Defense Space Activities:

National Security Space Strategy Needed to Guide Future DOD Space Efforts

GAO-08-431R: Published: Mar 27, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 2008.

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The United States depends on space assets to support national security activities as well as civil and commercial activities. The Department of Defense (DOD) depends on space assets to support a wide range of military missions to include intelligence collection; battlefield surveillance and management; global command, control, and communications; and navigation assistance. This operational dependence on space has placed new and increasing demands on current space systems and organizations to meet Joint Force Commanders' needs. Moreover, concerns have increased regarding emerging threats that could affect the United States' and other countries' access to the free use of space. GAO plans to issue a report regarding ORS acquisition issues by April 2008, and by July 2008 we will issue a report regarding how ORS is being developed to satisfy warfighter needs. However, GAO is providing Congress this letter because during the course of our work on how Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) is being developed to satisfy warfighter needs, GAO learned that the National Security Space Office developed a National Security Space Strategy in 2004, but it has not been issued. GAO is bringing this matter to Congress' attention because without a strategy in place to link the defense and intelligence communities, future space programs, plans, and new space concepts, such as ORS, will be developed without the overarching strategic guidance that a national strategy could provide. Moreover, in April 2003, GAO recommended and DOD agreed that space activities needed to include a national security space strategy tied to overall department-level space goals, timelines, and performance measures to assess space activities' progress in achieving national security space goals.

DOD and the intelligence community have not developed, agreed upon, or issued a National Security Space Strategy. The National Security Space Office developed a draft strategy in 2004, but it was never issued. The Director of the National Security Space Office and the Director of Space Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy provided examples of reasons why a strategy has never been issued. One reason was that the National Security Council requested that the strategy not be issued until the revised National Space Policy was released in October 2006. However, once the policy was released, changes in leadership in the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force delayed the issuance of the strategy. In addition, differences of opinion between the defense and intelligence communities over the implementation of the strategy and cultural differences between the two communities further delayed the issuance. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) officials told GAO they are uncertain as to what specific problems exist that caused the delay in the issuance of the national security space strategy, yet they have not been approached by the National Security Space Office to review any current drafts. Regardless of the reasons for not issuing the strategy, DOD officials agree a strategy should be issued and ODNI officials also see the benefit in having a strategy. GAO previously reported that it is standard practice to have a strategy that lays out goals and objectives, suggests actions for addressing those objectives, allocates resources, identifies roles and responsibilities, and integrates relevant parties. In the case of space, a national security space strategy would assist DOD and the intelligence community to establish national space goals and priorities and ensure effective strategic coordination between DOD and the intelligence community. A national strategy may help ensure that the 1999 DOD Space Policy, which is being updated, and the National Military Strategy for Space Operations, which is being developed, support national security space goals and priorities. Until a national security space strategy is issued, the defense and intelligence communities may continue to make independent decisions and use resources that are not necessarily based on national priorities, which could lead to gaps in some areas of space operations and redundancies in others.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Because our previous recommendation regarding the need for a national security space strategy was not implemented, Congress may wish to consider requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to identify and resolve remaining differences of opinion and issue a National Security Space Strategy.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2011, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence issued a National Security Space Strategy. The strategy includes elements that GAO highlighted as important, including strategic objectives that are linked to high-level strategies such as those principles and goals found in the National Space Policy and the National Security Strategy.

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