News | Oct. 30, 2023

Space Denial: A Deterrence Strategy

By Nathaniel A. Peace Joint Force Quarterly 111

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Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel A. Peace, USSF, wrote this essay while a student at the Air War College. It tied for first place in the Strategic Research Paper category of the 2023 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Essay Competition.
Participants from Germany Space Situational Awareness Centre monitor, track, and assess simulated antisatellite weapon attack along with
resulting space debris during 7th and final day of Global Sentinel 2022, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, August 2, 2022 (U.S. Space
Command/John Ayre)

Space assets are strategic and crucial to U.S. national security in maintaining military superiority across the land, maritime, air, and cyber domains. Space-based capabilities offer support in areas such as missile warning; nuclear detection warning; secure communications; intelligence-gathering; terrestrial and space weather forecasts; positioning, navigation, and timing; and data transport for the joint warfighter. Integral to joint force operations is space power’s core competency of information mobility that delivers “timely, rapid, and reliable collection and transportation of data across the range of military operations in support of tactical, operational, and strategic decisionmaking,”1 enabling lethality and effectiveness and providing the United States with an unrivaled military advantage.

U.S. adversaries recognize this advantage and intend to challenge American interests in space. The conventional belief that outer space constitutes a peaceful global domain has been debunked, as China, Russia, and India have demonstrated their capabilities to target and destroy a satellite. The 2020 Defense Space Strategy explicitly calls Russia and China the “greatest strategic threat due to their development, testing, and deployment of counter space capabilities.”2 Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated in March 2022, “Our general posture has been to assume essentially impunity in space . . . that era is over.”3 As the leading space powers continue to enhance their direct-ascent capabilities, the United States must adopt a deterrence strategy through building robust constellations, optimizing satellite placement, and integrating U.S. Government–owned sensors on allies, strategic partners, and commercial satellites.

This article first provides an overview of how we got here by examining five direct-ascent demonstrations since 2007 that ended the 13-year moratorium and altered the status quo. Second, it explores John J. Mearsheimer’s conventional deterrence theory and how the adversary’s perception of the probability of success versus failure determines whether deterrence is upheld. Third, the structural deterrence model is explained, and its framework is used to operationalize Mearsheimer’s conventional deterrence theory. Fourth, this operationalized deterrence framework is applied to support the argument for a deterrence-by-denial strategy against direct-ascent weapons systems examining robust constellations, optimized satellite placement, and hosted payload concept using allies, partners, and commercial entities. The conclusion summarizes the deterrent advantages and characteristics defined by the model to support the argument.

How We Got Here

This section recounts the five direct-ascent demonstrations that have altered the status quo since 2007, explaining how we arrived at this point. The first demonstration is China’s 2007 direct-ascent demonstration against a defunct weather satellite, followed by the U.S. 2008 direct-ascent antisatellite military operation that destroyed a tumbling National Reconnaissance Office satellite after a failed launch. Next, China’s 2013 mobile ground-based hit-to-kill direct-ascent demonstration, which showed the country’s capability to target satellites in low, medium, and geostationary Earth orbit, is examined. Finally, there was India’s 2019 fixed ground-based demonstration and Russia’s 2021 Nudol test, the two most recent direct-ascent antisatellite demonstrations in low Earth orbit.

On January 11, 2007, China launched an SC-19 ballistic missile from the Xicheng space facility in Sichuan Province. The SC-19 targeted an aging Chinese weather satellite deployed in a low Earth orbit at an altitude of 864 kilometers (536 miles),4 demonstrating a fixed ground-based hit-to-kill direct-ascent capability. China’s 2007 antisatellite test ended a 13-year antisatellite moratorium (1994–2007) that the United States and Russia abided by as an agreed international norm and reflected a status quo change in testing direct-ascent antisatellite missiles.

Nearly a year after the Chinese antisatellite test, the United States faced an uncontrolled reentry to Earth of a National Reconnaissance Office satellite that malfunctioned following launch. On February 20, 2008, the United States executed Operation Burnt Frost, launching a Standard Missile–3 (SM-3) from the Aegis-class cruiser USS Lake Erie operating several hundred miles northwest of Hawaii. The missile intercepted the uncontrolled satellite traveling 17,000 miles per hour with an unpredictable course trajectory and carrying 1,000 pounds of hazardous hydrazine rocket fuel.5 President George W. Bush authorized this military operation due to the threat to human life and terrestrial safety posed by the hydrazine possibly reaching the ground near population centers.6

Russia and China did not perceive Operation Burnt Frost through the lens of humanitarian intentions. A 2022 RAND study exploring Chinese and Russian native-language publications stated that the two countries viewed it as another example of the American intention to militarize space.7 Intentionally or unintentionally, the United States changed the status quo by demonstrating land, sea, and air capability. Before Burnt Frost, the United States validated its direct-ascent antisatellite capabilities by land and air between 1959 and 1986.

In May 2013, China launched a rocket identified as a spacecraft for space exploration research. While China denied the launch had any antisatellite application, the Pentagon categorized it as an antisatellite missile test based on the launch profile that “reached an altitude of over 6,000 miles, and possibly 20,000 miles” before reentering the atmosphere while not inserting “any objects into orbit.”8

China’s antisatellite test was significant for three reasons. First, the antisatellite missile was shy of the 22,236 miles in space at which U.S. satellites are in geosynchronous orbit—including military strategic missile warning and communications satellites.9 Second, China showed it could hold multiple orbital regimes at risk from a direct-ascent capability. Finally, an in-depth analysis report by Secure World, a nonprofit organization dedicated to space sustainability, stated that “the available evidence strongly suggests that China’s May 2013 launch was the test of the rocket component of a new direct-ascent [antisatellite] weapons system derived from a road-mobile ballistic missile.”10

China’s mobile direct-ascent capability changes the deterrence calculation for potential future antisatellite operations. This has reinstated the element of surprise that was lacking in fixed ground-based systems due to the presence of imagery satellites. While China’s modus operandi is limited in acknowledgment following antisatellite tests, which restricts insight into political and military intentions, this test reveals an ability to move, hide, and launch antisatellite missiles across large swaths of territory within China. Given the perceived imbalance in direct-ascent capability among China’s leadership and the success of Operation Burnt Frost, this test was likely to demonstrate China’s ability to counter the U.S. direct-ascent global response options by land, sea, and air. The next logical step for China is to exhibit direct-ascent air and sea capabilities like the United States.

On March 27, 2019, India became the fourth country to successfully demonstrate a direct-ascent antisatellite capability. This well-planned demonstration used a ballistic missile interceptor against an Indian military imagery satellite, Microsat-R, launched nearly 2 months prior on January 24. The successful hit-to-kill intercept occurred at 282 kilometers (175 miles) above the Indian Ocean.11 The Indian government emphasized the test’s importance in a March 27 fact sheet stating that “the test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets. It is the Government of India’s responsibility to defend the country’s interests in outer space.”12 Furthermore, former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal expounded on the need for the antisatellite demonstration in an editorial published in the Hindustan Times on April 4, stating that India “preferred a kinetic kill instead of ‘fly-by tests’ and jamming to prove the precision of our capability and exclude any ambiguity.”13 India’s successful ground-based antisatellite test has raised international concerns regarding the proliferation of direct-ascent capabilities and possibly was an additional factor that spurred the Russian Nudol test in 2021.

On November 15, 2021, Russia conducted a direct-ascent antisatellite test against a defunct Cosmos satellite in low Earth orbit, creating a debris field of more than 1,500 trackable orbital objects.14 The collision occurred 310 miles above the Earth’s surface and 50 miles above the space station’s orbit, posing a risk to manned space flight.15 The Kremlin acknowledged the test on November 16 and reiterated that it did not violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty despite condemnation from the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Russia’s antisatellite test employed its first official intercept with a mobile antisatellite system designated as the Nudol. It demonstrated a hit-to-kill capability of a moving object in low Earth orbit.

Single modified tactical Standard Missile–3 launches from USS Lake Erie, successfully impacting nonfunctioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite approximately 133 nautical miles over Pacific Ocean, February 20, 2008 (U.S. Navy)

Conventional Deterrence: Adversary’s Perception of Success Versus Failure

Deterrence theory, which posits that the threat of retribution and/or strategy of denial can deter an adversary from engaging in undesirable behavior, has been a prominent component of international relations and security studies since World War II. It has evolved to encompass nuclear and conventional forces. Nuclear deterrence theory gained prominence following the 1949 Soviet Union atomic bomb test. As nuclear deterrence theory matured within academia, scholars such as John J. Mearsheimer began to examine how the United States increasingly relied on its conventional forces to deter Soviet aggression, particularly in Western Europe, starting in the early 1960s.16 In his seminal 1983 book Conventional Deterrence, Mearsheimer proposed a conventional deterrence proposition that is here applied to the direct-ascent antisatellite problem in the contested space domain.

Figure 1. An Algebraic View of
Mearsheimer’s Conventional Deterrence

Mearsheimer states, “Deterrence—a function of costs and risks associated with military action—is most likely to obtain when the attacker believes that his probability of success is low and that the attendant costs will be high.”17 Mearsheimer’s argument implies that an actor’s calculus regarding perception and probability of success versus failure determines if deterrence upholds. Figure 1 demonstrates an algebraic way of viewing Mearsheimer’s conventional deterrence argument.

The left side of the minus sign represents the product of the actor’s perception of success. (Gs) denotes gains won if successful, and (Ps) denotes the probability of success. The right side of the minus sign represents the product of the actor’s perception of failure. (Lu) denotes losses incurred, and (Pf) denotes the probability of failure. If the actor perceives success as low and failure as high, the value of the equation becomes less than zero, and the actor is deterred. On the other hand, if the actor perceives success as high and failure as low, the value of the equation becomes zero or greater, and the actor is undeterred.

Deterrence Structural Model

Before applying Mearsheimer’s conventional deterrence formula to the direct-ascent antisatellite problem, a framework is needed. Figure 2 is a structural model based on a 2014 Air University Blue Horizon study that evaluated 20 scholarly works depicting nuclear and conventional deterrence theory characteristics and their relationship.18 Deterrence is grounded on a two-pronged strategy approach—fear/retribution and denial—concepts that emerged in the formative stages of nuclear deterrence theory development.

Figure 2. Structural Model of Deterrent Theory

The left side of the model is deterrence by fear/retribution. The characteristics underneath are what an opponent uses to convince an attacker of the unavoidable and unacceptable losses that will ensue if military actions are taken. The right side of the model is deterrence by denial. The characteristics underneath are what an opponent uses to discourage an attacker from taking undesirable actions by convincing him that his military objective or goal is impossible to attain.

An important underlining assumption of Mearsheimer’s conventional deterrence theory is that the actor is rational. For deterrence by fear or retribution (figure 1, left side), a rational actor will evaluate the costs and benefits of its actions when making decisions, as long as attribution can be made. To dissuade an attacker from hostile acts, the defender must demonstrate military strength and willingness to use force. The attacker will consider the risks of engaging militarily and determine if the costs outweigh the benefits. A rational actor will withdraw from its aggressive posture if the costs exceed the benefit.

In deterrence by denial (figure 1, right side), the defender’s goal is to affect the probability of success calculation for all potential adversaries. Attribution is unnecessary under this deterrence strategy. The defender aims to convince a rational actor that its attack will be ineffective or unsuccessful based on the defender’s resiliency to withstand and/or recover from an attack. Both deterrence strategies presume that a rational actor will make a decision based on its best interests.

Deterrence by Denial: What It Looks Like

Robust Constellations. Direct-ascent missiles can destroy a satellite within minutes in low Earth orbit, leaving satellite operators little maneuver time, even if indications and warnings are present through bureaucratic rhetoric, diplomatic communiques, and intelligence reports. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the intercept’s flight time to collision in the 2019 Indian antisatellite test was 3 minutes in duration.19 While the U.S. missile warning capability would detect an antisatellite launch, keeping custody of the missile’s flight path and determining the targeted satellite among the thousands orbiting the Earth would be extremely difficult at best.

A robust denial strategy is necessary to counteract an attacker’s advantage of short missile ascent time and the limited opportunity for the defender to establish a chain of custody following a direct-ascent missile launch. Satellite constellations are a vital component of this strategy due to their redundancy and distributed nature, making them more challenging to target. The redundancy of functionality that comes with a greater number of satellites ensures that if one satellite is destroyed, the others can continue to function, enhancing the constellation’s robustness. Robustness in the structural deterrence model is a defensive tactic a defender can employ to protect from an adversary attack by demonstrating the ability to withstand kinetic strikes and continue operations.

In the context of a robust satellite constellation, increasing the number of satellite targets could alter the attacker’s perception regarding the probability of success in dismantling the constellation and achieving his battlefield objectives. Starlink’s extensive satellite network provides a prime example of how a numerical advantage benefits the defender and deters the attacker. Starlink uses 28 orbital planes among the 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth as of February 2021.20

Interconnecting thousands of satellites around the Earth increases the resiliency of the satellite constellation, enabling it to withstand multiple direct-ascent attacks without completely disabling the network. Moreover, the extensive constellation model used by Starlink has demonstrated its potential as an effective denial strategy in times of military conflict. In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Starlink began providing free Internet service to support the Ukrainian civilian population. This service has indirectly supported Ukrainian military operations by enabling secure communications and weapons system employment against Russian forces. In October 2022, Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated at a United Nations forum that Starlink’s actions “constitute indirect participation in military conflicts” and made veiled threats against the constellation, implying that “quasi-civilian infrastructure” could become legitimate targets for retaliation.21

Despite demonstrating its Nudol capability to destroy a low Earth orbit satellite in November 2021, Russia has not employed this capability against Starlink. As Space Development Agency director Derek Tournear stated, “The fact that Russia hasn’t taken down any Starlink satellites speaks to the power of a proliferated constellation to deter attacks.”22 The implication that Russia may have been deterred from employing a direct-ascent weapon following a veiled threat of a retaliatory strike indicates that a satellite constellation can function as a denial strategy.

In addition to Starlink, other commercial companies, such as OneWeb, have demonstrated the feasibility of constructing and deploying a constellation of smaller, capability-driven satellites at a relatively low cost compared to the U.S. acquisition model of producing a satellite in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For instance, Starlink’s manufacturing costs per satellite are estimated to range between $250,000 to $500,000, based on a 2020 projection.23 OneWeb, on the other hand, can manufacture a satellite for about $1 million.24

The lower costs for satellite production and launches have created a condition in which a direct-ascent missile could exceed the cost of one targeted satellite. In November 2018, the U.S. State Department approved the SM-3 foreign military sale to Japan to secure the Japanese homeland and American personnel stationed in the region. The sale was valued at $561 million, with Japan estimated to spend over $26 million per missile.25 In this regard, a robust satellite constellation, such as Starlink or OneWeb, renders a direct-ascent attack cost prohibitive to an adversary. A defender can now impose a high financial cost on an attacker trying to dismantle a large constellation of smaller, capability-driven satellites. This paradigm shift in the cost-benefit equation could serve as a deterrence to potential adversaries undertaking the costly option of launching direct-ascent attacks against a robust satellite constellation.

In summary, robust constellations are an effective denial strategy based on their ability to withstand an attack. Russia’s decision to refrain from using a direct-ascent weapon after making a veiled retaliatory threat lends support to this notion. Moreover, conducting such an attack requires hundreds of costly missiles to destroy satellites that would be relatively inexpensive to replace. Robust constellations demonstrate that they can elevate an attacker’s perceived likelihood of failure, raising the possibility of deterrence holding.

Telescope image shows satellite Kosmos 1408 debris (circled) shortly after destruction by Russia’s A-235 “Nudol” antisatellite weapon, November 15, 2021 (Courtesy Numerica Corporation)

Optimal Satellite Placement. If a constellation is not feasible, the opponent can change the adversary’s cost-benefit calculation by adjusting its satellite orbital placement to decrease the adversary’s probability of success. To increase the risk of space debris fratricide, the opponent should ideally place its satellite near, above, or below the adversary’s valuable satellite. By being closer to the attacker’s satellite, the opponent gains an advantage in deterring a direct-ascent attack.

Understanding space debris cloud orbital mechanics is an important military advantage an opponent can exploit regarding optimal satellite placement. First, the space debris created after a kinetic attack will affect more than the defender’s satellite; the attacker must consider the debris collision risks to other sovereign nations’ satellites and the effect on their space operations. The 2021 Russian Nudol direct-ascent test is a stark reminder of the threat that space debris can pose to satellites, as evidenced by the more than 50 satellites from other nations that faced daily collision risks. This necessitated frequent orbital adjustments to counteract the expansion of the debris cloud within their respective orbital planes.26

Second, the adversary must consider the significant military disadvantage of altering its satellite’s orbital parameters before launching a direct-ascent attack. Such modifications can impede the satellite’s ability to accomplish its intended functions. A change in altitude can lead to a reduction in communications coverage and imaging resolution, while adjustments in inclination can hinder communications with ground stations. Additionally, altering the orbital period can jeopardize the satellite’s capability to maintain a stable position over a specific location on Earth. These changes require fuel, which shortens the satellite’s lifespan and results in unintended consequences.

Finally, an attacker that alters its satellite’s orbital parameters provides vital indications and warnings, significantly reducing the element of surprise, particularly if the opponent has advanced space domain awareness capabilities. This enables the opponent to anticipate and respond proactively rather than react after the fact. As a result, these factors increase the perceived military risk for the attacker, leading to a greater assessment of the likelihood of failure.

In summary, optimal satellite placement by a defender can create a complex dilemma for an attacker intending to target its satellite, allowing deterrence to hold. Should the defender opt to position its satellite near a satellite of the attacker, the attacker must consider debris fratricide in the aftermath of a kinetic attack. The attacker may have to consider modifying its satellite’s orbital parameters, which could impede its intended operations. Moreover, the movement of the attacker’s satellite may provide the defender with advance warning of an imminent kinetic strike, especially when correlated with other sources of intelligence. When viewed in its entirety, optimal placement of a defender’s satellite can significantly reduce an attacker’s anticipated likelihood of success while concurrently increasing the likelihood of failure, contributing to thwarting an attacker’s battlefield objective.

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation successfully launches Ballistic Missile Defence Interceptor missile in antisatellite missile test “Mission Shakti,” engaging Indian orbiting target satellite in low Earth orbit in “hit to kill” mode from Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, off coast of Odisha, India, March 27, 2019 (Indian Ministry of Defence)

Hosted Payloads with Allies, Partners, and Commercial Entities. An additional denial strategy to robust constellations and optimal satellite placement is integrating government-owned sensors on allied, strategic partner, and commercial entity satellites, utilizing a hosted payload concept. The Department of Defense defines a hosted payload as “an instrument or package of equipment—a sensor or communications package, for example—integrated onto a host satellite, which operates on orbit making use of the host satellite’s available resources, including size, weight, power, or communication.”27 A hosted payload approach allows the U.S. military to avoid the vulnerability associated with government-owned spacecraft, which are prime targets due to their specific capability requirements, size, and government ownership.

A hosted payload distributes space-based capabilities across U.S. ally, partner, and commercial entity satellites, constructing a robust and resilient international space architecture. This increases the number of potential and diverse targets, complicating the attacker’s ability to achieve its objectives against the United States. As former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated at the 2018 National Space Symposium, “When you can complicate the decisionmaking of an adversary, particularly in a crisis, you have a greater deterrent effect because they have to think about consequences in different ways.”28 Spreading capabilities across multiple satellites or a constellation within an international space architecture complicates the attacker’s decisionmaking cycle, decreasing its perception of success while simultaneously enhancing the resilience of U.S. military assets in space and better enabling them to withstand enemy attacks.

A recent Government Accountability Office report concluded that hosting U.S. sensors and communications packages on commercial satellites can achieve on-orbit capability faster and more affordably and could facilitate the proliferation of payloads in orbit, making it more difficult for an adversary to defeat a space capability.29 While this government study focused on the commercial aspect, similar conclusions apply to the hosted payload concept with allies and partners as acknowledged by the U.S. Space Force (USSF) Enhance Polar Systems–Recapitalization (EPS-R) program. The U.S. Government agreed to host the EPS-R payload concept for the Norwegian Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission, saving the USSF more than $900 million and delivering a satellite communications capability to the polar region 3 years faster than a traditional satellite acquisition program.30 EPS-R provides an international framework for countries to collaborate on space-based capabilities and share the costs and risks associated with space operations, particularly military space threats coming from China and Russia.

Additionally, when targeting a hosted payload satellite, an adversary must consider the subsequent world opinion and the harm it would inflict on its prestige and legitimacy. According to political scientist Frank Rusciano, world opinion is the “moral judgments of observers which actors must heed in the international arena or risk isolation as a nation.”31 World opinion is a denial strategy that aims to prevent undesirable behavior by depriving the attacker of the benefits or legitimacy it seeks. Suppose an attacker perceives that the international community will strongly condemn its military action. In that case, the negative consequences of such an attack could outweigh any potential benefit for an attacker, making it a less attractive option.

The notion of a hosted payload introduces new complexity to an adversary’s assessment of its likelihood of success, as it generates supplementary ramifications within the international community. Hosted payloads substantially increase the unattractiveness of physically destroying a satellite, while strengthening the political and economic bonds within the space domain. Allies or partners incorporating technologies among each other’s spacecraft change the attacker’s calculus to consider its capabilities and those of the allied partnership, recognizing that the targeted defender may not be decisively defeated. It also signals that coalition nations are committed to protecting shared assets and that the attacker will likely pay a steep price from multiple state actors. Coordinated responses could include strong diplomatic démarches, economic sanctions, and military retribution through multidomain operations. The strategic implication creates a greater likelihood of a coordinated international community response. With greater cooperation among nations with shared space capabilities, trust can lead to more effective collective action.

In summary, a hosted payload strategy can establish a robust international architecture that enables faster and more cost-effective on-orbit capabilities than conventional space-based acquisition processes. Consequently, this enhances the resilience of space capabilities, rendering it more challenging for an adversary to neutralize. Furthermore, since hosted payload satellites strengthen political and economic bonds with allies and strategic partners, an adversary must also consider world opinion before committing kinetic attacks. Therefore, the attacker’s strategic calculations may lead it to conclude that a defender using a hosted payload framework cannot easily be defeated, thus heightening the perceived likelihood of failure and bolstering deterrence.


Space-based capabilities are pivotal to maintaining U.S. military dominance across all warfighting domains. Satellites are fragile and have predictable trajectories, which make them difficult to defend from antisatellite attacks.32 In the event of an armed conflict, China or Russia will exploit this predictability to diminish the military and informational advantages the United States possesses. This is evidenced by their demonstrated direct-ascent antisatellite tests, which suggest their intent to challenge the space domain. Furthermore, there is not an internationally recognized “antisatellite taboo” to restrain a sovereign state from using a direct-ascent weapon in the way Richard Price and Nina Tannewald describe the “nuclear taboo” for nuclear deterrence.33

To neutralize an adversary’s offensive advantage in space, the United States must develop a denial strategy that invests in robust constellations, optimal satellite placement, and implementation of a hosted payload concept. This layered approach absorbs the first movement of an attack, thereby nullifying the attacker’s battlefield objective.

When operationalized with the structural deterrence model, Mearsheimer’s deterrence theorem explains how robust constellations, optimal satellite placement, and the hosted payload concept can offset the attacker’s perceived advantage in space. First, a robust constellation ensures the defender has redundant capabilities that can continue functioning even if some satellites are destroyed. This reduces the impact of an attacker’s offensive moves, making it more difficult for it to achieve its military objectives. Second, optimal satellite placement by a defender can complicate an attacker’s decisionmaking cycle to target its satellite, reducing its perceived probability of success. And finally, by hosting military payloads on allied, partner, and commercial entity satellites, the United States can increase the number of satellites in orbit, complicating the attacker’s targeting calculus and increasing its perceived probability of failure.

Because satellite orbits in space are predictable, the attacker has an advantage over the defender. A denial strategy empowers defenders to alter the attacker’s calculus, decreasing the first movement attack advantage in space and increasing the probability of deterrence holding. JFQ


1 Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces (Washington, DC: Headquarters U.S. Space Force, June 2020), 34,

2 Defense Space Strategy Summary (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, June 2020), 1,

3 Chris Bassler and Tate Nurkin, “A Comprehensive Triad for Space Resilience—More Than Just Numbers,” Space News, May 9, 2022,

4 Ashley J. Tellis, Punching the U.S. Military’s ‘Soft Ribs’: China’s Antisatellite Weapon Test in Strategic Perspective, Policy Brief 51 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2007), 1,

5 Norman Polmar, “U.S. Navy—First Among the Best,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 140, no. 1 (January 2014), 86,

6 Nicholas L. Johnson, “Operation Burnt Frost: A View From Inside,” Space Policy 56 (May 2021), 2.

7 Alexis A. Blanc et al., Chinese and Russian Perceptions of and Responses to U.S. Military Activities in the Space Domain, RR-A1835-1 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2022), 31,

8 Craig Murray, “China Missile Launch May Have Tested Part of a New Anti-Satellite Capability,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Staff Research Backgrounder, May 22, 2013, 1,

9 Elbridge Colby, From Sanctuary to Battlefield: A Framework for a U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2016), 6.

10 Mike Gruss, “Pentagon Says 2013 Chinese Launch May Have Tested Antisatellite Technology,” Space News, May 14, 2015,

11 Ashley J. Tellis, “India’s ASAT Test: An Incomplete Success,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 15, 2019,

12 “Frequently Asked Questions on Mission Shakti, India’s Anti-Satellite Missile Test Conducted on 27 March, 2019,” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, March 27, 2019,

13 Kanwal Sibal, “The A-SAT Test Restores the India-China Strategic Balance,” Hindustan Times (New Delhi), April 4, 2019,

14 Ankit Panda, “The Dangerous Fallout of Russia’s Anti-Satellite Missile Test,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 17, 2021,

15 Shannon Bugos, “Russian ASAT Test Creates Massive Debris,” Arms Control Association, December 2021,

16 John J. Mearsheimer, Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), 13.

17 Ibid., 23.

18 John P. Geis et al., Blue Horizons IV: Deterrence in the Age of Surprise, Occasional Paper 70 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, January 2014), 27.

19 Andrew J. Abraham, “Evaluation of the 27 March 2019 Indian ASAT Demonstration,” Advances in the Astronautical Science 171 (2019).

20 Ulrich Speidel, “Everything You Wanted to Know about LEO Satellites, Part 2: Constellations, Gateways, and Antennas,” APNIC, May 27, 2021,

21 Joel Gehrke, “Russia Threatens Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites,” Washington Examiner, October 27, 2022,

22 Sandra Erwin, “Starlink’s Survivability in War a Good Sign for DOD’s Future Constellation,” Space News, October 25, 2022,

23 Brian Wang, “SpaceX Starlink Satellites Could Cost $250,000 Each and Falcon 9 Costs Less than $30 Million,” Next Big Future, December 10, 2019,

24 Christian Davenport, “The Revolution in Satellite Technology Means There Are Swarms of Spacecraft No Bigger Than a Loaf of Bread in Orbit,” Washington Post, April 6, 2021,

25 There does not appear to be an accurately defined cost in open-source reporting of the modified DF-21 ballistic missile (SC-19) China used in its 2007 direct-ascent demonstration; the Standard Missile–3 (SM-3) used in the U.S. Operation Burnt Frost; India’s ballistic missile interceptor; and Russia’s Nudol missile (PL-19). However, the foreign military sale of the U.S. SM-3 missile provides insight into a possible cost baseline when comparing antisatellite missile costs among China, Russia, and India. See “Japan—Standard Missile–3 (SM-3) Missiles,” Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), November 19, 2018, Of note, this DSCA news release does not suggest that the United States sold Japan an antisatellite missile or the technology to do so. The author chose this news release because an SM-3 missile was successfully employed in Operation Burnt Frost and provided insight into the cost per SM-3 sold to Japan.

26 Daniel Oltragge et al., “Russian ASAT Debris Cloud Evolution and Risk,” 3rd IAA Conference on Space Situational Awareness, Madrid, Spain, 2022, 10.

27 Government Accountability Office (GAO), Military Space Systems: DOD’s Use of Commercial Satellites to Host Defense Payloads Would Benefit from Centralizing Data, GAO-18-493 (Washington, DC: GAO, July 2018), 3,

28 Marcus Weisgerber, “U.S. Air Force to Put Sensors on Allies’ Satellites,” Defense One, April 21, 2018,

29 GAO, Military Space Systems, 1.

30 “USSF’s EPS-R Program on Schedule for Historic Polar Mission,” U.S. Space Force, December 20, 2021.

31 Frank Rusciano, “Global Opinion Theory and the English School of International Relations,” New Global Studies 4, no. 2 (2010), 5,

32 Bruce DeBlois et al., “Space Weapons: Crossing the U.S. Rubicon,” International Security 29, no. 2 (Fall 2004), 62,

33 Richard Price and Nina Tannenwald, “Norms and Deterrence: The Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Taboos,” in The Culture of National Security Norms and Identity in World Politics, ed. Peter J. Katzenstein (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 138.

Participants from Germany Space Situational Awareness Centre monitor, track, and assess simulated antisatellite weapon attack along with resulting space debris during 7th and final day of Global Sentinel 2022, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, August 2, 2022 (U.S. Space Command/John Ayre)