An Assessment of U.S. Military Thinking on Cislunar Space Based on Current Doctrine

Louis Melancon, PhD made his own green-to-blue leap from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Space Force where he currently serves in Space Systems Command. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 

Title:  An Assessment of U.S. Military Thinking on Cislunar Space Based on Current Doctrine 

Date Originally Written:  December 4, 2022.

Date Originally Published:  December 12, 2022. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that doctrine shapes the mindsets and the eventual culture of military organizations. Current U.S. military space doctrine is insufficient to create the mindsets and culture to face the emerging challenges of cislunar operations. 

Summary:  The U.S. military mindset for space myopically focues on orbital regimes, similar to a green water navy staying in littoral waters.  If this mindset continues, the U.S. military cannot compete in cislunar space (the area of space between the earth and the moon or the moon’s orbit) in the same way in which a blue water navy competes in the open ocean.  The maritime theory of Sir Julian Corbett is useful as a lens to understand the current mindset constraints and shortfalls. 

Text:  The race for cislunar space is underway. The recent the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Artemis mission heralding an impending return of manned space flight beyond orbital regimes is an inspiring early leg. At least six nations are currently pursing efforts beyond geocentrism and its orbital regimes, pursuing moon missions and other activities at positions in space where objects sent there tend to stay put, known as LaGrange Points[1]. The ability to operate reliably in cislunar space is not just a matter of national pride, it is a demonstration of and mechanism by which to grow multiple aspects of national power. There are clear reasons for this: cislunar space offers a new frontier for economic development and if mankind permanently lives beyond the Earth, it will be in cislunar space. 

Elements of the U.S. government are fully ready enter into this race. The recent National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy is a bold call for action. This document recognizes the importance of scientific and commercial development of cislunar space and the importance this will play for the future of U.S. national power[2]. It is with some, but not much, hyperbole that this strategy seems like a homage to Sir Julian Corbett, perhaps not the most well known, but in the author’s opinion the most thoughtful theorist on naval and maritime power. 

For the purposes of this article, there are a handful of applicable insights from Corbett’s seminal work, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy that are useful to assess the importance of the U.S. military being involved in cislunar space. Corbett proposes that a naval force alone rarely wins a war. Rather than the decisive fleet action of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Corbett sees a larger maritime picture[3]. It is not just a naval force but the economy through trade, communications, and naval capability of a state altogether traversing that common of the world’s oceans. Preserving and growing this strength requires command of the sea, and that is what Corbett suggests non-continental, maritime states leverage to be successful in conflict rather than simply relying on a powerful fleet. Command of the sea is not a constant condition. It is fleeting, pursued at positively at times, denied to adversaries at times, wholly up for grabs between adversaries at other times. But you do have to be there to compete. This brings us to the another insight, about the necessity of a fleet. 

Corbett also believes it is necessary to have a fleet in being to establish command of the sea. This is a different definition than the modern parlance which describes ships in a defended port. Here it is more about the fleet existing and operating somewhere, creating the potential for command of the sea by, at a minimum, denying an adversary the ability to feel they have a fully secured command of the sea[4]. The only type of force that can provide this is, using modern terms, a “blue water navy,” a force that can operate across the isolation of the wide, open oceans. In the space domain cislunar is the wide, open ocean. 

The problem is that the doctrinal space heuristic in the U.S. military doesn’t account for this Corbettian concept of command of the sea. There is a mismatch between the orbital regime heuristic and cislunar space as an area of competition. Whether one is looking at the unclassified summary of the Defense Space Strategy[5], Joint Publication 3-14 Space Operations[6], or the U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Spacepower[7], the geocentric/orbital regime is the dominant, truthfully sole, heuristic. This single view results in mindsets and concepts that create a “green water navy” — a force that only operates within its littoral and neighboring waters, i.e. the orbital regimes near Earth, not a blue water navy that can establish and challenge command of the sea in cislunar space. 

Don’t misunderstand: it is absolutely critical that the USSF operate and dominate in the littoral waters of the orbital regimes. As the USSF Chief of Space Operations has publicly stated, all the other military services require space to fulfill their missions[8]. It is not an exaggeration that space is the glue binding how the U.S. joint force prefers to fight its wars. USSF must then operate effectively in the orbital regimes, enabling the rest of the military. This orbital regime mindset too aligns beautifully with Corbett, but Corbett pointed out that this is not sufficient[9]. Yes, different forms of equipment are needed between a green water and blue water force, but placing equipment differences aside, a blue water force can accomplish the functions of a green water force. The inverse doesn’t hold. Each breeds different mindsets, doctrines, and thus heuristics. A blue water force must cultivate and rely on a mission command, an independent mindset, that is not a requirement for a littoral focused force. 

The doctrinal documents mentioned don’t preclude cislunar operations. Spacepower mentions cislunar three times. But it does so in relation to orbital regimes, not a distinct area for operational and conceptual development. The argument that cislunar space isn’t precluded in the doctrine is weak, because cislunar presents a wholly different challenge, thus demanding new thinking patterns. The previous mental construct simply is an ill fit. Heuristics provide easy button when encountering roughly similar problems, but that’s also their danger. Not realizing the problems aren’t similar means a failed fit and tends to crowd out new ideas. This is where U.S. military space doctrine currently finds itself, potentially applying a way of thinking with which they are comfortable to a new problem that doesn’t suit that solution. 

Navies have and can evolved from green to blue water. But that takes time, lots of time. Other players in the U.S. government, other nations, and some commercial actors are not taking that time. There are bold efforts to create new heuristics for this space. The question becomes if the U.S. military feels it should slowly evolve or have a revolutionary leap, challenging its newest military service with jumping rather than crawling from green water force tethered to Earth through orbital regimes or a blue water force independently operating in cislunar space.  If it is the latter, these efforts will be stymied due to current heuristics and doctrine with limited cislunar vision.


[1] Duffy, L., & Lake, J., (2021). Cislunar Spacepower the New Frontier.Space Force Journal. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from

[2] Cislunar Technology Strategy Interagency Working Group (2022). National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy. National Science and Technology Council. 

[3] Corbett, J. S. (2004). Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. Courier Corporation.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Esper, M. (2020). Defense Space Strategy Summary. Office of the Secretary of Defense.

[6] Joint Staff (2020). Joint Publication 3-14 Space Operations. Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

[7] Raymond, J. (2020). Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces. US Space Force. 

[8] Pope, C. (2022, Nov 2).  “Saltzman formally elevated to Space Force’s highest position – Chief of Space Operations.”

[9] Corbett. Principles.

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Space, Climate, and Comprehensive Defense Options Below the Threshold of War

Joe McGiffin has served in the United States Army for seven years. He is currently pursuing a M.A. in International Relations prior to teaching Defense and Strategic Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He can be found on Twitter @JoeMcGiffin. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  As the space domain, climate change, and views of military purpose evolve, multiple options below the threshold of war are required.

Date Originally Written:  August 10, 2021.

Date Originally Published:  September 13, 2021. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty service member. This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the anticipated operating environment of the next thirty years.

Background:  Conflict below the threshold of war is characterized by subversive tactics and the amoral use of force[1]. Democratic states cannot justify the use of these means in the defense of their national security interests[2]. The United States requires alternative strategies to bolster the free world order and deter or defeat adversaries through legitimate, transparent methods.

Significance:  The strategic environment is a fluid expression of geopolitical changes. A state’s ability to predict, adapt to, and manipulate those variables will determine its relative influence and security over the next thirty years. To be competitive strategically, free nations will need to synergize their private and public assets into courses of action which maximize effective and efficient use of resources.

Option #1:  Diversify Space Exploitation: The Techno-National Approach

The space industry has yet to scratch the surface of the domain’s strategic potential. Navigation, communications, surveillance[3], and even transportation are the starting point[4]. The United States and its allies can invest in new space capabilities to harden their physical and economic vulnerabilities. One approach could be the use of additive manufacturing and recycling of inert satellites in orbit to produce in-demand computer components[5]. This plausible course of action would reduce materiel costs for these parts and alleviate U.S. economic dependence on China. As the industry grows, so too will the technology, expanding potential for other space-based capabilities and options.

Risk:  This option requires a long-term commitment by public and private entities and offers few short-term returns. The exact timeline to achieving the desired end state will prove unpredictable as necessary technological breakthroughs are difficult to anticipate. Additionally, this approach may trigger the weaponization of space as these strategic platforms become the targets of adversaries.

Gain:  Industrial use of space will alleviate economic interdependence with adversaries and provide enhanced economic security and physical protection of strategic supply lines. There is also the potential for alliance and partnership-building by offering interstate collaboration on required research, development, and manufacturing.

Option #2:  Green and Lean Logistics: The Climate Change Approach

Rising sea levels, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and the diminishing supply of oil and natural gas will impact the geopolitical environment[6]. While the first two factors will require direct action to mitigate as they continue, finding alternative fuel options has national security implications that are not widely discussed. Previous DoD tests indicate that current technologies could reduce military fuel dependency by up to 90% without impacting operations[7]. As a higher research and investment priority, more astonishing gains can be anticipated.

Risk:  As one of the leading exporters of oil and natural gas, the United States’ transition to alternative energies will face even more staunch resistance than it has previously. Making alternative fuels a priority investment may also restrict defense spending on other strategic assets.

Gain:  This approach enhances military capability and could present a new means of promoting U.S. influence and democratic values internationally. The tooth to tail ratio of the resulting force will extend operational reach exponentially while curtailing vulnerabilities and expenses through the reduction of required support personnel, platforms, and installations. Alternatively, the sustainment network could be maintained with enhanced flexibility, capable of nesting with disaster response and humanitarian aid agencies to assist with international relief operations.

Option #3:  Comprehensive Defense Force: The Demographic Change Response

The sole purpose of a professional military in a democracy is defense. This option expands the definition of defense to include protection from all threats to the nation and the promotion of its ideals, not just those posed by enemy forces. International social unrest poses a danger that is not conventionally considered as a strategic threat. For example: Megacities are projected to present a critical factor of the international environment over the next thirty years[8]. They are typically in a stagnant or declining state, offering refuge for illicit non-state actors seeking to destabilize the host nation for their own purposes. Relieving the conditions which promote instability proactively defends the United States and her allies from criminal or terrorist actions against any potential target. Using the military in conjunction with other means could help defuse these regions if done in a deliberate and unified manner.

Risk:  U.S. military and aid personnel will be targeted by militant actors as they work to improve the megactiy’s administration and infrastructure. Additionally, host nation corruption could lead to fraudulent use of humanitarian resources or sympathetic support of an embedded actor, requiring strict supervision and involvement. There is also the potential that the non-state actor is a proxy or funded by an adversary and will execute missions with the intention to discredit allied aid operations.

Gain:  Aiding states improves ties, alleviates unrest, and promotes democratic values and U.S. influence. Eliminating their power bases neutralizes illicit non-state actors, depriving adversaries of proxy forces for use in subversive tactics. The military will integrate more completely with the U.S. interagency, resulting in increased impact from unity of effort in future strategic endeavors.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.



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Assessing U.S. Space-Focused Governing Documents from the Astropolitik Model of State Competition  

Anthony Patrick is an Officer in the United States Marine Corps.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing U.S. Space-Focused Governing Documents from the Astropolitik Model of State Competition

Date Originally Written:  March 26, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  April 22, 2019.

Summary:  How the United States invests time and resources into space over the next few decades will have long-term strategic effects.  While current U.S. governing documents focused primarily on space align with the Astropolitik Model of state competition, which focuses on the employment of all instruments of national power, this appears to be incidental.  Without a cohesive suite of documents to focus space efforts, the U.S. could fall behind its competitors.

Text:  On April 18, 2018 the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff released Joint Publication 3-14 Space Operations (JPSO)[1]. The JSPO, along with the 2010 National Space Policy (NSP)[2], the 2011 National Security Space Strategy (NSSS)[3], and the Department of Defense’s Space Policy of 2016 (DOD SP)[4], are meant to guide U.S governmental actions impacting the civilian, commercial, and military efforts in space. These governing documents work together to form the bedrock of American power projection in space. It is key that these governing documents are able to harmonize action along the necessary lines of effort in order to protect U.S national interests. It is also important to assess these documents through appropriate theoretical models on space power projection. Everett C. Dolman ‘s Astropolitik Model, a determinist political theory used to describe the relationship between state power and outer space control, provides such a framework[5]. 

Space by its very nature is a radically different domain of state competition when compared to land, sea, and air. Not only are there differences in how physical objects interact but there are also key differences in the effects of these interactions on the rest of planet. Doctrines of state competition will likely find it best to recognize the global effects of space operations. Satellites can not only effect targeting of fires across a whole combatant command and the navigational abilities of units in that area but also effect the greater network that supports global operations. The JPSO and other governing documents do recognize the global nature of space operations, which will assist planners in “balancing operational level requirements for current support [in an area of operation (AO)] with strategic level requirements to preserve space capabilities for other times and places.” U.S governing documents focused on space also recognize the need for synchronization in procurement programs. Space technology is expensive and takes years to develop, and all four documents describe the necessity for a competitive and flexible U.S space industry with long-term procurement planning that is looking forward to the next battle while also being consistent across political administrations. 

Orbital space is already starting to be crowded by both civilian and governmental satellites from both U.S allies and adversaries. The 2011 NSSS recognized the need for space to be viewed as a contested and competitive domain. This concern was also described in great detail by the JPSO and is evident by the development and testing of anti-satellite capabilities by both the Peoples Republic of China (2007)[6] and the U.S (2008)[7]. While the NSP focuses mainly on the U.S right to self-defense and the importance of alliance building, it also helps guide other governing documents in the right path towards increasing the U.S’s ability to operate in a contested space environment.

Lastly, U.S governing documents focused on space, like the Astropolitik Model, recognize the importance of utilizing all aspects of state power to project power in space. The JPSO describes in detail the mutualistic relationship between space and cyber assets. The DOD SP also mentions the importance of cost sharing between the DOD and other agencies within the U.S government, while the NSP and NSSS recognize the importance of utilizing both civilian, commercial, and military resources to project power into space. 

There are however certain issues with U.S governing documents focused on space when viewed from the Astropolitik Model. First, U.S governing documents focused on space do not attempt to gain complete dominance over the space domain. Controlling certain topographic features in space, from the Earth’s ‘high point’ in the gravity well (geostationary orbit), to the use of Lagrange Points (a point in space where an object is fixed between the gravitational fields of two bodies)[8], can allow a state to dictate what happens in space during state on state conflict. Defensive satellites in geostationary orbit can detect the use of Earth based anti-satellite weapons and trigger countermeasures before they are destroyed.

While U.S governing documents focused on space do point out the importance of utilizing the current U.S. alliance structure, none of the mentioned documents describe dominating the topography of space to advance U.S interest in space. The 2010 NSP also does not recognize the inevitable militarization of space. As more and more countries deploy satellites to space, they become part of that nation’s infrastructure. Just like with any key power plant, road, or bridge, nations will, at some point, likely deploy capabilities that will allow them to defend their assets and attack an enemy’s capability. Space is the universal Center of Gravity for any country that integrates national security operations with space-based assets. The 2010 NSP does mention that peaceful use of space allows for national and homeland security activities, but that still does not provide clear guidance on how much militarization U.S policy will allow. Being clear in this matter is important since it will allow planners to begin the proper procurement programs that are needed to defend U.S national security interest. 

It is important to U.S national security interest that the U.S is able to effectively plan and execute operations in the heavens. To accomplish this task, a consistent and well thought approach to governing documents that allows guidance for planners to accomplish the tasks laid out by decision makers in the U.S government is a plus. Adopting these documents in line with the Astropolitik Model allows the U.S to effectively dominate space and secure its peaceful use for all nation. Inaction is this realm could lead to further competition from other states and degrade the U.S’s ability to operate effectively both in space and on Earth. 


[1] United States., Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018, April 10). Joint Publication 3-14 Space Operations. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[2] United States, The White House, The President of the United States. (2010, June 28). National Space Policy of the United States of America. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[3] United States, Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2011). Naitonal Security Space Strategy Unclassified Summary. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[4] United States, Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense. (2016, November 4). DOD Directive 3100.10 Space Policy. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[5] Dolman, E. C. (2002). Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age. London: Cass.

[6] Weeden, B. (2010, November 23). 2007 Chinese Anti-Satellite Test Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[7] Hagt, E. (2018, June 28). The U.S. satellite shootdown: China’s response. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[8] Howell, E. (2017, August 22). Lagrange Points: Parking Places in Space. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from

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