, cooperation issues will be discussed with Japan leading company NEC (Nippon Electric Corporation).

The minister said that company’s delegation will hold a seminar at the Ministry on introduction of the company, improvement of broadband internet and other issues.

3. “US-French deal gives green light to UAE observation satellites,” Space News (Alexandria, VA):


The U.S.-French summit in Washington has produced a U.S. agreement on the export of U.S. satellite components for a French contract to provide two high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), European industry officials said.

The decision, which they said came only after the U.S. State Department agreed to the deal and then withdrew its agreement and passed the subject to the White House, should enable the $1.1 billion Falcon Eye contract to begin its production phase.

Nonetheless, the Feb. 12 U.S. approval for the export to France of satellite components used in the two satellites came about two weeks after a contractually agreed deadline of Jan. 29.

4. “Global spending on space programs dips,” NBCNews.com (New York City):


Global spending on government space programs dropped for the first time in almost two decades in 2013, a report showed on Thursday, as rising investment among emerging nations failed to offset cuts by the United States.

An annual report by consultancy Euroconsult showed global budgets for space programs dropped to $72.1 billion from $72.9 billion in 2012, the first drop since 1995.

The United States invested $38.7 billion in civil- and defense-related space projects, $8.8 billion down from its 2009 peak but still more than half of the global total.

5. “US Space Wars: Military space plane aims for 2017 lift off,” The Voice of Russia (Moscow):


The US Defense Department is attempting to develop a new unmanned spacecraft that could enter low Earth orbit faster and with more frequency than ever before.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to award the first design contracts for the vehicle project — known as Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1— in May or thereabouts, officials said. Current schedules call for the vessel to get off the ground for the first time in late 2017 and make an orbital test flight the following year.

DARPA has high expectations for the XS-1 program, which it hopes can eventually launch 3,000- to 5,000-lb (1,361 to 2,268 kilograms) payloads to orbit for less than $5 million per flight — and to do it at least 10 times per year.

6. “Defunct Soviet reconnaissance satellite may hit Earth,” RIA Novosti (Moscow):


A decommissioned Soviet military satellite will burn up in the atmosphere Sunday in an uncontrolled descent and surviving fragments may hit Earth, according to an aerospace defense official.

The military is actively monitoring the satellite using its space tracking network, which has indicated that it will impact the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin said Friday.

“As of February 7, 2014 the fragments are expected to fall on February 16. The exact impact time and location of the fragments from the Kosmos-1220 satellite may change due to external factors,” Zolotukhin said.

7. “China’s Jade Rabbit rover comes ‘back to life’: reports,” The Straits Times (Singapore):


China’s troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover, which experienced mechanical difficulties last month, has come “back to life”, state media reported on Thursday.

“It came back to life! At least it is alive and so it is possible we could save it,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for the lunar programme, as saying on a verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

The probe, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, had experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” last month, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from weibo users.

8. “Yutu’s fate unclear as China’s space program rises,” China Digital Times (Berkeley, CA):


Communication was established with Chang’e-3 [the lander module] but today, the ECNS news agency reported efforts to reactive the rover were unsuccessful. “China’s first lunar rover, Yutu, could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected, and netizens mourned it on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. Yutu experienced mechanical problems on Jan 25 and has been unable to function since then.” No other details were given.

The rover’s mechanical problems are likely related to critical components that must be protected during the cold lunar night. When temperatures plunge, the rover’s mast is designed to fold down to protect delicate instruments, which can then be kept warm by a radioactive heat source. Yutu also needs to angle a solar panel towards the point where the sun will rise to maintain power levels. A mechanical fault in these systems could leave the rover fatally exposed to the dark and bitter cold.

9. “Geoimage + Skybox Imaging – FMV + High Resolution Agreement,” SatNews Publishers (Sonoma, CA):


Geoimage has been selected by Skybox Imaging (Skybox) to distribute Skybox’s high-resolution imagery and full motion HD video to the Australasian region and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

SkySat-1 is a high-performance satellite capable of providing 4-band, high-resolution, sub-metre class imagery. Operating in a sun-synchronous orbit of 600 kilometers, SkySat-1 also provides the first commercial high-resolution, full-motion video from space at 30 frames per second. SkySat-1 is the first of Skybox’s planned 24-satellite constellation, which will enable revisit of up to four times per day.

“Geoimage has extensive local expertise in providing Australian customers with superior support and augmented geospatial solutions,” said Matt Wood, Skybox Senior Director of Enterprise Solutions. “Selecting key partners in the industry is fundamental to our strategy of making our imagery accessible, timely, and easy-to-use. We are proud to announce our partnership with Geoimage to introduce our products to the Australasian market.”

10. “HAL delivers crew module for space program to ISRO,” Outlook (New Delhi):


Defence major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited today said it has handed over the first “Crew Module Structural Assembly” for the “Human Spaceflight Program” to Indian Space Research Organisation.

HAL handed over the Crew Module to ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, in Bangalore, recently, the company said in a release.

The first Crew Module will be further equipped with systems necessary for crew support, navigation, guidance and control systems by ISRO for experimentation in the forthcoming GSLV-MK3 launch, the release said.

11. “Scientists use satellites to track whales,” Business Standard (Mumbai):


Scientists are using a new high-resolution satellite technology to track whales, count their numbers and estimate their population size.

Using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, alongside image processing software, researchers were able to automatically detect and count whales breeding in part of the Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes in Argentina.

The new method could revolutionise how whale population size is estimated, researchers said.

12. “ISS launches low-cost earth-imaging micro-satellites,” Gizmodo Australia (Sydney):


Since the launch of the Landsat program in 1972, generating images of Earth from space has been the near-exclusive domain of enormous, multi-million dollar satellites sponsored by nations and major defence corporations. But these new micro-satellites, recently launched from the ISS, aim to make real-time imaging available for a fraction of the price.

Designed, built, and operated by San Francisco-based Planet Labs, the micro-satellite (aka “CubeSats”) system consists of 28 imaging satellites, individually known as Doves, and collectively known as Flock 1.

These CubeSats are constructed largely from low-cost, non-traditional components, which drastically reduces the cost of each unit. The Flock was first delivered to the ISS last December aboard Orbital Sciences’ robotic Cygnus vessel, and were released from the ISS using the station’s on-board cube cannon.

13. “Turkey’s fifth communications satellite to be launched Friday,” WorldBulletin.net (Istanbul):


The TURKSAT 4A Communication Satellite – Turkey´s fifth to be put into orbit – will be launched on Friday from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan.

The Turksat 4A telecommunication satellite was jointly produced with Turkish and Japanese engineers who arrived at the Baikonur on January 16.

Turkey’s Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lutfi Elvan travelled to Kazakhstan to follow the launch of the satellite.

14. “Iran satellite case in NY takes complex turn,” The Times of Israel (Jerusalem):


Federal agents intercepted the wealthy Iranian entrepreneur at a US airport, questioned him about his business and charged him with illegal export of American-made satellite equipment to his native country.

Seyed Amin Ghorashi Sarvestani pleaded guilty soon afterward, but changed circumstances now have encouraged him to challenge his 30-month prison sentence.

Since his plea, the federal government has approved for export to Iran the very products he was convicted of helping ship, his lawyers say. Then federal prosecutors in New York told a judge after the sentencing hearing that they had mistakenly exaggerated the equipment’s capabilities. The judge hasn’t moved to change the sentence, though lawyers for both sides are continuing to press their arguments.

15. “Report: NASA needs agency-wide rules for foreign access to centers,” Space News (Alexandria, VA):


NASA should centralize the patchwork of security procedures and personnel governing foreign access to its U.S. field centers, an independent panel recommended in a report triggered by allegations of security breaches at the centers.

“There is no systematic approach to [foreign national access management] at NASA,” said the report from the National Academy for Public Administration. “[T]he result is a broad range of outcomes, many of which are insufficient.”

The report, “An Independent Review of Foreign National Access Management,” is the result of an investigation NASA requested back in March 2013 after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) went public with allegations of security breaches involving foreign nationals at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Wolf is chairman of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that funds NASA.



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