A Vulcan VC2S rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Jan. 8, 2024.

A Vulcan VC2S rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Jan. 8, 2024. U.S. Space Force / Joshua Conti

Pentagon will use commercial space assets in military operations, under new plan

The unclassified document aims “to be transparent” about what the military needs and how private companies fit in.

It’s official: the Pentagon has released its much-anticipated commercial space strategy, a formal strategy that outlines the role companies like SpaceX have in national security. But there’s a catch: Industry’s usefulness will be determined by how well DOD adapts.  

“The degree to which commercial space capabilities and services can benefit U.S. national security will ultimately be measured by how well the department can actually integrate commercial solutions into the way we operate, not just in peacetime, but also in conflict,” John Plumb, the Pentagon’s space policy chief, said in a news briefing Tuesday. 

The document outlines 13 key mission areas, including missile warning, electromagnetic warfare, and command and communications, and is a first for the Defense Department, signifying how important space-based tech—like satellite communications—is to the military.

“As the Department continues to prioritize the resilience of our national security space architecture in the face of new threats, we owe it to the joint force and the American people to leverage all tools available,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in the strategy’s prologue. “Integrating commercial solutions, as opposed to merely augmenting existing government systems, will require a shift in approach within the department.”

Austin called for defense leaders at all levels to remove barriers to integrating space capabilities, including “preconceived notions of how the commercial sector can support national security.” 

But the document itself doesn't address how leaders should do that. 

“We need to hold ourselves accountable. And frankly, one way to do that is to come back to the secretary, perhaps on an annual basis, et cetera, and say, hey, here's what we're doing, here's how we're making progress, here's where there's stumbling blocks and hurdles. So we have to have an internal process to make sure that we do keep doing this,” Plumb said. 

The strategy has four main principles: ensure access to commercial solutions, integrate them before they’re needed in a crisis, make sure the tech is secure, and support the development of new capabilities. 

Plumb teased the release of the 16-page document last week, along with Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman, who intimated the Space Force would release its own once the Pentagon’s was public. 

DOD’s strategy is designed to be more policy focused, Plumb said, but the Space Force’s version is expected to be “very much aligned.”