Document created: 20 August 02
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2002

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A New Construct for Air Force
Counterspace Doctrine

Maj John Grenier, USAF*

 *The author, an assistant professor at the United States Air Force Academy, wishes to thank and acknowledge the following individuals for their inputs to this article: Lt Col Rick Walker, Lt Col Doug McCarty, Maj Reb Butler, Maj S. L. Davis, Capt Toby Doran, and Capt Dan Gottrich.

Few people would argue with the suggestion that space operations, especially counterspace operations, will play an increasingly larger role in the Air Force’s future. Unfortunately, Air Force counterspace doctrine is poorly developed and lacks detail.1 This article provides a new construct for the service’s counterspace doctrine by asking what counterspace should consist of and how its doctrine should be presented to war fighters. An examination of the current state of Air Force counterspace doctrine and a comparison with counterair doctrine reveals that (1) the Air Force has far to go in defining what counterspace is and should be and (2) counterspace and counterinformation are nearly indivisible, a fact that has profound importance for the future of space and information operations (IO).

The Air Force’s existing counterspace doctrine is less than robust. Airmen gain their first familiarity with counterspace in Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine. Designed to address overarching themes, AFDD 1 provides a rough guide to where counterspace—“those operations conducted to attain and maintain a desired degree of space superiority”—fits in Air Force operations.2 It places counterspace among the Air Force’s 17 air and space power functions—the service’s broad, fundamental, and enduring missions.3

Both AFDD 1 and AFDD 2-2, Space Operations, the Air Force’s space doctrine, note two subtasks within the counterspace mission: offensive counterspace (OCS) and defensive counterspace (DCS).4 According to AFDD 1, OCS seeks to “destroy or neutralize an adversary’s space systems or the information they provide at a time and place of our choosing through attacks on the space, terrestrial, or link elements of space systems.” It also points out that war fighters conduct OCS to achieve five goals, commonly known as the “5Ds”—deception, disruption, denial, degradation, and/or destruction.5 AFDD 2-2 expands upon the 5Ds structure found in AFDD 1, noting that OCS uses either lethal or nonlethal methods (the 5Ds) to target an adversary’s space systems or third-party space capabilities that support an adversary.6 As such, a significant disconnect exists within the doctrine. AFDD 1 rightly discusses the 5Ds in terms of goals, yet AFDD 2-2 muddles the meaning by addressing them as methods. Since doctrine demands consistent and precise terminology so as not to confuse its readers, this article considers the 5Ds as effects—the tactical-, operational-, or strategic-level outcomes (read “goals”) that a military operation produces.7

According to both AFDD 1 and AFDD 2-2, DCS operations consist of active and passive measures to protect friendly space-related capabilities from enemy attack or interference. “The objective of active counterspace defense measures is to detect, track, identify, intercept, and destroy or neutralize enemy space and missile forces.” Passive DCS involves designing survivability features in satellites and maneuvering satellites, as well as employing camouflage, concealment, and deception techniques to protect space assets.8

Readers familiar with air doctrine will recognize superficial similarities between counterspace and counterair doctrine. The latter, contained in AFDD 2-1, Air Warfare, divides the counterair mission into offensive counterair (OCA) and defensive counterair (DCA). Subsumed within OCA are surface attack, fighter sweep, escort, and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). Like DCS, DCA includes both active and passive variants. AFDD 2-1 amorphously defines active DCA as using reactive air-to-air assets to destroy an attacking adversary’s air and missile assets, while passive DCA uses camouflage, concealment, and deception, together with hardened shelters.9

Basing counterspace doctrine on a counterair model, however, leads to problems, the first of which emerges when counterspace doctrine tries to call out the tasks for OCS. Space has no equivalent to air’s surface attack, fighter escort, sweep, and SEAD. Counterspace doctrine, therefore, lists the 5Ds as the methods for OCS. But, as noted above, the 5Ds are desired effects—not methods.

Second, the DCA-DCS comparison falls apart for both active and passive DCS. Because the Air Force lacks the capability to maneuver on-orbit satellite assets as easily as air platforms, active DCS based on an active DCA model does not work. As previously mentioned, AFDD 1 lists active DCS effects as detecting, tracking, identifying, intercepting, and destroying an adversary’s space and terrestrial forces. These closely resemble the traditional air tasks of finding, fixing, targeting, tracking, engaging, and assessing, but, as will become clear below, they are not particularly useful. Basing passive DCS on the passive DCA model is more appropriate but still problematic. Because space assets are capable of variations in camouflage, concealment, and deception as well as hardening techniques, passive DCS mirrors passive DCA to some extent, but the devil is in the details.

The third—and, arguably, the most significant—problem relating to the current counterspace construct is that few people use it. Several issues underlie this problem. First, most space operators—the men and women tasked with operating the satellite systems overhead—have few concerns beyond the “care and feeding” of their global space assets. OCS and DCS become unimportant to the immediate tasks at hand.10 Second, the Air Force has not fully integrated space doctrine into theater campaign plans. Space usually is tacked onto operations plans in an annex and rarely spread across the plan. Third—and, arguably, most important—Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) have laid claim to counterspace planning and isolated much of it from theater consideration. Counterspace and, for that matter, all space doctrine have become AFSPC’s and USSPACECOM’s “rice bowl.” Thus, counterspace doctrine meets their needs but potentially at the expense of anyone not directly involved in space.11

Most importantly, the Air Force has yet to fully integrate space into theater operations. Following the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91, the Air Force made an initial attempt at theater-level space integration by creating space support teams and space specialty teams that would serve in theater air operations centers. Air Force leadership, however, believing that these teams would “stovepipe” space, determined that space should be spread across all divisions (Strategy; Plans; Operations; Mobility; and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance [ISR]) of an air operations center. Responsibility for that integration has fallen to space weapons officers, graduates of the Space Division of the Air Force Weapons School.12 Although they have enjoyed some success integrating space support for ISR and combat search and rescue operations, these officers have had only marginal success in integrating counterspace operations into theater air plans and operations.13

The relevance, or lack thereof, of current counterspace doctrine stands as a major obstacle facing space weapons officers. Some people argue that the problem has roots in the lack of counterspace capability, the limited threat to space assets, the high classification of space systems, and AFSPC’s and USSPACECOM’s insistence on developing counterspace campaign plans separately from theater plans. Indeed, those are substantial hurdles, but they are merely excuses for the inability of space operators, space weapons officers, and space experts to tell in-theater aviators what counterspace brings to the fight. Aircrews naturally view OCS and DCS just as they do OCA and DCA. But, as shown above, OCS-DCS and OCA-DCA resemble each other in name only. In reality, a lack of both understanding and accessibility prevents counterspace from assuming a larger role in theater operations.

War fighters need a counterspace doctrine that accurately and concisely explains counterspace and puts it in a context relevant to airmen, who must see that counterspace supports—and is supported by—the other air and space power functions. Since the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, space has affected three main areas: command and control (C2), including communications; ISR; and navigation and positioning. Space lift, the key to deploying, sustaining, and/or augmenting space assets, constitutes a fourth area of extreme importance for space operations. A new counterspace doctrine, therefore, initially should focus on affecting friendly and adversary C2, ISR, navigation and positioning, and space lift. Of course, as technologies, tactics, techniques, and procedures evolve, counterspace will affect other air and space power functions.

Airmen need counterspace to “counter” an adversary’s space capabilities. For that reason, OCS actions must focus on denying, deceiving, disrupting, degrading, and/or destroying his space-based C2, ISR, navigation and positioning, and space-lift systems. Simply put, OCS should entail counter-C2; counter-ISR; counternavigation and counterpositioning; and counter space lift.

Redefining the makeup of DCS is also critical. Instead of the rubric of active and passive defense, the tasks of DCS should focus on protecting friendly space capabilities. In that vein, those tasks must counter the OCS operations that adversaries will conduct. Since most of the attacks against our space-based C2, ISR, and navigation and positioning systems will occur in the electromagnetic spectrum—and to avoid engaging in “countercounter-C2” and then “countercountercounter-C2” operations—we should view DCS as providing electronic countermeasures (ECM) for friendly space assets. The first task within DCS, therefore, becomes satellite communications ECM (SATCOM-ECM). The goal of defending ISR assets, meanwhile, is to assure that war fighters have access to the most accurate and relevant ISR data and analysis. Thus, the ISR piece of the DCS puzzle becomes ISR assurance. Since the main navigation-and-positioning system in use by friendly forces is the Global Positioning System (GPS), we can call DCS’s third part GPS-ECM. The final DCS segment protects friendly space-lift capabilities, including both the C2 and communications infrastructure (such as the worldwide Air Force Satellite Control Network, used to “talk” to overhead satellites) and the launchpads for US space vehicles at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg AFB, California. Because the major threat to friendly space lift occurs at the ground site, normal ground-force protection measures are of paramount importance.

Among the counterspace experts who work in the “space control” branches of AFSPC, the last several years have seen discussion of a new counterspace construct known as space situational awareness (SSA). At its basic level, SSA involves intelligence preparation of the space battlefield; it uses terrestrial- and space-based ISR assets to determine the space order of battle as well as present and future locations of space assets. The product of SSA is discernment of the adversary’s intended employment of his space assets. With SSA in hand, war fighters will be able to engage in OCS and DCS operations more effectively.

The Air Force’s adoption of the new counterspace construct would have profound implications for how the space-control community views its place in operations. For a long time, space-control advocates have argued that the Air Force must evolve from focusing space resources on force enhancement to directing them toward force application. That rhetoric is misplaced, emphasizing the future at the expense of the present. Indeed, the essence of OCS and DCS has less to do with force application and more to do with supporting, enabling, and enhancing other air and space operations.

We must remember that doctrine is not about ownership but about using sanctioned best practices to accomplish missions. Of course, certain technologies (such as the Space Operations Vehicle) hold promise of attacking space assets in orbit. As such, counterspace doctrine may evolve to account for the employment of systems that can knock a satellite out of the sky, to cite one example. Until such systems are fielded and operational, however, the Air Force should remain focused on using space as a force enhancer for the joint war-fighting team. Indeed, in terms of what space brings to the fight today, counterspace will remain primarily a force enabler and enhancer for the foreseeable future.

The interrelationship between counterspace and counterinformation suggests how this new counterspace construct can enable another air and space power function. Counterinformation contains the sub-mission of IO, accomplished by offensive counterinformation (OCI) and defensive counterinformation (DCI). OCI operations include psychological operations, electronic warfare (EW), military deception, physical attack, and public-affairs operations. DCI’s functions consist of operations security, information assurance, computer network defense, counterdeception, counterintelligence, counterpropaganda, public-affairs operations, and electronic protection (EP).14 Most clearly, the OCS tasks of counter-C2, counter-ISR, and counter navigation and positioning enhance and enable the OCI task of EW. Meanwhile, SATCOM-ECM, ISR assurance, and GPS-ECM similarly enhance and enable DCI’s EP task. EW and EP, in turn, become primary enablers of air and space superiority, information superiority, global attack, precision engagement, and rapid global mobility. Joint war fighters do not care about who—either the counterspace community or the information community—provides the EW and EP they need. Counterspace advocates should have the same mind-set.

The counterspace community may find it difficult to accept the suggestion that much of counterspace supports IO. A feeling exists within the counterspace community that IO proponents are making a “power play” to absorb counterspace. Murmurs of such arguments arose during late 1999, during discussions of a merger of the Space Warfare Center and the Information Warfare Center. Part of the rationale for opposing the merger of the respective warfare centers was the space-control community’s contention that space and IO were “too different” to be combined.15

Nonetheless, some people continue to believe that the two disciplines must operate synergistically. Although space and IO each has its own volume in the Air Force Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (AFTTP) 3-1 series (AFTTP 3-1, vol. 28, Tactical Employment, Space, 2002; and AFTTP 3-1, vol. 36, Information Warfare, 2001), space and information operations are combined within the Air Force Operational Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (AFOTTP) series. Outside the parochial space and IO communities, the close correlation between the two areas becomes apparent.

In the final analysis, the construct presented here suggests that counterspace and IO are not and should not be separated from one another. Basing counterspace doctrine on this construct would tie it more closely to counterinformation. The Air Force Doctrine Center should reassess the counterspace doctrine it has published in AFDD 1, AFDD 2-1, and especially AFDD 2-2. Should the center make that reassessment, it must include representatives from the air, space, and IO communities. Rice bowls may break as counterspace and IO advocates grapple with the proper role and place of their particular subdisciplines in Air Force and joint operations. Of course another option—one that, hopefully, this brief article will inspire—is that a counterspace advocate will explain why the construct presented here is wrong. That, however, will do little to correct the significant inadequacies of the current doctrine.

Colorado Springs, Colorado


1. In fall 2001, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) assembled a team to write and submit to the Air Force Doctrine Center a proposed Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-2.1, Counterspace. As of this writing, Headquarters AFSPC/XPX plans to propose AFDD 2-2.1 to the Air Force Doctrine Working Group. The joint-doctrine community, with US Space Command’s Plans Directorate (J-5) in the lead, would like to prepare a joint version of counterspace doctrine. However, because of the history of disagreement among the services regarding Joint Publication (Pub) 3-14, Joint Doctrine for Space, I suspect that joint counterspace doctrine remains a long way off. The fact that the Air Force and the other services have not resolved fundamental doctrinal disagreements has left Joint Pub 3-14 in draft for over a decade.

2. AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, September 1997, 47, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from

3. Ibid., 46–60.

4. Ibid., 47–48; and AFDD 2-2, Space Operations, 27 November 2001, 12–14, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from

5. AFDD 1, 47.

6. AFDD 2-2, 9–10.

7. Ibid., 4.

8. AFDD 1, 48; and AFDD 2-2, 13–14.

9. AFDD 2-1, Air Warfare, 27 January 2000, 8–9, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from https://

10. AFDD 2-2 divides space assets among global, theater organic, and deployable assets—an attempt by the authors of the doctrine to suggest to space operators that they must consider the fact that their assets and operations affect more than just global operations. Indeed, as technologies advance, the Air Force will have an increasingly larger pool of space assets that it can deploy to a theater, and geographic combatant commanders will have space assets apportioned to them.

11. An example of this mentality is AFSPC’s decision to provide the Air Force Doctrine Center (AFDC) with a “draft” AFDD 2-2 in 2000. Because AFSPC did not concur with AFDC’s version of AFDD 2-2 in late 2000, it formed a team to develop and write a new AFDD 2-2 and provide it to the center, which would in turn staff the document across the Air Force. In its staffing of the document, AFDC received over 400 comments. On the whole, however, those comments touched primarily on minor issues and did not significantly change the structure or intent of the doctrine as conceptualized by AFSPC’s doctrine-writing team of five primary members. One could argue that, because the major commands had only minor comments for the most part, the doctrine met their needs. But one could just as easily argue that, because the commands were unfamiliar with the nuances of counterspace, they did not recognize the inadequacies of the relatively spare sections on counterspace in AFDD 2-2. Yet, because AFDC staffed the document through the other major commands, both AFDC and AFSPC authors can claim that AFDD 2-2 was a “group effort” that encompassed the entire Air Force.

12. SSgt Eric Grill, “Space Invaders Converge upon Nellis Schools,” 9 March 2001, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from

13. Gen Richard B. Meyers, commander, USSPACECOM, noted in the initial report on the air war over Serbia that “there’s still a long way to go before space is really integrated with the rest of the campaign.” The Air War over Serbia: Aerospace Power in Operation Allied Force, initial report (Washington, D.C: Headquarters United States Air Force, 30 September 1999), 43.

14. AFDD 2-5, Information Operations, 4 January 2002, 11–30, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from Note the doctrinal inconsistency between AFDD 2-5 and AFDD 2-5.1, Electronic Warfare, 19 November 1999, on-line, Internet, 30 May 2002, available from https:// AFDD 2-5 places electronic attack under OCI and electronic protection under DCI, while AFDD 2-5.1 subsumes both under EW. Since AFDD 2-5 is the higher-level doctrine, I have used it instead of 2-5.1.

15. Lt Col Douglas A. McCarty, Space Warfare Center, interviewed by author, December 2001. In 1999 Colonel McCarty served on the Space Warfare Center team that examined possible mergers with the Information Warfare Center.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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